This story is by Selma Writes and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
As Isabella was heading out the door, the delivery man met her by the stairs. He knew her from the many times he had delivered packages to her apartment.
…a care package from grandma, again. I’ll unpack it after my run.
She placed it on her kitchen table and went out for her jog.
It was a lovely fall afternoon. Isabella jogged for three hours pausing only to take short breaks to replenish on liquids and to watch the colorful leaves twirling before joining the cacophony on the ground.
Returning to her apartment, she gulped down the rest of her vitamin drink and set food out for her pets.
“There you go,” she chimed, “yummy!” She popped a kibble in her mouth and hummed as she walked to take a shower.
Later, ready in her waitress uniform she rolled her bike outside her door then grabbed her keys. “See you guys later,” she said to her pets looking over her shoulder. She scrunched her nose at the package on the table. “Later,” she said again, and off to work she went.
The French bistro where she worked was only a few minutes away from her apartment. Every day, as the sun enveloped the city in transparent rays of orange luster, Isabella rode her bicycle to work and when the moon seemed the farthest away in the heavens she rode it back home again.
As she pedaled, she thought of her grandma.
Six months – that’s how long I haven’t talked to grandma. She came all the way from Indiana to help me settle in when I moved into my new apartment. She’s sweet. Grandma had called my kitchenette quaint…and had promised to send me vegetables.
She winced. “The pots she gave me…I haven’t even unpacked them.”
The restaurant was always busy. But while in the summer it catered mostly to rich young people who ordered sparingly and sat for much too long, in the fall the restaurant attracted people closer to her parents’ age. The orderly crowd found the change of season a welcome respite from the unbearable heat of summer when the bistro’s menu, featuring mostly light meals, was replaced with hearty fall staples. They came in for the food. That amused Isabella.
She had been a picky eater as a child and the prejudice confused her more once she met Samantha and her group in high school. Nothing feels like thin was their mantra. She still sees Samantha in her dreams, and even now the message Samantha brings her is the same.
“I’m not like them,” Isabella would retort upon waking from those dreams. “No way. I’m not.”
Samantha and her girls prefer walking around with stomachs growling and fake happy faces that reveal nothing about the otherworldly feelings in their heads. I still enjoy the feeling of having a full stomach.
“ Um, sometimes…” she would admit under her breath.
Except for the initiation picnic ritual, when they had all binged on chili dogs and hamburgers and had knelt in a circle with fingers at the ready – Samantha initiating over the activity going: Ready… set… gag – that was the only time that she had purged. All the other times, in the sanctity of a bathroom, she had faked it. Isabella had learned to imitate their regurgitating sounds and for the sake of anyone in the group who was listening, she would empty the contents of her sports drink into the toilet bowl while she pretended to throw up, then she’d rinse her mouth with the rest of her drink to emulate the smell of fresh barf.
But Isabella did fast.
That’s how she knew about that lightheaded feeling. She stumbled, but she didn’t fall, is how she thought of what she had done in high school. Yet she hadn’t found a way of breaking away from the experience completely.
Scheduled to work every day, she ate one meal at the restaurant. On Fridays, after eating half of what they served her, Isabella would start her fast – refusing everything else that was offered to her over the weekend.
I’m just not hungry, she’d lie. And she wouldn’t taste another bite until Monday afternoon.
It was close to midnight when she returned home from work.
“Brrr. Cold,” she declared as she rolled her bicycle into her front door, “I’ll need to take a thicker sweater for the ride back home from now on.” The lamp in her bedroom was lit and Isabella could see her pets curled up on her bed. She jingled her keys but they ignored her.
“Humph. Be that way!”
She walked to the bathroom, poured bubble bath into the tub and ran a bath as she undressed. She lit a scented candle and placed it on a stool next to the tub. From a wine bottle that she kept on her night stand, she poured herself a generous serving of wine. Pei Fang reluctantly followed her to the bathroom.
“Ah,” she sighed as she immersed her body in slow. As she took her first sip of wine, she looked at her puppy. Laid outstretched on the doorway, Pei Fang’s eyes danced from side to side following the shadows on the ceiling. Out of obligation, Wilhelmina came in, yawned, jumped onto the cool sink and curled up there like a fluffy sweater.
Outside the wind howled.
Isabella sat in her sudsy bathwater contemplating the events of the evening.
“Fall reigns supreme,” she said cattily shaking her head and rolling her eyes. Almost all her customers had said that after she had given them the list of specials for the evening.
All the mushrooms, acorn squash, pumpkins, pickled apples, flavorful meats, hearty stews. Fall is by far the best season of all. She continued shaking her head mimicking the customers. But Isabella didn’t understand the excitement. All she knew about food is that there was an abundance of it.
“Wish I could cook it like this in my kitchen,” a happy customer had said.
Suddenly she remembered her package. She stood up with a start. As she fumbled to grab her bathrobe, Wilhelmina jumped out of the sink and onto the floor, almost landing on top of Pei Fang. The pup growled and chased the cat into the bedroom.
Isabella walked to her table and opened the box. A small magenta envelope was glued to the top.
Grandma remembers that Magenta’s my favorite color. Gosh, that’s sweet.
She produced the letter and read the short note.
You too Grandma? What is this? She rolled her eyes at the note. She read it again: Fall reigns supreme. Don’t let the season pass you by without tasting these… because you’re worth it. xo, Grandma.
She felt ashamed; she sat down and broke down in tears. I had no idea there’d be a letter inside. All those other times, when I just threw the boxes out… there were letters. What a wretched person I am.
The sobbing reached Pei Fang’s ears who approached, whimpered then returned to her spot on the bed next to Wilhelmina.
With fresh tears rolling down her cheeks, Isabella looked at the vegetables. She unpacked and sniffed. “Smells sun kissed,” she smiled. She nodded and lined them on her countertop. “Wow, that’s a whole lotta love for one fall season,” she grimaced, amused.
I’m not in high school anymore. Samantha and the others are not here to shove their ‘thin is in’ bullshit down my throat. So why am I still fasting and behaving as if I didn’t know better?
She walked over to the bathroom, unplugged the stopper, brushed her teeth and before blowing out the candle she let the robe fall from her body. She peered long at her reflection in the mirror and nodded at the girl-next-door look reflected; because I’m worth it, she mouthed to her. She blew out her candle and walked naked to her bedroom. Her pets stirred as she got under the covers. Pinching a pillow between her legs she curled onto her side. Pei Fang moved and wiggled her back until it came close to Isabella’s. Wilhelmina nestled close.
“G’night guys,” Isabella cooed.
After I call grandma tomorrow, I’ll cook some veggies… maybe the shiitake and the leeks. The rest I’ll take to work and ask Jean Claude to teach me how to cook them… I’ll try to find out for myself why everyone thinks that fall reigns supreme. She turned off the lamp and closed her eyes.
But her inner eye stayed open for a minute longer; it saw Isabella in an apron cooking away in the kitchen that needed breaking in.
“Awww.” She murmured softly. Then the inner lights went off.
Outside the moon grinned. It watched the leaves dance to the music of the wind, and noticing a gap in Isabella’s curtain, a moonbeam snuck in and watched her sleep.