Once upon a time through a program at my old job (http://freebeerandfiction.com/ where I believe there is a live reading of this…) I was implored to write a short story of 20 minutes or less. Darlings, it was hard – I’m used to reactive writing, not proactive writing. If you put something in front of me (a horrid dress, a leg of lamb, etc.) I’m happy to react. But to start something from absolute scratch, well that’s really really tough.
And I wasn’t sure that I loved it – but I’m realizing now, that not everything single thing you do has to define you. My darling friend Jesse said to me the other day, “For the past five years you have been defined by your incredibly stressful job and the successes it has brought you. Now YOU get to figure out what defines the next five.”
That was a big thing for me to hear. It’s true, the past few years have been a whirlwind of planes, trains and automobiles, of stress pimples, of big wins and bigger losses, of too many martinis and meat sweats (and too little real sweat). And I wouldn’t trade it for the world (I mean, aside from the extra 20, err 25ish pounds). But I made the decision to make a change. A BIG change. To move entirely out of any comfort zone I’ve ever known. And for the past three weeks, I have been really hard on myself – doing that thing I do when I feel like I have to be the best at everything the moment I decide I want to do it. But that conversation with a friend really made me realize that I had to do something that has never been comfortable to me – I needed to embrace vulnerability – to embrace the unknown, the uncomfortable AND even the failures. My mom constantly reminds me that I have never been good at doing this (the irony of not being good at being bad is not something that is lost on me) and might remind me every week for the rest of my days that when I got a “B” in handwriting in second grade, I cried for two weeks. (Darlings, I will go to my grave contesting that grade – and if I had the vocabulary then that I have now, I am certain it would have been amended ON. THE. SPOT.)
So here you go. A nose-dive into vulnerability. A story that I wrote. You might like it, you might not. But I wanted to share it regardless, I am a millennial after all.
Open to all feedback – constructive, of course – again, millennial and all of that.
Almost every second and forth Thursday of the month,
Jill prepared a Tortilla Espanola for her small family.
Tortilla Espanola was a dish made of olive oil, potatoe,
onion and egg. Sure, it was technically just an omelet
but it felt better than saying “eggs for dinner.” Really, it
was just the cheapest way to feed her family without
And they weren’t. They weren’t poor. “There are people
who can’t find $400,” she had to remind herself
constantly, citing an article from the Atlantic, “surely
real poor people don’t even read The Atlantic.” Even
still, moving money around had become only sport she
had ever considered herself even remotely good at.
And somehow on every Thursday before the Friday Jill
got paid they were on the verge of zero. Too much gas,
an extra pint of Talenti at a supplemental grocery shop,
maybe Jill’s polish change (a necessity in her book) – any
slight extravagance on that Wednesday or Thursday
would put them over the edge, requiring a $35
withdrawal from their comfortably meager savings
account to cover the damn bank fees.
Jill’s small family consisted of herself (a large expense in
and of itself), her husband Stuart (an adjunct History
professor best categorized by crooked teeth and a heart
of gold) and their 6 year old daughter, Maude.
Maude was a mistake conceived just days after Jill’s
27th birthday. Jill had no intention of following through
with it (following through wasn’t her strong suit to
begin with), but Stuart, the self proclaimed eternal
atheist, was suddenly struck with guilt that Jill
continued to refer to as a long lasting symptom of gas.
So they had Maude, who they both loved more and more
by the moment, but whose
subsidizedinpartbythegrandparents private school and
daily arts classes also contributed greatly to the need
for a Thursday night Tortilla Espanola.
Jill certainly wasn’t unhappy with her circumstances.
But as clichéd as it was, she often wondered to herself if
there really was nothing more than this. Was this
muted, chronic love that she felt about her
surroundings really the love of her life? As she opened
the produce bin in the fridge, Jill was suddenly stricken
by the way something as ethereal as the concept of love
could change so drastically in just a decade.
The Thursday night tortilla reminded Jill of a time before
she realized you could be poor without being poor and so
resentful of the small moments in life that forbode the big
great ones she always imagined, from arriving.
Heat 1 ½ cups olive oil, doesn’t have to be the good
stuff, but shouldn’t be bad either, in a skillet, until
you know, sizzling.
