The Missing Ingredient

The ambulance was cruising across the highway. Another restless shift. Why couldn’t he just be a fireman? Just having boring shifts playing cards with the guys and maybe once every few months going to fight some fire which most of the time ended up being a malfunction in the fire alarm. After all that’s what he wanted. A nice job he can have fun and get paid for it. Nothing too much. Well, of course, that’s what most of the human kind wanted. But only few chosen ones actually live to have it. Most just find themselves with a job they can’t stand and a boss they can’t stand even more. It was always a hard choice for him. In any of his jobs he found himself contemplating with the existential question of why can’t he stand his job? Is it because of the actual job or is it because of his boss? Since he couldn’t find the answer he just waited for his boss to be replaced. If it was the job he couldn’t stand, a new boss won’t make it better. If it was the boss to blame, he might start having fun.

 

He always liked cooking. That was probably the first thing he would have done if not being a paramedic. Well, as long as he doesn’t need to wake up every day to drive somewhere to do it. He liked cooking for his friends. He was actually in the process of cooking his favorite dish before jumping on the ambulance. He learned how to make this dish from some one-time guest in a cooking show he watched a few years ago. Just five more minutes in the oven and it was done. Maybe it’s for the best. There was always something missing with this dish. He remembered the guy in the show reading off the ingredient list. A phone call. He missed the last ingredient. Only one. His friends always gave him compliments for every dish he made. Not for that one. Something was missing. They called it the “unfinished dish”. No girlfriend stayed with him more than a week after cooking this dish. Women like guys who cook but only if they cook something to their taste. He knew the one missing ingredient could make the difference. He will win the perfect girl. That one ingredient would have made the dish a masterpiece. Instead of being remembered in the hospital as a paramedic that used to cook he will be remembered as an unforgettable cook that used to be a paramedic. If only he would have received this dreadful phone call one second later. His life would have meant something. He googled all over the internet and found like seventeen different ways to make the dish but none was the one he saw in that cooking show. He even tried calling the TV station but they told him the program is going off air due to low rating and they have better things to do than help someone find some so-called missing ingredient. He never got a hold of the actual show guest who made the dish.

 

The guy lying on the bed near him was definitely fighting for his life. Connected to all those machines it was obvious it’s going to be a miracle if he makes it to the hospital. He asked him to hold his hand. Looks like he was afraid to die. How does it feel like knowing the end is near? You are about to disappear from earth and if there is no heaven, reincarnation or even hell it doesn’t look like you are going to exist in any form or even get another chance. That’s all. You finish your life as “Mr. X”. If you just knew in advance. Maybe you wouldn’t have bought so many groceries that will stay to rot in the refrigerator. And you probably wouldn’t have waited so long to buy that huge TV you always dreamed of having. You could have had six donuts instead of the one you get for breakfast. After all, who cares about obesity in the last day of his life? Maybe people with cancer should consider themselves lucky. After all they have some advance notice. They can at least plan their grocery shopping better.

 

Traffic jam. Cars trying to clear the way but there is still nowhere to go. It’s not a good idea to die in a rush hour. If you can, better do it in early morning. If you woke up too late try to stay alive during the day, make sure the roads are clear and then have your heart attack. Early evening was the time between shifts and usually the “day shift” didn’t have the same patience to deal with a patient who decided to die during rush hour. They might connect him to life sustaining machines before doing everything they can to save him. He wondered if anyone ever checked statistically how many people in a life-threating situation died during the rush hour compared to other times of the day. He just wished the ambulance would make it to the hospital soon. His favorite team is on TV tonight.

 

The dying guy’s grip of his hand got tighter. Desperately trying to hold into life. But, taking all into consideration, the guy should feel lucky. There are much worse ways to die. Like in a plane crash or burning to death in some public building. When you die you want to be alone. Think about your life, your childhood, your first kiss, your first sex and your loved ones. Going back to life intersections where you could have taken a different path. Where you might have been today? For sure not in the ambulance. All those people screaming around you, sharing their death with yours distract this thought process. You might start feeling sorry for everyone else around you. It is hard enough feeling sorry for yourself. Much better dying here in the ambulance holding hands with the paramedic.

