It was Sunday evening and Jess was sitting at the kitchen table; her posture stiff as she scribbled a list of questions.
“I really can’t be bothered now. It’s late. We can ask her tomorrow.”
“I know it’s late,” I delicately responded, “but isn’t Vanessa leaving tomorrow?”
“I don’t know,” Jess brusquely replied, “I never see her. I think she avoids me.”
Jess glanced over with a raised eyebrow, but it didn’t fool me. Vanessa spent most of her time holed up in her room and if Jess really wanted to talk, she only had to knock on the door. This avoidance worked both ways.
“Let’s just talk to her now,” Lisa interjected with her characteristically relaxed tone. She was wearing a baggy sweat suit and stood beside Jess while examining the list on the table.
“Well someone else has to do the talking because if I do I will get snippy. It’s bad enough that it’s already Sunday,” Jess replied with a frown.
“Now if you’re going to get snippy…” Lisa cautioned as she looked down at Jess. The kitchen lamp cast a harsh overhead light and made Lisa look like a film noir investigator. Her British accent fit the role perfectly.
“Nooo…Like I said,” Jess replied, “I‘ll just be quiet and let someone else do the talking.”
“Barret,” I quickly suggested, “is the right man for the job.” Until then he had been quietly standing by the door with his arms folded against his grey hoodie. His ruffled hair and scraggly beard were the antithesis to his composed nature.
When Barret strolled out the door I turned my attention back to the oven. Two trays of crispy white meringues were baking and to be honest I had made them out of spite. After all the vegan cookies I had specially made for Vanessa (and all the subsequent dishes I had washed) she had tried to sell me her iron before moving out. The gall.
A minute later Barret returned with Vanessa and Jess slyly tucked her notes under the table. An awkward silence soon settled as every one waited for someone else to speak. “So,” I turned to Vanessa, “My meringues are almost done!” She cast a disinterested glance towards the pile of broken eggshells before uneasily leaning against the ruby red counter.
The room became quiet again. Like a magician waving a distracting wand, I wielded my wooden mixing spoon covered in batter. “Mmm,” I sighed as I licked the spoon, “I think these are going to taste so good!” Vanessa ignored the glint in my eye, Barret worried about raw eggs, and Jess just stared at the wooden laminate table. Lisa, however, cut straight to the point. “Have you found us a new flatmate?”
Now that the elephant in the room had been addressed, we all turned to Vanessa. She raised her hands to her face and wearily rubbed her eyes. It was a habit of hers that made her look more tired and older than she really was.
Vanessa left two days later along with the vegetable peeler. Her gas bill was unpaid and her small white room still empty. The only thing that remained was a large cardboard box clumsily placed near the front door.
“My friend, Seb, is going to pick it up on Wednesday,” Vanessa had mentioned the morning of her flight home.
However days turned to weeks and Seb never showed up. Aside from being inconvenient, it reminded me of Vanessa’s last night and of spiteful baking. I realize that ill will does not build good character, but it does make for crispy sweet meringue peaks. At least in my kitchen.