In her younger years, Jill had been known to fall in love
Jill had fallen in love with the tortilla in Barcelona. In
Jill’s Barcelona, it was easy to fall in love, easy to
embrace those small moments that somehow turned
into big ones.
Despite going to an expensive, private college in New
England, Jill never studied abroad. Her mother joked
that she instead dated abroad, that foreign men
appreciated the strange beauty of her face – something
that had always been lost on American men.
On her 21st birthday she had met and become enamored
with one of these said men. Through the goggles that
only truly exist on a 21st birthday, she saw him as a
young Javier Bardem. In reality, he was probably more
of a young Boutros Boutros Ghali. He was a Spanish
architect on a “break” from real life at the tourist trap
they called a bar – the kind that serves free flaming cake
shots when you have a milestone birthday. Jill would
later come to realize that architects don’t really take
breaks from real life – they have extra-marital affairs or
kill themselves, but they certainly don’t just take breaks.
But back then, during her first foray into legal adulting,
she could still rationalize an accent ridden stranger on a
break from real life. They had a whirlwind affair which
resulted for Jill in a “renewed” interest in Gaudi and
chest hair and a credit card charge of $796 (which at
21.99% APR would stay with her into her 30s) to pay
for the flight to Barcelona where she would stay for a
month, promising to her professors to write a thought
piece on you know, Catalunian culture and the like.
The Thursday night tortilla reminded Jill of the
excitement of being a peregrine woman, kept and
Slice A pound and a half of Potatoes into 1/8 inch
slices and 2 sweet onions into ¼ inch rounds. Salt
Those first nights were a blur. Wine cheaper than water.
Beautiful women without makeup. And the jamon. Oh
man, the jamon.
After an especially spectacular night in the second floor
flat just blocks away from Las Ramblas (one that
resulted in cheers from the street due to an open
terrace door), the Spaniard put on a pair of white briefs,
lit a Galuoise and walked into the kitchen where 4
perfect russet potatoes seemingly appeared out of
nowhere. Jill followed closely behind understanding
what a cliché she looked like in his linen shirt and little
else (those legs spent an obscene amount of time at the
university gym, there was little point in hiding them).
With his cigarette firmly between his pillowly lips, the
spainard poured her a glass of table wine (which she
couldn’t believe was cheaper than Evian) and came
around from behind her like her highschool boyfriend
did when he was trying to teach her to hit a golf ball.
Instead of something as pedestrian as a golf club, this
time her arm was embraced and guided in a wave like
motion. “The knife must never leave the board,” the
Spaniard said, “the slices need to be seis y media
cenimetres exactly.” Jill loved it when he slipped back
into his theta filled Spanish. There was nothing more
distinguished than a man who could move so
seamlessly between languages – a citizen of the world.
The Thursday night tortilla reminded Jill of the
excitement of being a clear skinned, self proclaimed
intellectual who wasn’t afraid of anything.
Poach the potatoes and onions in the olive oil until
just golden brown. Take your eyes off the pan just
long enough to beat a dozen eggs.
Most days Jill was awoken by Lucia, the housekeeper
that the Spaniards mother employed to ensure that her
precious son kept his (gifted) home in tip top shape for
business dinners, and the like.
Lucia had an un-categorical tuft of coarse black hair and
an eyebrow that seemingly raised itself. She had worked
for the family since she was a beautiful young woman
with a body flattered by the severe lines of the
professions uniform. Needless to say between the
flowery Spanish that seemed to make a mockery of her
heritage and inability to sleep with the sheets in tact,
Lucia was none too fond of Jill.
But Jill was taught to not be ashamed of anything she
loved and for the moment that included the Spainard. So
she got up every morning, put on one less item of
clothing than Lucia would deem anywhere near
appropriate and swayed into the kitchen where she
would pour a cup of coffee and pick up the note.
In Spain, they keep their eggs at room temperature. Jill
always thought that the bowl of eggs in the kitchen
(shades of blue and brown before Martha introduced
them to America) were some of the most precious,
speckled gems that the universe could produce.
Lifeblood, literally. She would stare at them before she
opened the note that the Spainard left her without fail,
day after day, before he left for work.
