The Perfect Dish – N.C. Brook

N.C. Brook has been writing since she was young enough to plagiarise Brothers Grimm, and add questionable illustrations to her work. Her tastes are eclectic and range from classic to gothic but always with an emphasis on strong characters and sharp learning curves. She has two stories published in the Anthology, Blue Fountain. She currently lives in Spain, but was born and raised in England and misses fish and chips and afternoon tea the most.
Twitter handle: @NyshaC

The Perfect Dish
By N.C. Brook

Chop, chop, chop. The knife sliced through meat, crunching as it reached the bone. The steel blade reflected a red glow around the dingy shed. His knives were always sharp. Blood speckled his soft hands, a single callous visible where the handle always rubbed his skin. Behind him, the battered sink held remnants of a carcass and he breathed deeply, allowing the methodical movement of cleaver against meat to calm his racing heart.

The lift pinged its arrival to the top floor and he unlocked his door, the silence inside washed over him. He stepped into the shower and watched the water create a pink pool at his feet. Grabbing a fresh packet of soap, he built up a foamy lather and scrubbed until the water ran clear.

His king-size bed was surrounded by glass panes offering glimpses of jagged glass buildings. London boasted a new weird shaped monstrosity every week. What happened to symmetry and clean lines? He glanced around his bedroom and smiled at the perpendicular lines. Everything spotless and in its rightful place. He laid his head against the oversized pillows of his king-size bed and the three-hundred thread Egyptian cotton sheets caressed his still damp skin, nudged the computer beside him to life and glanced at the first of six tabs he never closed. Smiling faces filled the screen but the notification bell remained immobile. No messages, no likes. He had money, he had a flash car and a big apartment. What more did these women want?

He stalked the page for chubby girls, hoping their vulnerability made them more open to his advances. Sasha winked at him. The freckles that dotted her cheeks were the same colour as her hair. She held a fishbowl-sized glass of white wine, as round as her face. The plate of calamari in the corner of the photo captured his attention. He clicked the envelope icon and began to type.

Hi. I love your picture. I make a mean calamari if you want to join me for dinner one night? Love to hear from you. Larry.

He deleted the last sentence.

Hope to hear from you, Larry.

He deleted the whole thing and started again.

Hi I’m Larry, I’m an entrepreneur who loves cooking in his spare time. I think your profile picture is gorgeous. Let me know if you’re interested and maybe we can meet up? Larry.

He hit send and glanced at his watch. He was late for Cecile. His hair was almost dry, running his fingers through the wiry ash-coloured strands. Fluffing it up over the bald patches.

He flexed his muscles in the mirror. The wrinkles were getting more prominent – maybe it was time for botox. He opened his closet and pulled out his jewelry draw. More than twenty watches sat in neat lines. He chose the largest, the one studded with diamonds, pulled on the white shirt and jeans that made up his usual uniform, grabbed his keys and locked the door behind him.

His silver Bentley roared out of the car park and raced down Pall Mall. Hopefully parking wouldn’t be an issue today.

Cecile was shorter than she looked on her picture. The light that had sparkled in her grey eyes now looked dull and uninterested. She stared at him as he approached.

“Nice to see you, at last.”

‘Hello to you too.’ He bit back the retort and smiled. “Sorry. No parking.” He shook the keys to his Bentley at her. “The pub’s busy isn’t it?”

“Always is. It’s my local.”

“That’s nice.”

He wasn’t sure what else he was supposed to say. Silence intermittently filled the air but the conversation plodded along like a lame donkey delivering water that nobody needed.

“So, what do you enjoy doing with your spare time?” He hated how rehearsed this question was. His hands itched to wipe the dried crumbs off their table, but he gripped his glass instead.

“I love midnight raves and psychic events. I’m a little psychic myself.” He held his gaze on his wine, willing his eyes not to roll backwards. People like this really existed? “And you?”

“I love cooking, but it’s no fun cooking for yourself.”

“Really? That’s not a very manly thing to do is it?” She laughed at her own joke.

Strike five-hundred.

“I don’t see the point. Food is there to keep us alive but I’d much rather take a pill and not have to worry about eating.” She flicked her blond hair over one shoulder, throwing a smile at the bankers congregating around the bar.

Somebody needed to do something about people like this.

“Those of us who work in high-powered jobs need something to calm us down.” His lip curled and he rubbed his non-existent stubble to hide the reflex. “Can I get you another drink?” She had to say no. They’d wasted enough time.

“I’m good thanks, school night and all – must be getting back so I’m fit for my unimportant job.”

“Can I give you a lift?”

