Dinner for Two

In an ordinary suburb like so many countless others, Teddy and Chloe set out for the mundane task of grocery shopping.

They did not arrive together.

In fact, they had never even met.

Neither one noticed when they passed each other by in the cereal aisle, stood side-by-side at the deli counter, simultaneously reached for bananas, or stood next to another in neighboring check-out lines. Nor, did they notice when they simultaneously loaded their groceries into their cars and pulled out of the parking lot, before driving away in opposite directions.

Teddy hurried home to get dinner underway, regretting that he hadn’t done his shopping earlier. Whenever his wife worked a 12-hour shift, he liked to make sure dinner waiting for her when she came home. Though he did it with love and without complaint, or ulterior motive, she still felt the urge to remind him that he had no excuse not to. He was, after all, “only a teacher. Your job is easy. Mine is not.” He actually agreed with her on this point, but she acted otherwise.

Even if tonight’s dinner wasn’t ready on time, he was making something both new and vegetarian (he was an omnivore; she wasn’t – another thing she liked to always remind him about).  

Chloe, on the other hand, admittedly wasn’t the greatest cook in the world, which was one of two reasons why she preferred not to cook (general laziness, being the other). It also explained why her modest kitchen was even more modestly stocked. On the rare occasion that she did decide to cook, it usually necessitated a trip to the grocery store. Even if she had some of the ingredients, half the time, they were past their expiration date. But every now and then, she surprised both herself – and her husband – by having a meal waiting for him when he returned from a job he couldn’t stand.

At least he had a job. She had been unemployed for six months, but not for a lack of trying. The market was improving, but her job prospects were not. She would give it another couple of months before resigning herself to retail. She had vowed never again. But permanency was a myth.

She would give it her best effort tonight. She certainly had her moments (more bad than shining…but moments nonetheless). Fortunately, her kitchen “inadequacies” never seemed to bother him – at least not outwardly. They both joked that it was a good thing she didn’t cook that often: her cooking sucked. It wasn’t that he didn’t do his part from time to time, but only if it involved a grill.

“We can go out,” was his usual contribution.

Tonight, she was going to make him his favorite: his mother’s meatloaf. She had a sinking feeling that it still wouldn’t be good enough. Because she couldn’t help but feel she simply wasn’t good enough.

Teddy arrived to his cookie-cutter colonial and quickly removed the bags of organic ingredients (if it were up to him, he would save money by buying non-organic items) from his trunk, before hurrying into the house. Despite his panicked urgency, he paused for a moment:

So, what if dinner wasn’t waiting on the table the second she got home? How many times was dinner waiting on the table for him when he got home?

After all, she only worked three days a week. Sure, they were long hours, but three days all the same. He worked five. And countless hours planning and grading, but according to her, that didn’t count. Motivated by her desire to make her happy, he stuck to his game plan, put on an apron, and got to work.

It was a vicious cycle.

Across town, Chloe arrived at her yuppie condo and unloaded the groceries from her trunk, grabbing more bags than she could handle, suffocating her fingers. Like Teddy, she regretted not doing her shopping earlier. She desperately wanted to make sure dinner was waiting for her husband when he arrived home. But why? It’s hard to feel appreciated when something was expected.

One of the plastic bag handles ripped off, dropping the contents onto the ground. Of course, it was the one bag containing something breakable: a carton of eggs. Only two of them survived. Fortunately, the recipe only called for two.

She counted her blessings.

She finished lugging all the bags inside the house in two trips, put the groceries away, then opened a bottle of Pinot Noir. She paused momentarily, wondering if alcohol would only further impair her subpar cooking ability. Then again, maybe it would help? She poured half a glass in a compromise. And then she did something to make the recipe her own: she poured a little into his mother’s loaf.

Meanwhile, Teddy opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio, poured himself a full glass (wishing it were bourbon), took a healthy sip, filled it back up, pre-lit the oven, then started preparing the meal. He was making good tie, minus a small cut on his finger caused from chopping carrots. He simply wrapped his finger in a paper towel and rubber band, then got back to work. He was making good time.

No stranger to kitchen clumsiness herself, Chloe burned her finger when she putting the meatloaf in the oven. She ran her finger under the lukewarm water, then mustered on as Teddy placed his meal into the oven, before guzzling down the remainder of his wine, as Chloe took her second sip.

