Kevin Alan Wells
The sound of Ali’s knife made Daniel feel safe. Chop—chop—chop—chop. Chop—chop—chop—chop. He had tried to write a poem in its accentual meter to give to Ali as a present. But on paper the sound felt like machine gun blasts. Hardly safe. No, it only felt right to Daniel when Ali was leaning forward in his apron, making that sound next to him in the kitchen.
“It’s a shame Monika won’t be here,” Daniel said as he pulled apart a dozen white roses for the centerpiece bouquet. “She loves your soup.”
“When are we going to visit her?” Daniel asked. He laid the roses on the kitchen island next to several pink carnations. “It’s been almost a week since her surgery, you know.”
Ali stopped and stood up straight. “Yeah, about a week.” He brushed a strand of hair away from his forehead with the sleeve of his faded checkered shirt. “Can you tell me how the broth’s coming along?”
Daniel looked over his shoulder at the pot on the stove as the rhythm of cutting continued. “Bubbles,” he said.
“Honey bubbles or bubblegum bubbles?” Ali asked.
Daniel looked again. “Bubblegum. Maybe.”
“No, that’s no good. We’ve got to keep the boil low. Could you turn it down?”
Daniel responded with a long slide across the kitchen floor in his socks. He turned the knob on the stove until the flame under the soup pot looked like a size Ali would appreciate. “Smells damn good—hey, look!” He slid back to Ali to show how his glasses had fogged in the rising steam. “Isn’t that funny?”
Ali smiled faintly. “I told you Lisa texted me, didn’t I? She and Joe are coming.”
“That’s eight for dinner then,” Daniel said. He picked up a cluster of calamintha from the kitchen island and started pulling it apart. “You didn’t really answer me about visiting Monika, you know.”
“I did,” Ali replied. “Days ago.”
“What, Wednesday? No, that wasn’t your answer,” Daniel said, and he flicked a stalk through the air. “I deleted it the moment you said it.”
“Rather a habit with you, isn’t that?” Ali swiped the cut carrots into a bowl.
Daniel inched closer and nudged him with his hip. “I’m trying to be kind to you, Ali. Are you trying to be kind to me?”
Ali waved his knifeless hand in dismissal. “I told you, my opinion about Monika isn’t changing. The gastric bypass was bad enough. This body lift business is the end. Mail some plastic doll to keep her company; they have more in common now.”
“Ali! She’s just gone through major surgery.”
“Elective surgery,” he said with a sneer.
“She’s alone. She needs support.”
Ali shook his gray head as he diced a pepper. “That kid does not need anyone to support her mistakes. What she needs is to understand that self-actualization starts with self-acceptance.”
Daniel was pruning the stem of a sunflower far more than it needed. “She’s our friend,” he said tensely. “We have a commitment to her.”
“We have greater commitment elsewhere,” Ali replied.
Daniel groaned. “Your false dilemma again. You—”
“No,” Ali said sharply, pointing his knife like a finger. “We’ve rallied our whole lives on the idea that we can’t change who we are.” He held down an onion and chopped it in half. “That we shouldn’t change who we are. How can she ask for society’s acceptance when she can’t even accept herself?”
“All that weight,” Daniel said ponderously. “It wasn’t healthy.”
“Mutilating herself, tearing apart her natural existence—that was unhealthy.”
“But the weight wasn’t her, Ali. Obesity is a disease.”
Ali snorted. “They used to call us a disease.”
“Some still do,” Daniel said, nodding. “Which is more reason for us to stay together, to help each other.”
“Help?” Ali scoffed. “I reject your idea of help. Affable indifference, I call it.”
Daniel worked beside him quietly for several minutes with his eyebrows scrunched in affliction. He knotted some green twine around the new bouquet and held it out. “Well,” he tried, “how do you like our centerpiece?”
“You didn’t stop. You didn’t even look.”
“I did, I looked. Nice flowers.”
“Why are you being this way? I just hate this side of you. It makes me sad.” And he placed a hand on Ali’s faded sleeve.
At this, Ali did stop. He stood up straight again and looked at the bouquet, at the hand touching him, at the face so close to him, and he spoke. “Don’t be such a faggot, Daniel. Just check the broth again, will you please?”
Shocked and clutching the bouquet, Daniel moved away from Ali, toward the stove as he had asked.
Daniel closed his eyes and listened to the blasts. “Oh, look,” he said after a moment, his voice shaking. “Another faggot you can hate.”
A surge of bubbling noise spun Ali around. Sticking upside down out of the soup, a bundle of green stems bobbed in the broth that was boiling over the sides of the copper pot. A hiss of sizzles filled the kitchen from the flames of the burner that had been turned to high. “My soup!” Ali screamed. “You ruined my soup!”
“Our soup!” Daniel shouted back, walking swiftly from the kitchen.
Kevin Alan Wells is a doctoral student of the humanities at The University of Texas at Dallas, where he also teaches undergraduate composition. His other publications can be read in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Persuasions On-Line, and Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine.