Martha Seeks Revenge

Lily Hoang

The table is set for four, four dinner plates as a nest for four salad plates, four glasses for water and four for wine, red, wide open mouths better for the breathing, four salad forks to the left of four dinner forks and on the other side four spoon, midway between soup and tea, and four butter knives, below those silvered utensils—the real deal, not that fake stuff—four bright green, emerald, cloth napkins, linen. The tablecloth is white, also linen. The chairs are a deep stained brown, simple and modern, with very clean lines, the table stashed beneath the cloth matches, Martha can tell by its legs, also four, which barely emerge from their covering.

Doctor Bowen the male wears a tweed jacket, grey, a pale blue oxford under it, a bow tie to tie it all together, peach, and trousers, tan. He is instantaneously professorial: he plays his role well. They are younger than she imagined, not that she had a clear image of either, and Doctor Bowen the male still excessively charming. He wears wired glasses, barely visible, his brown hair covers up any grey, his face is thin and stern and very smart, not unlike Simon. He has bad posture though, the kind of spine that has served too long in battle, only Doctor Bowen the male has warred only with books and Rank and Tenure committees, his hands are deceptively small. They drum against the tablecloth on the top of the table, impatient.

Doctor Bowen the female is beautiful and trim, elegant, long brown wavy hair, and she dresses in a manner all too reminiscent of her table: a loose linen shirt, white, it’s simple, nothing flagrant, an unassuming cut that emphasizes the slight size of her waist, curving up to the curve of her breasts, which are firm, she is a sight!, and linen pants, a shockingly bold green, like fresh grass, the newest grass, they’re loose on her, hanging practically, and sensible sandals, brown leather.

The Bowen family is photographic in their pristine veneer.

The table, despite being set for four, with four of everything, two couples two pairs four squares, spreads enough food for forty. It would seem the Doctors Bowen are trying to challenge Martha.

Everything looks like wax, not like it’s fake, no, just that it’s perfect, too perfect to be gobbled up like she wants to shovel it in by the wheelbarrel, if she could, though that’s not polite, so she shows some restraint, a rarity for Martha. Every dish is garnished, every single one with an appropriate ladle or ladling device: they’re not Cro-Magnons! The dishes are simple enough though nothing is ever simple, let’s be fair here. Set on the table are three types of lasagna, one without meat, they had no way to knowing her dietary restriction—although upon seeing her they could tell she had none, not even a one—and vegetarianism is just so faddish, impossible to predict when and how you’ll have one surprise you at your own table, better to be prepared, Doctor Bowen the female always says, her voice trilling, and apricot-braised lamp, two whole racks of them, and roasted potatoes rubbed with rosemary and thyme, though without the accompanying parsley and sage, too many herbs drown the flavors she always says, green beans with yellow mustard seed and whole grains of sea salt, Dover sol in a delicate lemon butter sauce, char grilled skewers of shrimp, brussel sprouts baked with stone ground mustard, steak tartar, and gazpacho soup, and dessert obviously stashed away, hidden from the main courses, no no food first, then dessert, it can’t be placed with the dinner spread, how appalling!, their table is enormous to accommodate so much food, and salads, there were four different choices: the typical dinner salad, butter lettuce with some romaine cut in, chickpeas, red bell pepper, mushroom, tomato, carrots, and an unlikely suspect, grapes, the perfect ingredient to tie the flavors together!, with a easy balsamic vinaigrette, and a roasted beet and goat cheese salad, a mozzarella basil tomato salad, sure, and a cob salad, easy easy, and with it, four variations on bread, each one equally delicious, two of which Martha could hardly even pronounce, Doctor Bowen the female’s wavering voice reminding her to ease up on the bread, lest she become too full before the real meal even begins, and in the middle of the table, the center piece of it all, something prepared especially for her taste buds, a slap to her provincial tasteless white trash roots: a tub of fried chicken, Doctor Bowen the male putting piece after piece on her plate while the Bowen family abstained from that one dish alone, and she didn’t any doctor anything to explain to her why.

Martha eats like she can’t be sated, the food so scrumptious it’s sexy, she’s turned on, all this food, each bite taking her closer to delirium, but she has to retain her composure, the Doctors Bowen judging, throwing question after question at her, Simon goofy grinning, they
were in love: Simon with his parents’ misery and Martha with all this food.

Lily Hoang is the author of THE EVOLUTIONARY REVOLUTION, CHANGING (recipient of a 2009 PEN/Beyond Margins Award), and PARABOLA (winner of the 2006 Chiasmus Press Un-Doing the Novel Contest).