That night when she was cooking dinner – just after the onions had hit the pan and filled the apartment with the smoky fatty savor of a burnt offering, but before she had cracked the pepper over the browning lamb – she took her phone out of her pocket and dialed her father, who had taught her the goodness of food. He had taught her the proper way to split a head of lettuce: with the same motion you would use to break an assailant’s nose only downward, down onto the hard heel where the lettuce had been culled from the earth, and the green leaves fall apart on the cutting board like the blown petals of a late rose. He had taught her the best thing to drink when you are tired and sweaty and thirsty and hot from working outside is cold bitter beer. He had taught her how to gut a fish of its slick gemmy entrails, and how to fry that fish in cast iron over a fire-grate until its skin crackled like tissue paper. He had taught her how to eat that fish from the pan with blackened corn, sopping the oil with red potatoes. He had taught her that minestrone was a miracle conjured from whatever vegetables you had lying around boiled with whatever noodles you had lying around. He had taught her how to marshal a plowman’s lunch from heaps of berries, cured meats, torn bread, odds and ends of cheese, and the dregs of wine. He had taught her to eat like a little king in restaurants – because “you never regret money you spend on good food” – lobster and oysters with vinaigrette, candied nuts, duck, Cava, impossible soufflés. He had packed her childhood lunches with bread and hunks of steak drowning in mayonnaise, oranges and chocolate cocooned in foil. He had taken her to drink as an adult, taught her how to drink Madeira and Viognier, and he had taught her as a teenager to drink plum brandy and wine coolers and Manischewitz. He had taught her how to find the ripest fruit by hand-weight, to pick the plum or the apricot that felt heavy for its size, and that you know a good mango by the scent of its stem. He had taught her that onions are sacred, and that onionskins are a thing of beauty. He had hung an onion-paper from the pot-rack in their house on Cedar Hill.
She learned how to cook and how to eat by watching him: watching him fall upon a tuna melt with the snuffing intensity of a bear with a honey-hive.
In the kitchen she took the phone from her pocket, holding the pepper mill in the crook of her arm. She had already entered the first five digits before she remembered. Of course she couldn’t call her father now, but grief is its own kind of amnesia. She took the onion paper from the chopping block, burnished as bronze in the dim light, and set it where she could see it on the windowsill, backlit by the hungry night. She wanted something impossible – for him to walk by the house in the dark and smell dinner and then to come inside and say, “What are you cooking?”