The Disappearing Dishes

Food is love, all the way to the end

Illustration: freepik

Once upon a time, my dishes got smaller and smaller. It all started when I returned from the kitchen one day. Eita had finished the rice, miso soup — everything except…

“How come you left these?” I asked, pointing at the plate that had held the tonkatsu cutlets.

He blinked at me as if I’d spoken in a foreign language. Then he lowered his head and said, “Oh, you mean the cherry tomatoes?”

I nodded.

“Well, they’re more of a decoration anyway.”

“They aren’t, but that’s not the point — you’ve never left anything before.”

Eita put down his chopsticks. “Guess I’m not very hungry.”

“You’ve never been not hungry before.”

“Well… for one reason or another, I can’t finish your food today. Sorry.”

I sighed. “No, I’m the one who should apologize. This isn’t a big deal.”

Besides, it’d only happened once.

Or twice.

“How come you left these?” I asked.

“You mean the lettuce?” Eita looked down at his almost finished tuna salad. “Well, I’ve never been a fan of greens, you know that.”

“No, I didn’t know — because it’s not true. You’d even eat grass if it were served on a plate.”

“So what do you think the problem is?”

“I think you should go to the hospital.”

And Eita did.

Tokyo Medical University Hospital diagnosed Eita with stomach cancer. Late stage. Should’ve checked earlier. We didn’t because he lacked other symptoms besides appetite loss: stomach pain, blood in stool, etc. “Maybe it’s because of your fantastic food,” he joked.

He was hospitalized right away. Seeing him in a hospital bed and gown felt strange. Like I was in a medical drama.

“Are you hungry?” I asked him, unsure if these were the right lines.

Eita nodded. “But hospital food tastes like medicine…”

I chewed this over. “How about I cook something and bring it here?”

“Sure,” he said, the corner of his mouth curling up. “I miss your food.”

My lips mimicked his. And my hands started to work that same evening.

The following morning, I returned to the hospital with a bento box.

“I made your favorite: curry rice,” I said, placing it on Eita’s overbed table.

“It’s my lucky day,” he chirped. “Or I should say, yummy day.”

He ate with gusto and finished before I could feel hungry.

Well, Eita didn’t quite finish. He left the carrots.

“The chemo has made you lose more appetite?” I asked.

“Or maybe it’s because my stomach is dying.”

Arms crossed, I frowned at the semi-empty bento box. Eita couldn’t even finish a single dish.

Should I try a smaller one?

Back at home that evening, I put on my apron and inspected the refrigerator. There were eggs, onions, spring onions, and sliced beef.

These ingredients were begging to be turned into gyudon. A smaller version. Not a big feat, but how to do it?

Staring at the dish rack, an idea struck me.

What if I made a beef cup instead of a beef bowl?

I washed and cooked a handful of rice. Then I threw half the beef and half an onion into a pan with all the seasoning. Once the mixture became golden brown, I dumped it into a coffee cup partially filled with rice. Finally, I added in chopped green onions and a softly cooked egg.

I stepped back to admire my little work of art. From here, it looked like a latte with an egg and green onions floating on its surface. I hoped this thought wouldn’t spoil Eita’s appetite.

Eita leaned over the overbed table to eat the beef cup. He took one chopstickful. Then two, three… 10 in total.

Four away from finishing his meal.

“You didn’t like it?” I asked, wincing at the stab I felt in the gut.

“No, no,” he said in a frail voice. “It tasted like any gyudon. No, better than that… it tasted like yours. It’s just that my appetite has… decreased even more. I throw up more than I eat.”

I clutched the cup with one hand and my chin with the other.

I had to think bigger — or rather, smaller.

At the supermarket, I bought quail eggs, wheat toast, and butter.

Back at home, I cut a slice of toast in four pieces (ate three) and, with a little cookie cutter, I made a circular hole in the middle of the remaining piece. After buttering the frying pan, I laid the piece of toast on it, cracked the quail egg into the hole, then sprinkled salt and pepper.

When the toast tanned and the egg hardened, I put the whole thing on a plate.

My quail egg in a hole was ready.

I went to the hospital first thing in the morning. Eita was already awake — at least as awake as a person with terminal cancer can be.

“Your favorite breakfast,” I said. Looking down at the plate, I added, “one-fourth its size.”

I helped him sit and let him take it slowly.

Eita lifted the mini-toast, struggling as if it were a brick. And took a bite. And winced. He repeated this painful process.

Until he finished eating.

I clapped until my hands reddened. Then, grabbing the fork and stabbing the circle that had been in the middle of the mini-toast, I asked, “Do you want to eat this too?”

Eita shook his head and laid it on the pillow.

I had to eat the circle of bread.

I carefully pressed the sakura shrimps with my pinkies. Once they were completely straight, I dipped them in flour. Then in the tempura batter. Finally, I threw them into a pan filled with smoldering oil. When they became goldenly crunchy, I pulled them out by using toothpicks as chopsticks and placed them on a paper towel.

My sakura shrimp tempura was ready.

“Are you hungry?” I asked Eita.

Without sitting up, he looked at me blankly, his mouth shut.

I could get in trouble for feeding him at this stage. But he’d be all right. My sakura shrimp tempura were so tiny that he wouldn’t have to chew. And they’d probably not upset his stomach.

I stabbed a shrimp with a toothpick and held it before Eita’s gaunt lips. He licked them. Finally, he opened his mouth one laborious inch at a time.

And sucked. And swallowed.

Cheering inwardly, I fed him another shrimp. And another and another.

There were five shrimps in total. Eita left zero.

With a tissue, I wiped his mouth and my warm tears.

Finally. Eita finished my food.

Once upon a time, my dishes got smaller and smaller — until they disappeared.

Writer of fictional words. Admirer of Haruki Murakami. To be notified of his upcoming novel, click here:

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