After setting the table, they both put on Detroit Public Radio for the evening jazz program, then prepared a couple of side dishes, washed the dirty dishes, put away the remaining groceries, and lit a candle at the table.

No one could ever say they didn’t try.

Though both eager for their spouses to come home, they enjoyed the last bit of “me time”, taking solace in knowing that they did something to make their spouses happy.

Teddy took another large sip of wine, then decided to put the brakes on before he passed out drunk before his wife even made it home. Chloe, meanwhile was halfway through her first glass, and realized she was already feeling tipsy.

She considered pouring herself another glass, but decided to wait for dinner. She didn’t want to get too sleepy.  She rinsed out her glass, before setting it down on the table in front of her place setting.

The anticipated time of each spouse’s arrival passed by and day soon eroded into night. Phone calls were greeted by voicemail. Annoyance morphed into mild anger, and before shifting into concern.

Teddy shut off the radio and turned the Tigers game on, relishing the opportunity to actually watch a game for once without somebody demanding that he change the channel – or even worse, shutting the TV off all together.

Chloe fell asleep on the couch while reading a book – her usual napping spot. In fact, it was her second nap that day. She was in denial that it was depression and instead simply chalked it up to being tired.

She awoke a half hour later and called her husband again. This time, it went straight to voicemail.

Across town, Teddy dialed his wife again. After a few rings, voicemail. He knew he probably shouldn’t worry, but every worse-case scenario consumed his thoughts. It was unlike her not to call if she was running behind. However, in the case of Chloe’s husband, this was par for the course.

Teddy dialed again. This time, she picked up.

“Hi, sorry, I didn’t hear my phone ring. I’m having dinner with Natasha. I’ll be home in a couple of hours.”

“Oh…” Teddy said, equally confused and disappointed.

“Am I not allowed to go out?” his wife asked, annoyed.

“Of course, you’re allowed to go out,” he said. “That’s not what I meant.”

“Then why do you sound so disappointed?”

“Well, if you have told me you were going out, I wouldn’t have bothered with dinner.”

“Well, you still need to eat, right?”

“It’s just not like you to not tell me what you’re doing.”

“Do I have to tell you everything I do?” she asked.

“No, you don’t,” Teddy replied. “But in this case, it would have been helpful. I was getting worried. You don’t usually just disappear.”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m a big girl. I’m not a child.”

“It’s okay,” Teddy said, failing to mask the disappointment in his voice. “We can eat it tomorrow.”

“If you’re trying to make me feel guilty, it isn’t working.”

“I’m not trying to make you feel guilty—”

She hung up on him. To his knowledge, for the first time in the history of their eight-year relationship.

Teddy stared at the phone in disbelief, before slamming it down on the table. He blew out the candle, then proceeded to take a chug of wine straight from the bottle. He looked out the window into the black void of night.

Chloe, meanwhile, blew out her candle, then succumbed to pouring herself another glass of wine, hopelessly awaiting the sound of her husband’s car pulling into the garage. One of the few highlights of her day was greeting her husband at the door. For the first time, she realized how pathetic it was.

Like an excited dog greeting an indifferent master.

When did he ever wait for her at the door?

She called him again. This time, he answered.

“Where are you?” she asked

“I had to run a few errands and am on the way to the gym.”

“I made you meatloaf.”

“Thanks. Sorry, but I already ate,” her husband said with casual indifference.

“What do you mean you already ate?” she asked, trying to bury the hurt and rage simmering inside her.

“I picked up some fast food. I didn’t think you were cooking.”

“The one time I cook a nice meal …”

“I’m sorry,” he snarked. “But like you said, the “one time.”’

The words reached her like a piercing blow. She was too stunned to respond.

“If it makes you feel any better, I will take it to work tomorrow.”

“That’s not the point.”

“What is your point?”

“Never mind,” she said.

“I’ll see you when I get home,” he said.

“Okay,” Chloe said on the verge of tears as she slowly hung up.

Both Teddy and Chloe stared out the window, wondering:

What happened to us? 

They took solace in the notion that nobody could say they didn’t try, then re-lit their candles and poured some more wine. In fact, he drained the whole bottle.

They each raised their glass for an imaginary toast, before taking a long, deserving sip, before digging into their delicious, melancholy meal.

Unbeknownst to both of them – on the other side of town – Teddy and Chloe’s respective spouses also enjoyed a meal together that night. In an ordinary suburb like so many other countless others.