The Over-Oiled Pan

I don’t think you’re quite aware of the challenges presented by being a woman in the twenty-first century. While, yes, they’re told more and more that it’s “okay” to be independent and live their life as a man might, that is to say, not relegated to cooking and cleaning by mere misfortune of having a vagina, it is still very much expected of them to fall in line, to bend to the roles for which they were born (to loosely borrow a phrase from Mona Lisa Smile).

But 25-year-old Angela Melton was still too naive to fully understand the latent expectations that men–often boys, really–harbored. She didn’t yet grasp it until several weeks after moving in with her boyfriend, 28-year-old Francis Yuleman, who was perhaps more priggish than most penis possessors thanks in part to his feminine-sounding name. Angela was not reluctant about moving in with Francis; she assumed it would merely solidify the bond they already had after one and a half years of, to use that quaint word, dating.

But something seemed to subtly transform once they had merged the last of their furniture together and placed the final decorative frame on the coffee table. Francis flipped a switch, one that made him either feel comfortable finally revealing who he was or one that simply caused a man to revert to a provincial state of mind due to being amid a domestic setting.

Angela’s first awakening to the change within Francis was an abrupt one, and occurred on a morning they had both decided to take off of work after a rather picturesque night spent intertwined in bed and watching films curated by the Criterion Collection. The previous night had, indeed, been so very much just as Angela envisioned living with someone you love that the brutal contrast of the next morning was particularly poignant.

Because she had gotten out of bed before Francis, she decided that the natural gesture would be to make the two of them breakfast. In her mind, it had nothing to do with the notion that it might be what was expected because of her gender. She was never known for her culinary skills; it wasn’t something that her parents had made a big deal out of when she was growing up and, in fact, her father had been the chef in their family. Whether this reversal of convention was Angela’s blessing or curse depended upon who you asked. If you asked Francis, he would undeniably tell you that Angela’s upbringing had clearly handicapped her, made her incapable of doing anything “useful” around the house. But why should it be left to Angela and not Francis? Even in these allegedly modern times.

In any case, as Angela set about preparing a meal the best way she knew how (scrambled eggs and bacon had been the intention), she absent-mindedly over poured the “extra virgin”–as though that’s real–olive oil into the frying pan, musing on the simple magic of unlimited time spent with Francis these past few weeks. How much more uncomplicated it was now, not having to shuffle back and forth to one another’s places, located in the close yet disparate boroughs of Queens and Brooklyn, respectively. Now that they had merged their life together in Manhattan, it was as though a sublime, transcendent Hermeticism had occurred.

She cracked six eggs open into a bowl she had bought on sale at a West Elm outlet on Long Island, part of a set of four that she viewed as building on her future wares, in a home she imagined sharing with Francis. But let us pause here to consider this for a moment. Angela, as a woman, wasn’t just cursed because she was damned to be invariably viewed by men as a domestic slave who should put her own creative pursuits aside for the service of her significant other, but because she fell into the trap of wanting to please. Her gesture in making breakfast was about more than being the first to rise from bed, it was about a subconscious need to receive accolades from her male counterpart.

But she didn’t consider this as she fantasized about future breakfasts with Francis and an even larger accumulation of West Elm dinnerware populating her table. As she beat the eggs in a reverie–a domiciliary coma, if you will–Francis began to stir from the other room, yawning and stretching in that carefree way a man does before he is disenchanted with a woman’s cooking.

Angela poured the egg mixture into the pan, barely noticing the overly green hue that was overtaking what should have been a largely yellow-tone concoction. She shrugged and went to the cabinet to take out two pieces of bread to pop into the toaster. Francis walked past her rotely on his way to the bathroom, acknowledging her smile with a grunt. This was the moment. The freeze frame that embodied how she was now being taken for granted, and would be for the rest of their relationship. She was always there now. There was nothing novel about her presence.

And so, after Francis had taken his morning shit, Angela was coming to the close of her breakfast preparations, placing each portion of their eggs onto a plate and then proceeding to toss six or eight pieces of bacon onto the pan for what she assumed would be “quick” sizzling. Again, her cooking savvy was minimal. And it should not have had to be otherwise. But when Francis took a bite of the egg to briefly tide himself over, he automatically spit it into the sink.

“Angela, what the fuck is this?!” he screamed in horror. “It’s pure oil–are you trying to kill me?”

The sting of Francis’ voice, which now held an inflection she had never previously heard before, reverberated in both ears.

“It’s like you’re fucking retarded sometimes. When are you going to learn how to cook? It’s not that hard.” He slammed the pan away from the burner it was on and turned off the gas.

“I’m going out to get a fucking breakfast sandwich. Make sure this shit is cleaned up when I get back and maybe I can forget this taste in my mouth.” He spit once more into the sink, went back to their room to throw on some clothes and then walked out the door without another word.

So that was it. One drop of oil too many could, evidently, skew the delicate bliss of domesticity, prompt someone to show who he truly is. And, ultimately, prove that women are still expected to be able to conjure their supposed inner June Cleaver on command, current century be damned.

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