Their subject matter ebbed and flowed – from how
beautiful her mouth looked while she slept to wanting
to eat her brain because her intelligence was so
appetizing (Jill was never sure if this one was meant to
be taken literally or if it was just a bad translation) to
suggesting they hop on the tourist double decker so that
she could see Sagrada Familia from a different vantage
The fact that he would get on a double decker tourist
bus for her made Jill more appreciative of him as a man,
but doubtful of his potential as a long term mate.
And then she would take the note out to the terrace,
read it again, breathe deep and stare out at the rest of
the world, an Eva Peron in her own mind.
The Thursday Night Tortilla reminded Jill that the exotic
quickly becomes everyday.
Strain the olive oil from the potatoes and onions,
turn heat down, and add the beaten eggs to the pan.
When Lucia’s route began to interfere with Jills in the
morning, Jill would take a final sip on the terrace and
walk down to the sweet café around the corner from the
2nd floor flat. The barkeep there, Ignasi, loved her
broken Spanish, full lashes and crooked nose. But he
loved her deep pockets more and Jill was OK with that.
At 21, there could be nothing more glamorous or
sophisticated than a woman with a notebook,
sunglasses and an uncanny ability to know the exact
right time to switch from coffee to wine without ever
looking at a clock. So yes, Jill always thought the ability
to feel like the best version of herself was worth a few
Day after day, while the Spaniard was at work, Jill would
sit at the same caned table, always on the verge of
falling apart, open her notebook and put pen to paper
for about 12 minutes while she sipped her first café au
lait of the day.
Between minute 13 and 20, someone interesting
looking would walk in and she would engage in a
conversation lasting somewhere between one minute –
“Hola” “Hola” and hours. Although conversation with
the Spaniard was never dull, she was constanly looking
for more depth, more opportunity. This was not unusual
for Jill. She readily admitted that her life was just a
constant state of yearning – for her next meal, her next
book, her next kiss. Nothing was ever as it was because
the next thing would always be that much better.
The Thursday Night Tortilla reminded Jill that good
things happen in the small moments (or so says her
Carefully (or dramatically) Flip the tortilla onto a
large plate, and slide back into the pan, raw side
down to cook through.
On a very sunny morning, Jill awoke not to the feeling of
Lucia’s disapproving stare, but instead to the very real
sounds of the Spainard on the phone with his mother,
which she was only able to discern due to his constant
pleading, “madre, madre, no entiendes.”
“Me rindo,” was the last thing she could make out and
instead of letting on that she knew exactly what was
going on, she resumed business as usual. She knew this
would be her last day as a kept woman gazing at
multidimensional eggs by day and charming barkeeps
by night. She paid at least that much attention in
She poured herself a cup of coffee, comfortably covered
in the cotton caftan that had accompanied yesterdays
note and alternated her gaze from the eggs to the
freckles on his nose that kind of melted into his dark
They had likely been their own entities once upon a
time, but after years taking sunkissed, adventure filled
breaks from real life, they’d all kind of blended together
to make a muddled mess.
As he hung up the phone, the Spaniard looked like a
defeated soldier coming home from war. “My mother!”
he kept repeating. Finally, Jill looked at him, at the eggs
and back at him. She rose from her chair, removed the
cotton caftan and summoned him, his bruised ego and
all of his grief to the sundrenched bedroom where they
had one more adventure together before she got up,
gathered her things and used his (well, his mother’s)
credit card to change and upgrade her ticket home.
The Thursday Night Tortilla reminded Jill that the sum is
always greater than it’s parts.
Slide the tortilla from the pan carefully to a cutting
board, slice and enjoy hot, cold or room
temperature. Serve with everything or nothing.
Jill looked up from slicing the tortilla, the one she would
serve tonight with frozen peas for Maude and glasses of
3 buck chuck for her and Stu. She hadn’t thought about
the Spainard since she found a box of his notes a few
years ago during a move. Their lust had truly been but a
freckle in time.
She had met Stu just months after she had left the
terrace lined flat in Barcelona and was taken with his
real intelligence, his ability to say no to his mother and
the freckles that spread independently across his nose,
like tiny sovereign nations. And today, even with the
gassy guilt, eggs for dinner, and chronic love in place of
adventurous lust – here she was, yearning for not much
more than tomorrow’s paycheck.