Home Recipe, Emma Sloley
Originally published in Vignette Review (June 2017).
1. Start in late spring, when the world is clamorous with new life. Why spring, you might ask. Why not fall, or early summer, or even winter? Spring is so obvious. Never mind. Spring is the time to start.
2. Make sure you’ve recently suffered a string of small calamities that have unraveled your life. A beloved dog dies. You lose your job as a reporter at a plucky Brooklyn magazine startup which failed gradually and then all at once. Your landlord offers to buy you out of your rent stabilized apartment lease—a bribe, really—because he wants to sell the building and you're the only holdout but you know that if you leave you'll never be able to afford to live in the city again.
3. Spend your unemployed days haunting Washington Square Park. Slouch slow circuits around the park, watching people being effortlessly happy. Try to pick up pointers. Become the kind of person who stands forlornly outside the large dog run (there's a sign, No Dogs Without Owners, No Owners Without Dogs) so that when you meet her you will be at peak pathetic loner.
4. Let her dog bound up to you, circle you several times and wind its leash around your ankles so that you are comically caught. She will be wearing a knitted cap and her long wavy hair will spill out of it, the color of the leaves that will cover these paths two seasons from now. "I'm so sorry," she will say." She never does that. I don't know what her story is. She's usually completely aloof."
5. You will identify the dog as a Shiba Inu, and she will be mildly impressed and ask if you'd like to accompany her inside. You will stand together and watch the dogs capering, hers a standout for its neat red-blonde coat and air of dignity, the tail perfectly coiled on her flank like the whorls of a nautilus shell.
6. Let it rise for a whole year. This may seem like a long time but it will not feel like it because you will be occupied with how beautifully it is going. She will invite you to move into her small but lovely apartment near Gramercy Park, and you will accept gladly. You will begin to call the place home, and you use the word home to describe it so often and lovingly that she teases you about it.
7. Wait until the world is properly lacquered in ice and snow before you show her the most despicable side of yourself. Reveal it after she receives a call informing her that her father is dying, of a disease that he has kept concealed from the people around him. Remind her you have that big important job interview in two days and she had promised to help you prepare. She will get a confused look on her face. "What about my family? They need me there." You persist, until she reluctantly agrees to stay in the city two more days. You will chalk this up as a victory, a turning point in your relationship, and you will be correct about that last part as she will look at you in a new way after that.
8. Be sure to act badly when the call comes to say her father has died before she got the chance to see him. Keep some outrage in reserve for when she tells you she is going to the funeral without you.
9. You will be tempted to peek—maybe even return to stare obsessively—at the ruins of the thing you created together, but there is no utility in this. Remember that the path to success is littered with failures, and that while this particular notion didn't work out you're bound to get the formula right next time. No one said it would be easy. You will be tempted to argue that it did feel easy when it was going right, but that's a common delusion.
10. Move back home. Your parents' home, in a lonely bedroom community of Connecticut. Get used to the scalloped-edge paper napkins and the framed painting of a studly Jesus that hangs in the lounge room above the fireplace again. This may taste bitter at first, this homecoming, but you will get used to it. Some of the friends from your youth have moved back as well, victims of the economy, so you have some companionship, which sweetens things, even though she long ago stopped returning your calls and emails.
11. Meet somebody new. Don't forget to warn them that you can't get too close to them because you were burned once before, and take time to enjoy the fact that this cloaks you in an air of unearned mystery.
12. Bump into her one day in the street, when you're working back in the city but still living in the suburbs. She will look both older and happier. Hug awkwardly and ask after her dog. Oh, she's at home. This next step is a delicate move best executed without dwelling on its level of difficulty, so be sure to blurt it out without even thinking: that you'd love to come around and see the dog one day. The edge of her mouth will twitch in a way you know means she is uncomfortable and desperately desirous of getting away. She will hastily propose that you get a drink together some day—there is no need to specify a time—and you will agree and then you'll part both knowing that date will never happen.
13. On the train home you will experience a moment in which you will sincerely wish to die. But the journey will be so long that by the time the train arrives at your station the feeling should have mostly dissipated. This alchemy, the process of converting misery into acceptance, is the secret—the dark magic, if you will—of the recipe. It is the reward. Savor it.
Emma Sloley is a journalist and fiction writer whose work has appeared in Catapult, Yemassee, The Tishman Review, Lunch Ticket, Structo, New York, andThe Masters Review Anthology, among many others. She is a MacDowell fellow and her debut novel, DISASTER’S CHILDREN, will be published by Little A books in Fall 2019. Born in Australia, Emma now divides her time between the US, Mexico, and various airport lounges. You can find her on Twitter @Emma_Sloley and www.emmasloley.com.
“Home Recipe” is included in Derelict Vol. 1, a magazine we’ve produced to raise money for 350.org to fight climate change.