 

He stared directly into the dying guy’s sad eyes. He looked somewhat familiar. Dead people looked the same lying there. Same fear. How does it feel to die alone? No one was at the house besides him when they came. While he was still able to talk he didn’t mention anyone else. He looked lonely. Just like him. One lonely dying guy holding hands with one lonely living guy. Maybe that’s one of the main reasons you stick with your spouse, if you have one, after the age of sixty. You don’t like her, she annoys you, it feels like hell on earth to be with her in the same house but – she is going to be there in the ambulance. Sitting near you, holding your hands, maybe even crying. It makes you feel good to see someone crying on you when you are dying. Even if they are faking it so you won’t feel bad. If you are leaving this world while someone is still crying on you, you know that you made a difference. If not you, this someone might have been having fun on the beach right now. Instead he is sitting here crying.

 

The dying guy was fully dressed. Probably just came back from work. Somebody should call his office. Let them know he is not going to make it tomorrow. What if there is a major project for which he is supposed to give a presentation tomorrow. Actually, that might have been one of the reasons he had the heart attack in the first place. The room filled with all managers waiting for him to come and give the presentation. Checking their phones. The presentation is about to start. The company is going to lose so much money by having so many managers doing nothing for one hour. Almost as much as it is going to lose having them doing something in this one hour. His boss is frustrated. Thinking, why did I do this? Why did I give him this responsibility? I should have done the presentation myself if only I didn’t delegate my role to everyone around me so I can make it on time to the dates with my mistress. He shouldn’t have counted on anyone else beside himself. He never felt confident putting the project in the hands of this guy. He was always late. This time is one time too many. He better have a good reason or he is out of here. He will probably have some excuse, as usual. Something about the traffic or his mother not feeling good. He is history in this company. Not even one month’s notice. He is out today. If he can only give the presentation himself, the manager kept thinking. But what’s the point of being a manager if you are actually doing something that someone else can do much better than you?

 

He looked at the guy’s phone lying beside him. He was not lonely after all. Still had the ultimate friend, his phone. Did he have enough time to post a Facebook message saying goodbye? What about his account? Who will inherit all his wonderful pictures and funny posts? What about his Facebook friends? Are they going to come to his funeral? Are they actually going to miss him? Are they even going to notice he is dead? Some people die in their cubes while no one notices for few hours. How long does it take your Facebook friends to notice you are not posting anything? A week? Month? Year? How can they even notice when each has more than five hundred friends? Unless he unfriended them just before he was about to die. They might notice a change in the number of friends. But it will take them some time to find who it was.

 

He used to google the names of the people in the ambulance. It was interesting to see who they were, what they did in their lives. Not every time he found the right one. After all he couldn’t search for something like “Mr. X dying in an ambulance”. His phone was dead. He looked at the guy’s phone. No, he can’t do it. He can’t use the phone of a dying man. Well, still not dead but definitely on the fast lane for being one. He looked again at the phone. Maybe only this one time. Nobody is going to notice. He really wanted to google his name. The last respect he can give to someone lonely who has no one to cry on his dying bed. At least he will know who this guy was. And then, holding his hand he will feel something for him. Not like a spouse, a family member or even old friend but still something. Before the guy takes his last breath he will see someone caring for him.

 

He took the phone. The weak battery signal flashed. The battery was dying, just like its owner. They were close to the hospital. Even if the guy lying here is not dead by then, he will definitely be dead by the beginning of his next shift. He holds the phone gently almost trying not to annoy the battery hoping it will give him a few more valuable seconds. Not much time. The last thing he can afford to happen now is someone opening the door and finding him playing with the phone of a dying patient. He will probably need to look for a job as a cook. He checked again the name of the guy on the medical board. With shaking hands he typed the name. The search engine gave few results. He checked images related to the guy. Few faces appeared. One of them resembled the dying man. The phone beeped about to turn off. Last few seconds. He must find who this poor guy is. He pressed on the guy’s face on the screen and was redirected to a website. Some TV channel. He scrolled down looking for his name. There was a link to a cooking show with a list of guests. The guy name was the last one. He checked again the name of the TV channel. The name was familiar. It was the same channel he watched the cooking show with the missing ingredient. He looked at the guy again. The phone. The guy. The phone. The guest. The phone. The cook. The phone. The missing ingredient. It can’t be. It just can’t be. That’s him. That’s the last guest of the cooking show he watched. The phone died.

 

Here in front of him was lying the guy that meant so much to him. Gave a reason to his existence. His hero. He got his last chance to find the missing ingredient. Here he is sitting in front of the treasure. He just needs to find the combination to the lock.

