2021 February Flash Fiction Challenge: Day 12

Write a piece of flash fiction each day of February with the February Flash Fiction Challenge, led by editor Moriah Richard. Each day, receive a prompt, example story, and write your own. Today's prompt is to write about a food you (or your character) hate.
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I’m a pretty big foodie, but I wasn’t always. Today, let’s write about a food you (or your characters) hate.

Flash Fiction Challenge

Remember: These prompts are just starting points; you have the freedom to go wherever your flash of inspiration takes you.

(Note: If you happen to run into any issues posting, please just send me an e-mail at mrichard@aimmedia.com with the subject line: Flash Fiction Challenge Commenting Issue.)

Here’s my attempt at portraying a gross food:

Welcome to the Family

It was going fine until dessert.

Mila was proud of the way she’d conducted herself until that point. Jeremy’s father, Richard, bland and complacent, had asked a few limp questions about her family, her job, and studiously avoided the elephant in the room. Mila had eaten the salad and quinoa without complaint and taken deep breaths to get through the sea bass, gag-reflex still on a hair-trigger even into her second trimester. She did not scratch her stomach or adjust her bra, though she desperately wanted to do both, feeling like a bowling ball stuffed into a tube sock. Jeremy, ever the effervescent example of male confidence, chatted breezily about whatever subjects bounced into his head.

Jeremy’s mother was an entirely different landscape. She and her husband were a matched pair, both in pressed slacks and expensive button-downs, but her hair was scraped back from her face into a severe bun, and she never once smiled, not even politely. Instead, her glinting eyes took in every tiny movement Mila made, from the way she held her fork to the way she brushed her hair back over her shoulder. The one time Mila’s hand dropped to pat her stomach, Mila thought Susan would literally burst into flames.

This was partially her fault, she thought, allowing herself the relief of a minute shift against the hard back of the chair. After they’d found out, she’d whispered in Jeremy’s ear, pressing her sweaty, post-coital body against his, that they should wait to tell his parents.

“You never tell anyone in your first trimester, in case something happens,” she said. “Everyone knows that.”

He’d given her a sunny smile and agreed, his hand drifting to press against her then-flat belly.

But the only thing that happened was that the baby grew, and Mila threw up more than she ever had in her life, and the countdown in her head started to feel like a ticking timebomb.

The day came. Jeremy, tears in his eyes, took in that three-month sonogram for the first time, and said, “We have to tell my folks.”

Now, here she was, exchanging bland smiles with a bland man while a woman with eyes so intense she could probably blast someone off the planet glared at her.

“Ready for dessert?” Susan said, cutting off something Richard had been saying about lawncare.

“Mm. Pie.” Richard patted his stomach in a jerky way, as a robot might.

Jeremy snorted and patted Mila’s knee under the table. “Up for some dessert?”

“Of course.” Mila tried to make her face be genuinely pleasant, but from Susan’s huff, she’d failed miserably.

“You’re doing fine,” Richard whispered awkwardly once Susan was out of earshot.

“Dad,” Jeremy hissed.

“What?” Richard tossed a wounded look in his son’s direction and then buried himself in his phone.

Mila took deep breaths and tried to subtly scratch where her underwear was digging into her stomach.

“I made it myself,” Susan announced, brandishing the pie like a weapon as she came back into the room.

Pecan. There was something about the sickly-sweet filling, the weird not-soft-not-crunchy texture of the nuts that Mila had always despised. Her stomach clenched and rolled. She tried to take deep breaths without it being obvious.

“Mom!” Jeremy said, voice a little flinty. “I told you that Mila doesn’t like pecan.”

Susan feigned shock as she set the pie on the table. “What? I don’t think so.”

Jeremy stared at his mother. “I did. You asked me what kind of dessert to make and I said, “Anything but pecan.” Remember?”

“I don’t. I think you’re mistaken, peanut.”

“Susan,” Richard said tiredly.

“What do you say, Mila? Pecan is just fine, isn’t it?”

When everyone turned their eyes on her, Mila saw several futures stretch out before her.

One was Jeremy’s if she’d never known him, graduating college with honors and playing the field in D.C. or New York or wherever he’d landed an acceptance to an ambitious law school. This was the future Susan had envisioned for him, her bright, shining son she’d spent years and years perfecting. The future wobbled in front of Mila’s eyes and evaporated like so much smoke.

The second future started with Mila pasting on a false smile and accepting the pie. She would choke it down under Susan’s gleaming eyes, playing the part of the cowed baby mama who had trapped Susan’s son and subjected him to a harder life than the one she’d arranged for him. It would always be like that between them, Mila scurrying around to please Susan, always feeling caught-out, always landing on the wrong foot. They would fight about it, she and Jeremy, but there would be nothing he could do besides see his mother less, which would break his heart. Mila forced that vision away from her mind’s eye, frightened and disgusted by it.

And then, the third option. The only path forward.

Mila cleared her throat and for the first time, smiled genuinely, ruefully. “Actually, Mrs. Marsh, I don’t like pecan. Normally, I’d be able to give it a try, but after the fish, I’m worried about upsetting my stomach.”

As Susan opened her mouth, Richard made a sympathetic sound. “Terrible nausea still? Susan suffered with it up until the day Jer was born. Remember, love?”

“Of course I remember,” Susan snapped. “I was the one who was sick all the time while you grilled hamburgers and laughed.”

Richard chuckled. “You’ve forgiven me for that already. Plate me a big slice, please?”

Susan’s hands fluttered around the plates for a moment, her cheeks growing pink, before she seemed able to settle herself.

They were quiet as she plated three slices and passed them out. Right as she sat down, Mila took a deep breath and asked, “Would you like to see the sonogram?”

Susan froze. Richard glanced at his wife from over the top of his glasses before peering at Mila. “Do you have them here?”

“I do, in my purse.”

Susan cleared her throat and set her fork down. “Well, by all means.”

Jeremy pulled Mila’s purse in his lap to save her from having to bend down. When he brought out the images, he grinned before handing them to Mila.

There was their kid, just an outline of a face, a hand, the bottom of a foot. Mila unfolded the accordion of images and passed them to Richard.

Susan watched her husband get misty as he looked from image to image. He shot Jeremy and Mila a watery smile. “Well, that’s something.”

“Isn’t it?” Jeremy laughed.

Susan took the sonograms gingerly, her eyes shrewd and mouth pinched. But Mila watched and held her breath. Susan’s thumb rubbed over the profile absently before she looked up and met Mila’s eyes.

“I think they have Jeremy’s nose,” she said.

Jeremy laughed. “Mila said the exact same thing.”

“Hopefully they don’t get his ears, too,” Richard said.

Jeremy squawked, and his father laughed, and Mila leaned back in her seat, feeling pleasantly warm. Susan cleared her throat and handed the images back to Jeremy with one last lingering look.

“Catnip tea,” Susan said, voice too loud. When no one said anything, she smoothed the tablecloth in front of her and looked away. “A small cup of catnip tea in the mornings helped me get through the day. They prepare you for morning sickness in the first trimester, but they don’t tell you what to do when it keeps on.”

“No,” Mila said. Her smile burst forth before she could stop it. “They really don’t, do they?”

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