Hallway Dinners

I leave the hospital most days around seven o’clock and reach home by the time dinner preparations are in full swing. I can make out the sweet symphony of kitchen sounds through the old wooden doors if I listen closely enough. Occasionally, if I’m lucky, the neighbor across from me has her door propped open ever so slightly, enough for me to appreciate faint sizzles and clanging metal pots, the music to my ears.

As I walk down the hall to collect my mail, I am reminded of the value of our sense of smell. I arrive to fish – salmon, I think – on Saturday. Sunday is pizza day for the family living to the left, Szechuan stir-fry for the family to the right. Broccoli and cornbread on Monday. Someone left something in the oven for too long on Tuesday but the char complements the notes of chile de árbol I pick up from further down the way. Wednesday is an amalgamation of garlic, sweet potato, and something peppery. I imagine the spread of a potluck right now. Thursday smells like bread and, two doors down, fish again. I feel connected and international.

Friday is when the swift absence of kitchen notes hits me. Families are out for dinner, or perhaps things are delayed until after dark. The smell of the carpet running the hall is no longer masked by these hallway dinners, and my worn-for-fifteen-hours-straight scrubs smell like old carpet too. It’s quiet – it’s time to change – and there are no sizzles or Aha!s or caramelized onions to share. Dinner, tonight, will be alone.