This story is based on a real postcard I found from 1949. Make sure you read the actual postcard at the end of the story! Enjoy!
Maxienne was cooking frantically in the kitchen, trying to watch all four burners at once, stirring, ladling, adding ingredients, chopping others, all with little Charlie crawling around her feet. She tripped over him on the way to the counter to chop more onions.
“Really Charlie, I cannot wait until you’re napping again. Tu est un menace! At least your little sister sleeps during the day here and there,” she exclaimed in her heavy French accent.
Once chopped, Maxienne rushed back towards the frying pan, slipped on some sort of wet spot on the floor, regained her balance, and dropped all but three pieces of onion into the pan, the rest falling towards the floor. Charlie looked up at the sound of the loud sizzle as they heated. He smiled and started looking for whatever fell.
And at that, Charlie’s little sister, Mariette, started squealing from her crib, apparently awake from her nap. Maxienne wiped her brow with a nearby towel, sweating from the heat of a New York City August.
“Hank? HANK? Mon dieu! Could you please help in here, s’il vous plait?” She waited, hearing no response. “Hank?” She turned the burner under the pan down and ran into one of the five rooms in their new apartment, looked around, and realized the room was empty.
“Ah! This place is too big!” She ran to the next room and picked Mariette up, running back towards the kitchen, causing her to sweat even more. As she ran by the closed door she said, “Merci, Hank. Thank you for all of the help!” Not waiting for a response she headed right for the kitchen, where the pot full of sauce had started to boil over and splatter onto the kitchen wall.
“Damn!” She said, lunging for the knob on the oven. Mariette squirmed in her hands, wanting to get down. “Fine, you want down? You can go down!” She rushed the three feet to their living room and put Mariette on the couch, surrounding her with pillows. At this, Charlie started crying. “What now?”
Maxienne turned in time to see the onions were starting to burn, and quickly pulled the pan off the stove, a little oil jumping from the pan and onto her hand. “MERDE!” she yelled. Meanwhile, Charlie was still wailing as if in pain, so she lowered the sauce and ran to him, swiping him up in one fluid motion, spinning right back to the stove where she quickly stirred the pasta so it wouldn’t stick. Then, her attention turned to Charlie, she tried to investigate why he’d suddenly started crying.
Something was lodged in his mouth, and as she fished it out, he bit her. “Damn!” she yelled. “Hank! Would you PLEASE come in here? Get out here and help!” Still no answer, she went back into his mouth, fishing out one of the chunks of onion. “That’s it, Charlie? That? It’s onion…it won’t kill you.”
Charlie, relieved to have the taste removed from his mouth, still frowned at her. “Perhaps some milk,” she said, heading for the refrigerator. She reached above it first, pulling down a package of French cigarettes, and quickly popped the package so one jumped into her mouth. She pulled a glass and the bottle of milk out like someone who had done it a thousand times, and he had a sip of milk before she’d even put him back on the floor. Charlie calmed, she leaned into the burner and lit the cigarette, the beads of sweat on her face reflecting the fire. She turned her attention back to the stove, stirred the sauce, noticing it was a bit thick. “Merde!” she said to herself. “Hank! I think I burned the sauce!” She tasted it. “I think I can save it,” she yelled again. Still no response.
Maxienne checked the pasta, scooping a piece out on a wooden spoon and picking it up carefully between her freshly painted nails, and threw it against the wall. It stuck for a second before falling off. A few more minutes, she decided.
At that, a knock came at the door. “Hank! I do not suppose you could get that?” She waited, expecting to hear the door of the bathroom open, but still nothing. “Ah!” she growled to herself in anger, quickly drying her hands on the towel hanging from her apron. She checked the onions, quickly threw the meatballs into the pan, jumped back from the sparks of oil that spurted from the pan, and ran towards the door, drying her hands yet again while watching the future meal over her shoulder.
She opened the door to find Pete, their door man. “Hey there, Mrs. J! Got your mail! Sure smells good in there! What are you making, meatballs? Gravy smells great too!”
“Would you like one, Pete? They’ll still be a few minutes at least…”
“No no, ma’am. Thanks all the same though. Let me grab these too for you!” He picked up the empty milk bottles from the floor by the door. “Can I help you with anything else?”
“Can you get my husband to give me a hand?” she asked with a sly smile.
He laughed. “No can do, ma’am. But if there’s anything else, let me know!”
“Merci, thanks Pete! Maybe I’ll send some down for you when it’s done?”
“Thanks!” he said as he walked away. She shut the door and ran back to the kitchen. Flipped the meatballs. Stirred the sauce. Checked the pasta. It was done, so she grabbed the potholders and emptied the hot water into the sink, watching some ashes fall from her cigarette into the pile of noodles. She put down the pot, took out the ashen noodles, and threw them in the garbage. Then she took a moment to tap her cigarette into a nearby ashtray on the kitchen table and wipe her brow of sweat yet again.
She put the sauce on low in time to notice the kids were quiet, checked on them, and found them asleep in the living room. She sighed, relaxed for the first time all day, and dropped the meatballs one by one into the pot of sauce. She put the lid on, dropped the pots into the sink, and sat at the table.
She pulled out a small box of post cards and the suitcase typewriter Hank had bought her for her last birthday and took the lid off. Carefully putting the postcard under the plastic holder, she tapped her cigarette ashes into the tray again.
“Dinner will be ready in a few, if you’re hungry,” she yelled to Hank once more. “I’m going to write a postcard to Lil.” Still no answer.
She relaxed a bit more, sighed, and started typing.