You are making chili. Think about cooking. Don’t think about anything else.
Gather your supplies. Your single frying pan is where it always is, in the cupboard above the stove along with the only two pots you own. The slow cooker is on top of the cabinet, half-hidden behind empty vases. You wipe off the dust while definitely not thinking of the last time you used it for that disastrous potluck office party. The knives and cutting board are in the dishwasher, clean but spotted with soap residue. None of your knives match.
Gather your ingredients. The beef you had already taken from your freezer and thawed the day before, but the other vegetables you needed to buy specially for this. You’ve never needed cumin before. When you were lost in the store looking for it, you thought about your brother. How he always had the right ingredients on hand. How his tools were never dusty. He would have laughed at your struggle to find the correct spices. He would have picked something exotic and complicated to make, and impressed everyone.
You buy the cheapest ground cumin available.
Scramble-fry the pound of ground beef in a pan. Make sure it cooks evenly and doesn’t burn. Watch it fall apart as it changes from red to pink to brown. See how the skin on your wrist changes from tan to pale to tan again. The void is the ghost of your watch, worn one summer at the beach. Your skin changed from sunburnt to pink to freckled last time you were there. You went swimming with the watch and have yet to bother getting it fixed. Do you remember who was with you? You didn’t go to the beach alone.
Put aside the beef.
Slice up the rest of the ingredients using your mismatched knife. Add them one at a time to the slow cooker. The mushroom pieces range in size from small and square to large and uneven as your confidence wielding the knife grows and your cuts become sloppy.
Who was with you that day? It was last year or maybe two years ago now. The onions sting your eyes as you cut them and you remember too late what your mother said about lighting a candle to avoid that. It stings like salt water. Your brother was there, right? He grilled something. All of you went fishing earlier in the day and he grilled your catch. He took a slimy dead thing and made it amazing by pulling the bones out and adding butter and dill weed in a tinfoil sarcophagus over a campfire. There were several people with you, but you only remember your brother’s green eyes.
The expiry date on the can of kidney beans is from eight months ago, but canned goods never really go bad. You pour it on top of the mushrooms. Eight months ago was summer and your ruined watch, but your memory has lied to you. Your brother grilling fish on the sand happened years ago.
The powdered spices come next: garlic, chilli, and that bloody cumin. You put too much garlic into the mix because your hand is shaking. Your brother on the beach was so long ago. Was that the last time he came? You can’t remember any other time. Everything smells like garlic now and it blurs your memory.
Add the beef and stir thoroughly. It needs to cook on high for three hours and you have nothing to distract yourself. You wander your home putting things into piles but not actually cleaning anything. You avoid that photo in the study. The house slowly fills with the smell of tender meat. It will soon be ready to be divided up and frozen. You should feel triumphant. You have taken raw materials and fashioned several meals from them. Instead, you feel scattered. The memory of last summer has overlapped with your memory of your brother cooking and you can no longer distinguish which component belongs when.
You rub your eyes, forgetting that they still have onion and chilli powder all over them. It burns your eyes anew and you curse your stupidity as you rinse your hands and face. This entire endeavour has become too complicated and burdensome. After this, the slow cooker will return to the top of the cabinet until you have regained the ability to remember without pain. For now, the insistent timer is ignored as you stare at your own green eyes in the mirror.