“What do you mean he doesn’t eat nightshades?” I yelled, grabbing my 16-quart pot off the stove and pouring its contents—a simmering, aromatic marinara sauce—down the sink. I turned on the disposal and cursed Tom Brady’s name loudly, for the thousandth time, watching as my whole afternoon flushed itself down an actual drain.
I looked at the backsplash above the sink where flecks of red stared back at me, an artistic memoriam of Nonna Maria’s most treasured recipe. Pour some out, indeed.
Obviously, my mother-in-law broke the news about Tom Brady’s absurd dietary requirements. I mean, this whole dinner was her idea in the first place. Dinner with any three people from history—and wouldn’t you know it? She chose me. Because, as she told my husband, “I never get to spend time with Camilla.”
“Do you need my help, dear?” she asked, placing her hand gently on my lower back. Every hair on my body stood erect and ready for combat. I hate you, Tom Brady.
“No, thanks,” I said, opening every cabinet and cupboard in a huff. Finding nothing inspired, I hovered over a reusable bag of vegetables, fresh from the farmer’s market. I pulled out a purple eggplant, the deep, foreboding color of my mother-in-law’s heart.
“Dear, NO nightshades.”
“Just admiring its color,” I said, my face turning red and hot like the peppers that Tom Brady refuses to eat because he’s philistine.
“Nightshades,” I repeated aloud. I felt like a nervous spelling bee contestant, wanting to ask clarifying questions that might bring me closer to victory—may I have the definition and language of origin please? But I couldn’t bring myself to do it.
Everywhere I turned, her permanently placid, expressionless face followed me. “It’s no bother. I don’t mind helping. It took me years to learn how to cook.” And then, she just couldn’t help herself. “No tomatoes, no eggplant, no peppers, no potatoes, no mushrooms.” She whispered every word, and stroked my hair delicately. What a complete monster.
I slipped through her grip and flung open the refrigerator door. I switched my focus to preparing a well-seasoned protein like chicken, which is just as bland as white-bred—PARDON ME—white bread Tom Brady. I pulled a beautiful, organic bird from the refrigerator and placed it on the countertop, taking just one moment to consider which recipe might please such a royal pain in the ass, Prince Thomas of Bradyshire.
“Ah-ah-ah!” said my mother-in-law, reminiscent of the automated error message of that fat asshole from Jurassic Park. “Don’t forget Mahatma Gandhi is a vegetarian!”
Of course. How could I forget the other attendee at this evening’s dinner? A man who put so much value on the process of consuming food that he used it as political leverage. Go ahead, Camilla. Try not to disappoint an international civil rights legend who thrice endured a 21-day hunger strike. No pressure.
“Right. Of course,” I said, my teeth clenched and bared in the kind of smile that may cause your head to pop off and fly into the stratosphere. My mother-in-law looked delighted, sensing that I was on the verge of a meltdown.
She took both my hands in hers and stroked them with her thumb. “Diane,” I said, my shoulders slumping with the heavy pull of defeat. I lifted my head to give my concession speech and looked into her eyes, her beautiful green eyes.
I whizzed into action, leaving my mother-in-law there in the middle of the kitchen, holding on to the start of an incomplete sentence. “Yes, dear? Was there something you wanted to ask me? Camilla? Dear? Camilla?”
I ignored her outright.
From the fridge, I pulled out every leafy vegetable and every single piece of fruit, arranging them in a perfectly spaced grid of separate bowls. Kale here, spinach there. Sliced bananas. Cubed mango. Pineapple chunks. And every berry imaginable except goji berries, which offend Tom’s fragile constitution.
I didn’t set the table. I didn’t cook a damn thing. I just left it all there on the countertop and darted up the stairs to change clothes. The guests would arrive in minutes, and I’d never hear the end of it if I arrived late to my own dinner party.
“Camilla!” my mother-in-law shouted after me. “I’m afraid this simply won’t do! Imagine what they’ll say about us! I won’t be made a laughing stock! Are you trying to sabotage me?”
I barreled down the staircase just as the doorbell rang, slipping past my mother-in-law’s arm to reach for the door first. As I twisted the knob, I winked at her and felt a spiritual awakening.
“Gentlemen! Welcome!” I announced, sweeping one arm to beckon them into our foyer. Tom shook my hand like a professional at a networking event. Mahatma reached out with both arms and as I hugged him, I felt smaller and more connected to the universe. Don’t let his tiny frame fool you; that man is powerful.
“Diane, would you mind taking their coats?” I asked, and then led the two men into the kitchen while my mother-in-law wilted beneath the sleeves and zippers.
“Now Tom, they say you’re the best quarterback of all time,” I said, cringing. “And Bapu, you led a non-violent revolution that freed India from the British Empire. So how did an everyday marketing associate like me end up at this historic dinner with the two of you?”
My mother-in-law stood in the doorjamb, teeth bared as if they could crush human bones, specifically mine. She waited to pounce on my next words, to fillet me in front of the great one (and Tom Brady). But I, the cunning marketer, had the power of words.
“MAKE YOUR OWN SMOOTHIE BAR!!!”
Gandhi won over his people using non-violence. Brady won over his people using his confidence. I used my own magic.