The Art Of Compromise

For Round 11 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, we asked you to send a story in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story for this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn of Richmond, Calif. Stories are published in their original form.

Shepherd's Pie i i
iStockPhoto.com
Shepherd's Pie
iStockPhoto.com

"It's just not here," Erin announced as she rifled through the last cookbook. She held the book apart by its front and back covers, gave the fanned pages a shake. "If I could just remember the magazine I found the recipe in, maybe I could get a copy off the internet." Erin worried her lower lip between her teeth as she often did when trying to recollect a memory just out of mind's reach. It was a habit Jeremy still found endearing.

Jeremy was sorting through the kitchen's junk drawer. He had been enjoying a Pepsi and the third inning of an Angels' ball game. When he'd retrieved his soda from the refrigerator, Erin had been composing a grocery list, her cookbooks open next to her as she devised the week's meals. Erin was a planner and proclaimed scheduling as the way to sanity with the fervor of a pastor proclaiming Scripture as the way to salvation. She absentmindedly tapped her pen against the page with the precision of a metronome. Jeremy kissed her temple as he passed by. Erin smiled up at him. "What do you think?
Baked chicken or pork tenderloin?"

After he'd resettled himself on the couch, Jeremy had heard a cacophony of opening cupboards and drawers. Jeremy inched the volume of the television up higher.

"Jeremy?"

Startled, Jeremy looked behind him to find Erin. There was a crease between her green eyes; her arms were crossed, each of her hands grasping the opposing elbow. Erin's voice bore a melancholic tone akin to the depressed chirp of a sparrow who has just witnessed its partner being devoured by a
cat.

"Yeah, Hon?"

"Have you seen my recipe for shepherd's pie?"

"No, I ...," Jeremy couldn't recall ever having seen Erin's recipe for shepherd's pie. "What does it look like?"

"It's just a half page I clipped out of a magazine. The recipe is on one side with a Miracle Whip ad on the other."

"No, I haven't seen it," Jeremy said giving Erin a small reassuring smile while trying to keep track of the at-bat.

"I've looked everywhere." Erin's tone was pleading. Her eyes moved from her husband back towards the kitchen.

So, now Jeremy was cataloguing the contents of the junk drawer. Years' worth of takeout menus and coupons were piled on the counter. "I don't see it over here either," Jeremy reported.

Erin's shoulders slumped. "I must have thrown it out accidentally."

"Maybe you could find a different shepherd's pie recipe?" Jeremy asked doubtfully. Erin was not good with change.

As he predicted, Erin frowned at the thought. "I don't think another version would come out as well."

"Maybe it will turn up," Jeremy offered.

Erin smiled half-heartedly at the thought, "Maybe it will." She sighed and shrugged. "I guess I'd better get to the store. I'll figure out something else for dinner Wednesday night."

"Never mind that," said Jeremy, "Let's go out to dinner Wednesday night. Your pick."

Erin's smile was more genuine this time. For all her adherence to routine, Erin was quick to recognize the good of a situation. It was another trait Jeremy admired. "That would be nice. We could try that new Thai place?" Erin grabbed her list, gave Jeremy a quick kiss, and left.

Jeremy smiled. He stuck his hands in his jeans' pockets. He loved his wife. He loved her small habits, her green eyes, her resilience. At the bottom of his pocket, his fingers brushed the frayed edge of a recipe clipped from a magazine.

Jeremy did not love his wife's shepherd's pie.

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