By Ashton Cynthia Clarke

I don’t remember why Daddy suddenly told me to fix dinner. Making our beds and polishing the wood veneer furniture with Pledge were the only household chores assigned to me and my little brother. Preparing food was strictly Mommy’s job. 

But where she was, I don’t remember. There was a period when Mommy was very ill, bedridden with some frightening leg pain. Sometimes, I would hear her moaning in her bedroom, even crying out. What caused the problem or how long it lasted escapes me. More likely, I never knew what was wrong. Neither of my parents were in the habit of volunteering explanations and I rarely asked.

When genes and inherited traits were the new topic in seventh-grade biology, I asked my father if Mommy’s illness was hereditary. But by the time I stumbled through defining the word, he thought I meant “catching”—like catching a cold. 

He frowned at me: “Of course not!” and I felt stupid.

I can’t picture exactly what I cooked, but the meal undoubtedly starred some sort of animal flesh, with a straightforward starch and joyless vegetable accompaniment. I probably over-boiled a “green ve-ge-ta-ble.” That was Daddy’s requirement and his voice: his Jamaican patois stretched the noun into four syllables.

I snatched at implements and ingredients, trying to recall what I had noticed Mommy use: the heavy cooking fork with its two sharp-tipped tines, paprika, Sazón, black pepper, Accent. The sticky, salty taste of the resentment I swallowed comes back to me now and then. When the meal was ready, I arranged one serving of the three food groups, scarfed it down in silence at our dining table, then dutifully washed and dried my plate, and snuck it back into its proper cabinet. 

How long was it before Daddy re-surfaced to check on my progress? Perhaps he heard the largest pan banging—the one that was warped on the bottom and always jiggled on the too-small gas burner. By the time he appeared, all three pots were lidded and cooling on the stove, the cooking smells dissipating out of our curtained kitchen window.

“Why didn’t you say the food was ready?” he demanded. “Did you eat?”


“You so selfish.”

Did he dish out his own food or did he make me serve him? I really can’t remember.

Ashton Cynthia Clarke is a Los Angeles-based writer and storyteller. She has performed her true, personal stories throughout the L.A. area and New York City, as well as virtually. She also has work published in Spectrum 33: You and Me, and The Storytelling Bistro: Stories, Poems, and Reflections.

Born in New York and of African American/Afro-Caribbean heritage, several of her stories reference that ancestry. She developed an animated short based on her telling of a family member’s life in Jamaica: “Titta and the Mango” which you may enjoy on


2 thoughts on “The Unjoy of Cooking

  1. I ADORE THIS STORY! It has so many wonderful ways that it can be visually brought into a different medium. The questions posed about parenting and our self worth to the world are deep and grippingly moving. I look forward to see more from this writer. BUT the description of her should be in a different font to separate from the story. It feels like it just goes on into her name. I hope that this can be altered for all writers 🙂 also why is there no picture of such an icon?


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