This is an entry for Becky Fyfe’s flash fiction contest Creating a Female Superhero Challenge. Anyone can enter this contest, which ends on June 30th. If the contest is successful, the stories will be published in an anthology for a charity benefiting girls and girl empowerment. Details are here:
Author: Marissa Ames
Word Count: 1000 words
Charity: Because I Am a Girl
Name of female superhero: Thali
Name of human alter ego, if different: Priya Singh
Superhero Appearance (hair, eyes, body type, etc.): Full-figured, with long black hair and brown eyes. Dark complexion.
Human alter ego appearance (if she has an alter ego): No physical change, but Thali dresses in a plain white chef’s uniform while at work.
Costume: Top, pants, and scarf are a cross between a traditional Pakistani outfit and a chef’s coat, white with green trim. Thali wears green gloves and boots.
Personality: Normally non-confrontational, Thali tends to become passive aggressive when provoked. When she discovers she puts her thoughts and intentions into her food, she has to learn to become more proactive when upset so she doesn’t accidentally poison someone.
Brief description of how the superheroine gets her powers (i.e. born with them, radioactive accident, mad scientist experiments on her, etc.): Born with them, passed down on her mother’s side. Thali’s powers are much stronger than her mother’s, and she’s capable of both greater good and greater harm.
Powers: Puts her thoughts or intentions into the food she prepares. This can create a poison, certain accidents, or have a healing effect.
Anything else important: American born, daughter of an Indian father and an Pakistani-American mother.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Tross.” She placed her slender brown hand in his clammy white palm.
“You don’t have an accent.”
“I was born here, Sir.”
He pulled his wrinkled lips into a crepe-thin smile. “Well, good for me. Less paperwork.”
Alan Tross nodded to the left, and Priya followed him through swinging double doors. The receptionist had told her to bring nothing to the job interview. It would all be provided: the knives, pans, and ingredients. Priya had brought only her stained and bleached coat with the emblem of La Croissant Culinary Academy.
Mr. Tross’ commercial kitchen gleamed with stainless steel. The floor tiles shone a Lysol sparkle, marred only by a set of dainty footprints. A skinny little girl swayed back and forth in anticipation, her bright pink skirts reflecting in the wax.
Priya’s steps faltered as she met the girl’s hollow gaze.
“This,” said Mr. Tross, “is your judge.”
Dropping to one knee, Priya offered her hand.
The girl mustered a smile through half-decayed teeth and said, “I like your scarf.” She extended a pale, bony hand and touched Priya’s thick black braid.
“I like yours more,” Priya said.
The girl’s sunken eyes widened. “Wanna trade?” She slipped off her baby pink head covering.
Priya removed hers, and tied her sequined scarf over the girl’s bald little head. A fine layer of fuzz held the silk in place. “You’re beautiful,” Priya said.
Mr. Tross cleared his throat. “You’ll find a full pantry,” he said. “I’ll return in an hour.” He left through the swinging doors.
Rising, Priya gave the girl a nervous smile. “Well,” she said, “would you like to try a dessert from my father’s homeland?”
The girl slurped her rasmalai as Mr. Tross returned. He had left both of them in the kitchen. As the girl watched, Priya had tried to concentrate on the food. The job seemed so trivial now. She wished she could heal the child instead of merely cooking for her.
Mr. Tross passed the girl by, glancing down to see only that she ate.
“Make something else,” he said. “More of this is fine.”
Priya had paneer patties left. She reopened the glass jar of pistachios.
“Tell me about James LaRoche.”
Priya’s brow furrowed. “Who- Oh…” She shrugged. “He was my culinary instructor,” she said, “but only for the first part of my schooling.”
She glanced up at Mr. Tross’ cold stare then looked back down at her chopping block. “He had an accident,” she said as she chopped pistachios. With hushed reverence, she added, “He passed on.”
Her most despised teacher, James LaRoche had insulted each of her creations. Failure, he had called her. Hopeless, stupid. She was not his only target. During a four-course exam, he had Priya’s partner in tears by course two. As Priya prepared the dessert, she had muttered, “I hope he chokes on it.”
Priya set the paneer in bowls and spooned cream over the cheese patties. Why did Mr. Tross need to know about James LaRoche? How did he even know about James LaRoche at all? As she sprinkled the rasmalai with chopped pistachios, she said, “He was only there for the first half of my schooling. Then we had another instructor.” Giving Mr. Tross a weak smile, she pushed the bowl of rasmalai toward his clasped hands.
He did not take the dessert. He peered at her with icy blue eyes. Sweat trickled down her back, beneath her white coat.
“And your mother,” said Mr. Tross as she squirmed beneath his unwavering stare.
“Tell me about her.”
Priya heard a faint metallic clicking. She looked down to see the handle of her knife shudder against the stainless steel countertop. Letting go of the knife and pushing it away, she said, “My mother is still alive.” She clasped her hands tightly to keep them from shaking.
Mr. Tross kept staring at her. His overtanned skin crinkled around his eyes as he waited for her to respond.
The little girl tapped her heels against her stool and hummed a song. Priya glanced over at the child, then back at Mr. Tross.
He said, “She cooked as well.”
“Yes,” Priya said with hesitation.
“For a very successful café, from what I understand.”
“She wasn’t the owner,” Priya asserted.
Her mother was just a cook. She loved to cook. Everyone loved her food. When asked what they loved about it, nobody could name specific flavors or styles. Angela Singh wanted to make people happy with her food, and she did. They loved her cooking, simply because it was her cooking.
Adjusting her high collar around her sweaty neck, Priya asked, “Is there anything else I can make for you, sir?”
Mr. Tross frowned down at his rasmalai. “No.” He pushed the dessert away. “Nervous, are you? Do you wish I would go away?” He looked up at her. “Do you wish I would choke?”
Watching the cream ripple in the bowl, slowing as the cheese settled, Priya decided she had made a mistake. She did not need a job with a man like this. She reached for the glass jar of pistachios, preparing to clean up and leave.
“Did they tell you how James LaRoche died? He choked on your dessert.”
Priya’s eyes tracked slowly up, from the rasmalai to Mr. Tross’ starched white shirt and tie, then up to his deadpan face. Her bottom lip quivered as she searched for something to say.
Mr. Tross said, “Come here, Maria.”
The little girl hopped down from the stool and skipped over, her little shoes clapping on the tiles. Standing beside Mr. Tross, she swayed back and forth, her pink skirts swishing around her legs.
Watching Priya with sparking eyes set in a round face, Maria said, “May I have some more?” Her pink cheeks plumped up like little apples as she gave Priya a shining white smile.
The glass jar of pistachios slipped from Priya’s hands and shattered on the Lysol-clean floor.
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