Ragu by Jules Rivera

Image provided by Jules Rivera

CW: domestic abuse

She took the knife and pressed the blade, using the palm of her hand to flatten it down, the smell of garlic rising into the air. Sshik sshik sshik, the knife brushing against the cutting board. She minced quickly, the blade blurring. Next, the onion, sshik sshik, the smell bringing a twinge to her eye. One swipe of the blade across the board and in the pan they went. She raised the bottle of olive oil and tilted it over the surface, a thick stream collected in the center. She sprinkled salt and pepper, and watched it begin to simmer. She lifted the blade to admire it, but quickly noticed the tip of it had chipped. Hm. She noticed her reflection blurred in the residue of the veggies, her brow furrowed. Exhausted. She placed the knife back down on the counter and turned for a moment. With a lift of her right hand, the wine glass next to her was touching her lips.

* * *

He held her underneath him, his teeth biting her bottom lip. Hard. His right hand traced up her left hip. She felt a chill sent up her spine, her stomach tied in knots. He could sense it and increased the pressure of his hand around her wrists. She struggled to free herself and failed, the lack of blood to her hands sending a ringing to her elbows.

You’re so beautiful.” he said.

He said it every time. It was routine: the entry password. Yet every time, she would see that moment where he would look away, as if he was trying to go somewhere else. Escape. She knew he didn’t mean it. Not anymore. Did he ever? He stopped looking at her like the sun was in her eyes long before they married. With time his look to her calcified. With time their sex became robotic, stiff, heartless. Simply mechanic. He was using an operator’s manual.

She knew he would escape when they had sex. Knew he was visualizing, imagining. She wanted to do the same. But where was she to go?

* * *

She swallowed the wine, letting it dry her tongue. The smell of the garlic browning brought her back to the kitchen. The oil crackled, the warmth radiating through the air. She added anchovies into the pan, sneaking a small nibble, letting the saltiness dance around in her mouth. She remembered doing so some time ago, and remembered the gruff in his voice.

“I won’t kiss you if you’ve eaten one. And don’t even think of putting them in the sauce.” he said, his nose twisted in disgust.

“I love them! They’re going in.” she said, letting the wine and salt do the talking.

He snatched the tin from her hand and threw it across the kitchen.

The sound of aluminum clanging against the wall bounced against the walls and suddenly she was in the room again. She clutched the current tin in her hand, swallowed an anchovy whole and dropped the rest in.

Next, the tomato paste. She used the can opener, and before pouring she dipped a finger in, then to her mouth. He would hate how she was cooking this dish. Hate that she’s indulging in every step. Just cook it. You’ll taste everything when it’s done, she could almost hear him say. She shook her head, attempting to shake him out, imagining his words spilling out of her ears like hot tar. She quickly wiped her jaw, as if she could feel it happening.

Now time for the meat. She turned to the fridge. It seemed to glow, a warm aura of golden yellow pulsing behind it. It pulled her to it. She opened the door and pulled out the glass bowl the meat had been marinating in. Her grandmother’s bowl. The same bowl the batter for her wedding cake was mixed in. Fruit salad for his birthday party.

She carried the bowl as if it were made out of gold to the counter. She peeled away the saran wrap covering it and placed it down. Suddenly, her hands were inside it, mixing it up. The sandiness of the seasoning found its way between her fingers and under her nails. The sound of squishing lifting her higher and higher. Bliss. She took scoops of the meat and flung them into the pan, the droplets of hot oil splashing her skin didn’t matter. She scooped every last bit from the bowl and splattered them into the pan. She wiped the rest on her apron, forming red streaks on her chest down her torso.

* * *

She heard moans from the hallway before she had even closed the front door. She placed her keys in the bowl and slipped her shoes off. The house was dark, and a light seemed to whisper to her from her bedroom, the hallway stretching to almost a mile. Crumpled clothing forming a delicate rabbit trail straight to the door.

She took small steps at first, but as the sounds from the room began to get louder, forming a rhythm, she found herself running towards it before it became a symphony. She threw the door open, a clouded mess of limbs, sweat, and wet hair. Tousled sheets the frame to a horror scene. She screamed. It was all she could get out.