 

He didn’t think twice. He pushed the guy aggressively waking him up. “Wake up, Wake up, please!!! I have a question. One question and then you can die!” The cook opened his eyes, probably for the last time. “Remember the show? The cooking show? What was the last ingredient? Please. Just tell me. The last ingredient. Please!” He yelled not caring if anyone would open the ambulance door. He must find the missing ingredient. The cook looked at him. He understands! He understands what he was saying. “Please”, he cried, “Please help me. What was the last ingredient???” The cook looked suffering. He was making an effort to say something. He start uttering some unrecognized words and crashed shutting his eyes for the last time. The recognized dead monotonous sound came from the machine. He cried like he never cried before. All he wanted was the missing ingredient. The ingredient missing from his dish, from his life, from his happiness. He took the cook like a baby in his arms. Someone cared for him after all.

My Own Dragon

“Next Friday be ready for the math exam”, said Liam’s teacher. Liam was a good student but he didn’t like important exams. He didn’t want to fail.

The next day, Liam scored 3 goals for his team, Panthers, in the soccer game. His dad, the coach of the team, hugged him and his mother yelled “Great goal, Liam! Let’s go Panthers!”. Liam was very happy. He liked scoring goals. Suddenly he noticed a small dragon sitting with all the parents. The dragon wasn’t smiling and wasn’t cheering. He was just sitting and looking. Liam didn’t like the dragon. He looked scary.

After the game ended the dragon followed Liam to his dad’s car. He sat in the passenger seat just near his dad. Liam was the only one who saw the dragon. His dad and his brother, Bar, didn’t see it.

The dragon also joined Liam to his Tae Kwon Do class and swimming lesson later the same week. Liam had a very good classes but the dragon didn’t smile and just sat there and watched.

On Thursday after bath time, Liam played the Piano. He almost made no mistake and was really proud of himself. The dragon sat on the couch and listened.

Liam went to sleep early. He wanted to be ready for his exam the next day. But he wanted to talk to the dragon.

Liam waited until his brother and dad went to sleep and quietly turned on the living room light. The dragon was there sitting on the couch reading a book.

“Who are you?”, asked Liam.

“I am a dragon”, said the dragon.

“I can see that”, said Liam, “but what is your name?”

“My name is F”, answered the dragon.

“F? what kind of a name is that?”, said Liam. He was confused.

“Well, this is my name. Like it or not”, said the dragon.

“Why are you following me all day?”, asked Liam.

“I am not following you. I am part of you.”, smiled the dragon.

“Part of me? I don’t get it”, said Liam.

“Well, I am your FEARS. I am everything in your mind that is afraid to fail. Not to score goals, not to play the piano good, not to swim well”

“But I don’t like you. I don’t like to fail. Can’t you just go away?”, said Liam.

“Nobody likes to fail. Everyone has his own dragon. But we can be friends”, said the dragon.

“Friends? I don’t want to be friends with my FEARS!”, said Liam.

“I can help you. Whenever you fail an exam, not playing the piano good, or not swimming fast as someone else, remember that EVERYONE has his own dragon. I will help you get up and continue and show you that nothing bad happened. It happens to everyone. Everyone fails once in a while. The important thing is to get up, smile, and continue to your next success.”

Liam smiled. The dragon is not so bad after all. He hugged the dragon and turned off the light. Tomorrow he has an important exam. He want to succeed but even if he fails he will get up, smile and continue.

I miss my little kids

I miss them fighting for me to sleep on their side of the bed,

I miss them holding me in the swimming pool like I am everything in their world,

I miss them running at me when I come to pick them up from the daycare like it’s the first time they see me in their lives,

I miss them insisting that I will hold them in my hands since they are too tired to walk,

I miss them holding me so tight when we walk on the street that my hand hurt,

I miss them saying “This is my dad” to their friends at kindergarten when I come for lunch,

I miss the time I could let them win the games without them even noticing it,

I miss the time I could play with them in the car pretending it is a spaceship and I have a button which makes it fly, about to press it, and they actually wait for something to happen,

I miss the time they jumped on my back and it felt like a cat,

I miss the time I asked them “who is your best friend in the world?” and they said “you”,

I miss the time I played superman with them, ran to the bathroom, and they believed me when I said I flew outside and came back from the drain,

I miss the time they hide under my blanket and they were sure I had no idea where they were,

I miss the time I told them “everything is OK, daddy is here” and they actually believed me,