She shrugged, eyeing up the keys to the Bentley. “Why not, I’ve never been in a Bentley.”

“Take the keys and jump in, grey with blacked out windows. It’s down the alley to your left. I’ve got to use the gents.”

“Aren’t you afraid I’ll steal it?”

He smiled at her and shook his head. He wasn’t afraid of anything.

The cleaver thudded against the wooden surface. New blood met old and traced historic grooves to the edge of the rust-coloured table. Larry’s erratic breathing slowed and became steady again. He breathed in with each strike of the knife. He would find the right girl. The one who knew how to keep him calm. Someone who knew how to respond to a question. A person that would enjoy his cooking. It couldn’t be that difficult.

Larry rolled over in his bed, enjoying the dark of the blacked-out windows. Outside of being in the kitchen, these moments before the city got noisy were his favourite. He glanced at the computer. There was a red number two over the bell and he slammed his finger onto the key. Sasha had responded. Twice. He smiled, reading about the most amazing meal she’d ever eaten. He could cook that for her. No problem. It would be better than the original too.

Sasha lived on the outskirts of Sunbury so he’d agreed to pick her up and head into Richmond for drinks. She bumbled out of her run-down house and squeezed her portly frame into the car. He resisted the urge to adjust her cardigan so it was straight.

“Nice car.”

“Thanks.” He said kissing her cheek, careful that he didn’t coat his lips in her greasy make-up. Women’s cleaning habits were disgusting.

The radio belted out Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas is You and Larry winced at the squawks that were leaving Sasha’s rounded mouth. Her curly hair bounced in unison.

The news cut in,

“A twenty-three-year-old woman has gone missing in north London. Cecile Grimley, five foot six with a slim figure and long blond hair was last seen in The Cutter’s Arms on Pall Mall. Anyone with information relating to her whereabouts please contact the Metropolitan Police.“

Larry flicked the station over.

“Let’s see if we can find a little more Maria to practice that singing voice of yours.”

Sasha giggled and blushed. It wasn’t intended as a compliment but it was nice to meet someone with a bit of humility. Fifteenth time’s the charm.

It took two painfully giggly dates before she agreed to have dinner at his house. Her face became very serious as she explained that she would travel in but could not miss the eleven-thirty train home. She would not be staying over. He hadn’t invited her to cover his bed in her curly hair, so that wasn’t a problem.

The knife sank into the mushrooms, each segment a milimeter in width. Copper pans hung around him and he hummed Beethoven’s fifth symphony. Tonight he would know. He pulled the chicken out of the fridge and carved it, knife piercing flesh like a laser through ice. “No need for cleavers this time.” He laughed, the noise echoing around the empty apartment.

“I can’t believe how big your kitchen is.” Sasha rolled her wine around the glass, bright eyes on the darkened city below them. She’d been early. He didn’t like that.

“I like to cook.”

“What got you cooking in the beginning?” She leaned against his kitchen counter and all he could see were the cat hairs that floated off her jumper.

“I don’t know.” He replied, thinking about how many layers of disinfectant that surface would now need.

“So what have you made me?”

“Chicken stroganoff. You said it was your favourite.”

“Wonderful, I can’t wait.”

She sat down with her elbows on the table, like a child waiting for ice cream. He noticed an old stain that marked her sleeve. Ketchup maybe? Plastering a smile on his face, he put a plate of ying-yang shaped rice and stroganoff in front of her. Her elbows dug into his white tablecloth, her fork held like a skewer as she mixed the ingredients together.

“I hope you enjoy it.” He looked at his masterpiece being swirled around by Poseidon’s fat cousin.

She responded with mumbles and moans over a half-open mouth that allowed him to glimpse the poor work her teeth were doing, his appetite replaced by the acidic taste of bile. She had held so much promise.

He opened the door of his little hut and it greeted him with accusations. Where had he been? Why had he neglected this safe space? It had only been a few weeks but the smell of sweet acid and decaying rust burnt his nose. The black bin bag was heavier than normal and he grunted as he swung the contents onto the chopping block. Ginger curls peeked out of the liner and his eyes narrowed, watching the head roll as he ran his blade across the sharpener. She deserved this.

Annie and Ellie refused to answer his messages. It had been three days. He hit the block button with a sigh. All he wanted to do was cook for these women. What was wrong with them? He returned to the browsing page and glanced at the uninspiring thumbnails that filled it. Two girls caught his eye and he messaged them both, trying his new identity on the account. Maybe they’d like Bruno better. Somebody had to want his cooking. All he needed was to do a little cooking, then things would be okay.

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