Empty: A Cookbook

Recipe for a Headache
           Step 1:
           Across the apartment, near the open window where cigarette smoke trails from broken lips, there will be a table. Sit down next to Michael, who will be wearing a top hat and sloshing a bottle of Jameson in between shouts of his “Ode to Whiskey and Whores,” sung- never spoken. Pick up the quarter that has been passed to you and fling it hard against the table. It will sink into the undersized teacup filled with cheap French beer. Drink it. Pick up the quarter and repeat until the ode is no longer Michael’s, but yours.
            Step 2:
           Everyone will be out by the fountain, debating whether to fill it with dish soap for an orgy bubble bath. Stumble down the front steps and plop onto the brick ledge where you’ll laugh at things unsaid and wonder whether Michael, off in the distance, is thinking about last night in your bed: about the black feather you traced down his cheek and the kiss that suddenly meant far more than you planned.
           When the football hits your right temple, it will knock your neck off course. Everyone will be silent as you attack the culprit in weaponed words for his careless arm. Michael will vanish. Don’t let anyone see you searching. When you finally go inside to find him, he’ll be walking down the stairs with a bag of ice that he’ll hand to you and that you’ll take without a word.
           Later, he’ll see you using the ice for everything but the splitting ache that has formed in your head; slipping cubes down Caroline’s back and grinding the rest between your eager teeth, because you haven’t yet learned to show you care.
           Step 3:
           Caroline will stop sucking the card and it will drop from Michael’s blowing lips. Watch as they kiss, then avert your eyes downward. She’ll smile and grab his arm right before Sam’s cigarette burns your left hand. Michael will eventually be next to you in the misshapen circle, an ace of hearts the only thing separating his lips from yours. Don’t drop the card. Suck and blow with skill because desperation is vulnerability in disguise.
           When you notice Caroline’s eyes hazed with reddened heartbreak, don’t apologize. It wasn’t your fault he only saw her as a friend to get high with, laugh with, make midnight coffee with. Drink four shots of vodka rimmed with pink sugar labeled “Daddy.” If you still feel a sting in your right temple, take three more.

           Step 4:
           Fall asleep alone. Wonder whether all the words you meant to say will eventually vanish or if they’ll stay and rot and mold and decay. In the morning, you’ll wake with a finished pounding in your skull- ready to serve.

Recipe for Blurred Vision
           Step 1:
           Wake up at 5 am to a phone call you should have heard at midnight. Listen to your sister complain about your father’s boss. How he had the nerve to contact her and how he had the nerve to suggest she help your father succeed in rehab. Ask her if she will.
           Nod your head too slowly when she says she’d rather die.
           Step 2:
           Contemplate whether you love anyone but yourself. Contemplate whether you even love yourself. After dinner, find your way to an underground Parisian nightclub where you’ll fall up a broken escalator and rip your flowered tights. Drink whiskey and Coke that will mix with the tequila trapped and hiding between your teeth like nervous acid.
           On the dance floor, there will be men. The fog and the crimson strobe-lights will blur your vision. When a pair of calloused hands wraps around your waist, let them. Hold them in your palms as if you only own what never wants to be yours. You won’t have a chance to see his face before he kisses you. Another whiskey and Coke. Another man.
           Repeat until satisfied.
Step 3:
           Your sister will call again, this time at two in the morning. Pretend you can’t hear the dribbling of her tears on the hardwood floors. A part of you will resent her for not helping your father. A part of you will resent her for all the fights she didn’t hear, all the vomit she never wiped from your father’s sheets, all the stories she was able to believe.
           The memories of your father will overtake you. So that even the bottle of wine that you paid for with his money won’t calm your nerves. Remember the morning he drove you to the airport four months ago. How his gentle eyes blinked in patterns that told you he’d miss you. How, despite the Bourbon-induced glaze, you’d always loved those eyes. They’d always loved you, never meant to hurt you. Tell your sister the third time is a charm.
           Tell yourself he’ll never stop drinking.
           “You know why I won’t help him, right?” Your sister will ask. Stay silent as if you don’t already know the answer. “If he didn’t pay for all my shit, I’d probably never even talk to him.”
           Shake your head violently until everything around you becomes a blur.
           Realize that you agree.

