By S. M. Hallow
This stew feeds one.
And it’s not for you.
Use as a base any stew you like best. Your grandfather liked a slow cooked pork and cider stew, so I made that every year until he died. Then I could finally make what I liked: a hearty boeuf bourguignon.
Don’t make the same mistakes I did, sweetheart.
Don’t spend your life eating someone else’s favorite dish.
Once you’ve got a recipe ready to go, follow these steps to make it proper for the new year:
Carve into the meat—any meat, your choice—the dreams that didn’t come true.
Someone broke your heart this year. A lover, or a friend. Carve their initials into whatever vegetable is most carve-able (I liked potatoes or turnips), and toss it into the pot.
If someone you loved died this year, carve their initials into a vegetable, as well. During the plague year, I stopped counting once I lost fifty friends. I carved as many initials into one potato as I could. You should have seen how crowded and torn up the skin was.
You’ll need another vegetable for all the apologies you didn’t make but should have. Sometimes I had so many apologies to make I simply wrote them down on a piece of paper and tossed it into the pot. That was lazy, and ruinous, and I regret it, but sometimes we can only do so much. Put your apologies into something delicious, if you have the wherewithal to do it. Onions, maybe.
You took chances, and failed, didn’t you? If not, my love, were you really alive this year? Whisper your failures over the pot while you stir. Get close, as close to the heat as you can stand. Don’t let the steam carry your words away.
If you should happen to cry as you do this, as I did almost every year, don’t be afraid to let your tears fall into the pot. That’s the best thing that could happen, love. I promise.
If there is anything else you can think of—any lingering twinge, any festering anger, any reason to hate yourself—carve that up and toss it in, as well.
Once that finishes cooking, take it out into the woods, just before midnight. Leave this bitter, broken-hearted, bruise of a meal at the base of your favorite tree. Look up into the sky, and whether you see stars or clouds, thank yourself for getting yourself through the past year. You can put the pain down now.
When you turn around, and follow the same path out of the woods, you’ll feel lighter, love. That’s what happens when you make space for hope.
Meanwhile, the ghost of who you were—or who you could have been, if only so many things had been different—the ghost of all the things that died when you failed, when your dreams didn’t come true—that ghost takes the first sip of the stew into which you poured 365 days of grief, so that you can go home, and enter the new year with a new heart.
Pushcart Prize nominee S. M. Hallow writes speculative fiction of all flavors, from horror to fantasy to romance. Hallow’s stories, poems, and visual art can be found in Baffling Magazine, CatsCast, Final Girl Bulletin Board, Prismatica Magazine, Seize the Press, and Taco Bell Quarterly, among others. To learn more about this part-time fairytale witch, full-time vampire, follow Hallow on Tumblr & Twitter.