I miss the time I could put on them their pajamas two sizes smaller and they didn’t even notice it,

I miss the time they wanted me to read them ten books before they go to sleep and they were mad at me because I got tired after the sixth one,

I miss the time they needed me to go with them to the restroom and had to announce it so I will take them,

I miss the time they kicked me and punched me and it didn’t hurt,

I miss the time I was running faster than they did and had to slow down to let them win,

I miss the time we walked and got to a traffic light and a small hand reached to my hand like there is no other way to pass,

I miss the time we played soccer and they were running around the ball since they had no idea what to do,

I miss the time they said “yesterday” and meant “three years ago”,

I miss the time they gave me a hug and it didn’t feel like they were in a hurry,

I miss the time they thought water is the only drink in the world,

I miss the time I explained simple things about the world and they would be excited like we just landed on the moon,

I miss the time I was waiting to take them to new places knowing I was actually opening the world in front of their eyes,

I miss the time we played hide and seek and they really thought I had no idea where they were,

I miss the time they were never tired and were eager to stay awake and learn new things about the world, until their eyes said “enough”,

I miss the time I played board games with them and they didn’t feel as though something better was waiting behind the door,

I miss the time I was proud to swim fast in the swimming pool so they would be impressed,

I miss the time I told them “today we are going to the park” and they just said “yay” and hurried to the door,

I miss the time they told me they don’t want me to get old,

I miss the time they were impressed by every small toy I bought,

I miss the time they were innocent, the time they needed me, the time their small hearts and bodies were still part of me,

I miss my little kids.

Fantasy

 

“What did you say?” she asked sharply, almost yelling.

“I asked if you could take off you clothes”, I said quietly, trying to hide the trembling in my voice.

“Are you out of your mind? What is up with you?” she went towards the door.

So, here I was, a week before my wedding, sitting in my ex’s house, asking her to undress. I came over to give her a wedding invitation. Well, that too.

“Wait, Elinor, let me explain.” I ran after her.

“What’s there to explain? I’m a married woman, with a child. Last time I saw you was six years ago when you decided that our relationship was too stressful for you and it was time to take a break that turned into a breakup. You suddenly thought about me a week before your wedding, to give me an invitation…” she stopped, trying to hold back her tears and kept going in a tone that kept rising, “and now you’re asking me to take off my clothes? What do you want? To fuck me? Do I look like a slut to you? I loved you, you were my whole life, but that’s it. I’m over you, I’m happily married and I have a wonderful husband and a gorgeous child. What right do you have, huh? Who gave you the right to just show up here, thinking that you’re going to fuck me just because you’re getting married? Do you actually think I sit at home and fantasize about you? I-“

“Elinor”, I yelled, “you have to stop for a second and let me explain.”

Well, this is not going to be easy.

“Elinor, I don’t want to have sex with you. It’s not about that.”

“Then what are you-“

“Wait a second, calm down. I really don’t want to have sex with you. That’s not why I came. I admit the wedding invitations were not the main reason. But neither is having sex. There’s something else.”

“What?” She asked.

“Come, sit next to me for a bit” I gestured towards the couch. She hesitated.

“Don’t worry. I’ll just explain myself and then I’ll leave.” I took her hand in mine and sat her on the couch next to me.

“I’m thirty two already. You’re thirty. When we broke up you were twenty-four. You were at you peak. Your body was divine. Sex with you was everything I could have wished for. Everything was right. The full and perky breasts, the long legs, the smooth skin, the long and lustrous hair. Oh and the smell. You smelt like heaven. I enjoyed every second with you. But I was young, I had plans. I felt that even though I really loved you, I couldn’t let the relationship hold me back from going on with my plans, from going to study overseas. This may have been a mistake, but that’s not why I’m here.”

“You’re confusing me, I still don’t understand.”

“I met Christy, my future wife, about a year ago. It was obvious from the start that the two of us had amazing chemistry. She is smart, sensitive and loving. I love her. But, Christy is thirty-one. She has the body of a thirty-one-year-old.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“I am trying to say that Christy could never look the way you did when you were twenty-four.”

“But even I don’t look the way I did when I was twenty-four. It’s not as if I remained young while the world around me grew older. I’m thirty and, as you can see, your description is not very accurate any more” she said with a slight smile.