* * *

She brought her knife down on a round and supple tomato. She chopped and chopped, the sounds of moans and panting drowning under the knife connecting with the chopping board. She crushed the pieces with her knife, relishing the squish, and tossed them in with the rest. Without any care she mixed and mixed with her wooden spoon. She stabbed to break up the chunked meat. Suddenly, she saw something shine at her in the sauce. She pinched it out quickly and studied it. It came to a point at one end, and jagged at the other. The tip of her knife. The meat grinder must have missed it. She saved it in her pocket. Kept it close.

Water, she thought. She needed to add water to thin this up. She considered it, but before she knew it she was pouring the wine straight from her glass into the sauce, droplets splashing on her apron and forearms. She turned the burner down and placed the lid back on.

The water in the pot next to it was finally beginning to boil. She poured the spaghetti in straight from the box, not even bothering to break them in half to fit. She covered the pot and reduced the heat a hair.

* * *

Her heart was pounding, her throat raw. His mistress had long rushed out, her blonde hair almost getting caught behind her as she slammed their bedroom door in a huff. He sat there, his hair a mangled mess. He held this look in his eye, the same look he had when he proposed and she said yes. The same look when she was sick in the hospital with food poisoning. The same look he would hold while they had sex, his hands around her throat. “You need me.” it said. “Everything you need hinges upon me.” It was a look of complete control. It didn’t matter to him. She felt as if she couldn’t breathe, her throat trapped in the vice of his stare.

She spun around, headed to the kitchen. He called after her from their bedroom, his voice inching farther and farther away. Her breathing began to hitch and she grabbed the knife from the holder, gripping the handle so tight her nails dug into her palm. She walked back to the bedroom, every step firm. He was calling after her, yet he hadn’t moved at all. He did so as if it were a chore, not worth the effort he was giving it. Once he saw the glimmer of the blade, however, he froze. His arms shot out behind him, as if to prop himself hip, but his right hand slipped out from under him. As he fell backwards, she flew onto him, the knife sinking deep into his chest. He said no words. Just one gurgled exhalation and starvation in his eyes, they stayed open and empty as he faded away.

* * *

The pasta pot began to boil over and she lifted the lid, stirring and eventually straining. She poured the pasta from the strainer into the pot and mixed it together, turning all of the burners off.

She turned to the table and set it. She set down a fork and spoon. She pulled out the bow of her apron behind her and lifted it above her head, placing it on the hook on the pantry door. She placed the wine bottle on the table, poured herself a fresh glass, and set it to the left of the fork. She grabbed a plate and spun the pasta onto the center of it, grabbing the block of parmesan and grater and shredding a high mountain on top.

“That’s too much.” he would’ve said.

She placed the plate in the center of the setting, pulled out her chair in one grand gesture and sat down. She deserved this presentation. She deserved to relish in the drama.

She lifted the fork and began to weave the spaghetti onto it, using the spoon to hold it in place. She raised it to her mouth, practically unhinging her jaw, and took a bite. The moment it touched her tongue her eyes rolled into the back of her head. Spice, salt, the richness from the wine, his life. It did pirouettes in her mouth. It did grand leaps and flips. It opened her chest up and out flew a flock of birds. She began to scoop the pasta up with more and more ferocity. She began to snarl as she shoveled it into her face. Eventually, she dropped the fork and began to pick it up in handfuls to her mouth. She grabbed the wine glass and chugged the red to lubricate before getting up and going straight to the pan, eating handful after handful before it would all vanish. She shoved her face in the pan and licked it from edge to edge. She sucked on her fingers, wiped the sauce from her face and licked her palms. No longer would he be able to hurt her. No longer would he cheat, destroy, or suffocate her. Instead, she would simply shit him out.

* * *

Shoutout to the NY Times for giving me the rough shape for this recipe.

Jules Rivera is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York and works as the Marketing Coordinator for the independent bookstore Books are Magic. You can find her work on Substack at groovyruminations.substack.com!

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