Recipe for Deep Sleep
Step 1:
           Inside the chateau covered with vines, a pig will roast above the fire in slow and steady turns. Suck the wine from the fruit at the bottom of the punch bowl, as if sucking were more sophisticated than sipping, as if sucking won’t make you drunk.
           The clouds will form and the rain will fall hard onto fresh grass. It will hurt your skin to stand out by the pool. Stay there searching for Michael between liquid strands that fall too close together. You will never find him. Know that he is there. He is there somewhere. But you will never find him.
           Turn around and walk back to the punch. Refill your empty glass.
Step 2:
           When you careen home to the student residence, you will find Michael holding hands with Caroline. They will see you before sauntering to her room where they will blast Sublime through open windows. Open yours. Compose an ode to “fucks” and “you”- fuck you!- you will yell down to the street. No one will hear you.
           Smile as if they did.
Step 3:
           A French soldier will wander the halls in the middle of the night. Ask him where he’s going. Lean into him as he tells you he needs a place to sleep. Don’t introduce yourself before leading him to your room and shutting the door.
           Open a bottle of tequila at the same time he takes off his pants. You will not want him inside of you. Let him inside of you.
           The tequila will cause you to pass out sometime before the finish. In the morning, you will only remember fragments.
           Realize for the first time that you want to remember more than fragments.

Recipe to Remember
Step 1:
           Wake up to sweat dripping down your cheek like teardrops. Think of your father. How he will be in his tenth day of rehab. Let the science of addiction comfort you. It’s a disease. He is trying. He is fighting. Help him fight.
           Stifle the yearning to call bullshit: He’s doing this to himself.
           When the warm vodka rushes down your throat, think of your father setting his glass on the marble table. How, after your mother died, the drinks seemed to sprout like weeds from the countertops, the nightstands, even the cup holders of his car. Magic water, you would tell your sister. Water that makes Daddy happy and strong. Think of the slurred words he would read aloud. How you would grab the book from his shaking hands and finish telling the story to your little sister. How he would hold each of you in turn. No one will ever love you girls more.
           Remember the sharp stings of vodka breath on your nose as he kissed you goodnight. Wonder whether a sting is enough to believe he hurt you all this time or if maybe – just maybe – no one ever would love you more.
Step 2:
           Call your sister seven times the next day. When she doesn’t answer, scour your mini-fridge for all the half-empty bottles of wine you bought for two euros. None of them will taste good, but the numbness will.
           She will answer on your eighth attempt. She will breathe hard and fast and you will see her body shaking from a thousand miles away.
           “I didn’t know it would be like this. I didn’t know. Why the FUCK are you in another country? I shouldn’t have to deal with this shit alone. Where the fuck are we going to live?”
           When you finally ask her what happened, your eyes will close so tightly you will wonder whether the lids are sewn. She will scream it. She will scream it so that the plastic in your hand vibrates. “HE’S DEAD!”
Step 3:
           You will want to explain that she had it easy. That she has no right to be mad. But you will listen as she tells you how he left her a voicemail: I love you both so much.
           Listen as she tells you how he got fired yesterday. How he went to the pub after midnight. How his body flew through the windshield so hard that shards of glass are now nestled in his organs.
           Listen as she rattles on about all the money she’ll never get to use. “Selfish bastard.”
Step 4:
           Michael will knock on your door. “I’m sorry about your dad,” he will say before interlacing his hands in yours. “I’ll help you forget about all of it. At least for tonight.”
           Watch as he pulls a bottle of Jameson from his backpack. When he pours two shots, you will notice the veins bulging from the back of his hand. You will want to trace them with your fingertips like little rivers. Let yourself believe no one will ever love you more than the dark nights and drunken words you’ve held onto all your life.
           He will wrap his arms around you before grabbing your breast with a sharp inhale. You will not be in the mood to let him touch you. Know that you will let him. Be silent as he turns around to grab the shots and tremble as he places one in your palm. “Cheers to forgetting,” he will say with a smile.
           Resist the urge to smash the glass against the wall. Resist the urge to down the bottle. Resist the urge to bury your face so deeply into his body that eventually you’ll forget to breathe. Resist the urge to slap him across the ear.
           Instead, place the glass gently on the countertop. You will walk to the door without looking back. You will open it. Look away as he leaves. Then walk back to the counter. Pick up the shot and watch as acid trickles into the drain with a slow gurgle.
           Repeat until the whole bottle is gone.



Malia Bradshaw is a writer residing in Austin, TX. Her most recent nonfiction and poetry can be found in New Literati, where she was profiled as the Spring 2014 Featured Writer. When not writing, she teaches yoga.
Cover photo: Joana Coccarelli (https://www.flickr.com/photos/narghee-la)