“Not in my head. You see, in my mind, the image of you at twenty-four still lives. Every girl I have dated since was immediately compared with that image, with you. At first they were younger so the comparison wasn’t bad, but once I’ve crossed thirty and the girls I dated were somewhat older, the comparison became impossible. They were in their thirties and they looked accordingly.”

“And what’s so wrong with thirty?”

“Nothing. But no matter how you look at it, a thirty year old girl cannot look like a young, beautiful, attractive, sexy twenty-four-year-old. The body changes. But the problem wasn’t that they were thirty. The problem was that I was comparing them to you. You see, you were amazing. When I was overseas, when I was stuck at home studying for exams, I used to masturbate and only fantasize about sex with you. When I was sleeping with other girls, I fantasized about you. Well, not exactly about you, rather about a twenty-four year old Elinor.”

“So, what do you want? You want to leave Christy?”

“No, I love Christy and I am marrying her next week. But the image of you at twenty-four is still stuck in my head and the constant comparison is driving me nuts and jeopardizing my marriage. The older Christy gets, things will only go down hill. Rationally, I realize we will grow older and our bodies will change. The relationship between Christy and me is more than just about sex, but the image of you is still stuck in my subconscious, torturing me every time I want to have sex with Christy. When she undresses, the image of you at twenty-four pops into my head, I compare it to Christy and my subconscious starts yelling: How? How did you leave that, for that? How? And it drives me insane.”

“But that’s crazy. You’re comparing her today to me six years ago.”

“Exactly. But it’s not me. It’s in my head and I can’t control it. This is why I want you to undress.”

“What?” she was panicking again, “what does that have to do with it?”

“If I see your body today, the image of it now will replace the image I have of you at twenty-four and then, finally, I could have sex with Christy at peace, without those voices in my head.”

She understood. She smiled. I calmed down. Now, even if she won’t do it at least I got it off my chest.

“So, instead of going to see a shrink to help you solve your problems, you came here. And what exactly did you think? That just because you went out with me for four years, six years ago, you have the right to see my naked body today?”

“I know I don’t have any rights. I understand that we are strangers today. I am coming to you for help. The closer the wedding got, the worse it became for me. Christy is losing patience with me. She doesn’t know how I feel but she can sense it. I’m afraid. I’m afraid of losing the whole thing because of this fantasy that’s stuck in my head. I’m only asking. If you say no I’ll understand and I’ll leave.”

Elinor was thinking. I wondered what was going through her head. Maybe she reminisced about our time together, when we used to stay up all night, every Thursday, because we decided those were the best hours of the week. The silence prolonged. I started to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want to torture her anymore.

“Look, I’m sorry, I…”

“Shut up” she said quietly, gently taking my hand. She got up and stood in front of me. She started unbuttoning her shirt slowly.

“Can you help me with the bra?” she turned around. I got up and with shaking hands after a couple of attempts, managed to unhook it. I sat down. She turned around, smiling. I studied her. These were invaluable seconds. Concentrate, I told myself, concentrate. Replace the image. This is Elinor. This is Elinor. Not the girl with the perky large breasts, with the tiny waists and the body that screams at you “I want to live!” She wasn’t unattractive. Her breasts were still impressive but had already started to sag. Childbirth has taken its toll. The waistline wasn’t as narrow. She was beautiful. But not stunningly the way she was six years ago. She looked like an attractive thirty-year-old woman. Something any man would be thankful for. I didn’t ask, but she took off her jeans and remained standing in her black underwear. She tried to do it in a practical, non-sexual sort of way.

“Should I walk around like some model?” she asked, laughing.

I didn’t answer. As it was I felt like disappearing.

She turned around, showing me her ass. It was pleasing to look at. Her husband did not suffer in bed. A little bit of fat was bulging around her panty line. The perfect symmetry was damaged. It was still nice but not as firm. I remember I used to spank her during sex just to feel the firmness of it. If I was to slap it now, it probably would have had a softer, elastic feel. It was obvious she exercised. Some sort of losing battle a person has against nature’s wear and tear. She turned around again.

“Well, did you enjoy it?” she asked.

“I didn’t…”

“I know you didn’t do this for pleasure” she laughed, “after all, it is the old body of a thirty-year-old.” She winked.

I got up and stood next to her. Awkward.  She hugged me. After all, four years together.

“Elinor” I said, “thank you.”

“Don’t thank me” she smiled, “go home to Christy. I think she deserves great sex tonight.”

She kissed me gently on the cheek. I left.