NPR’s 3-Minute Fiction Writing Contest — Cooking up Fiction by Susanna Hartigan

This was my rejected entry for my very first NPR writing contest. The story had to be under 600 words and contain the 4 words: “plant,” “button,” “trick,” “fly.” It’s been two years since I read this, and looking back, I know it could use some work.


Cooking Up Fiction 
by Susanna Hartigan ©2010

Caterina Romano seemed to be quite the opposite of her Italian upbringing when it came to cooking food. Her most memorable cooking experience ended in a disaster involving the local fire department and an eviction from her landlord when she tried to brown garlic in olive oil. The most frequently used appliances in her kitchen consisted of a microwave and a toaster oven, with a month-old dead basil plant sitting in between the two.

Like the basil plant, Caterina’s love life was dried up as well. Although easy to please, of pleasant company and easy on the eyes, Ma Romano’s voice echoed in her head that she would never find a man until she learned how to cook like a proper Italian woman should. Caterina had pretty much given up on dating and settled for watching her neighbors across the street out of her living room window on Saturdays. She knew that they barbequed each weekend, and one guest in particular that she admired drove a pickup truck donning a frontal vanity plate that exclaimed “FLY BOY”. That was the type of man the pretty brunette was had been dreaming of for the last three years, but in her mind, Caterina was convinced that no man would ever marry a culinary-challenged woman.

“What is wrong with you?” Nonna Romano screeched at every holiday gathering. “Why you no have no husband yet??” she’d ask, hands flying everywhere, nearly knocking over wine glasses at the dinner table.

“Caterina, love waits for you,” Ma repeated over and over again, dreamy eyed.

“Ma, her cooking is like trick-or-treat without the treat,” teased Caterina’s brother Tomeo. It was the same old joke, the same old story each and every holiday for the last two and a half years.

“I met someone,” announced Caterina. “He’s a pilot.”

Everyone perked up. Caterina stood there, unbelievably catching herself in her own blatant lies, clutching her hands and looking to the air above her head for the words to come to her just to please her family. She watched each of them, their eyes lighting up like Paschal candles.

“Tell us!” Ma was excited.

“He comes from a good Italian family,” lied Caterina, nervous and almost fumbling her thoughts to find the right words. Then all of a sudden it came to her naturally, as if it were the truth.

“What he look like?” asked Nonna, thrilled by the prospect that she may witness her only living granddaughter in a wedding dress one day. “He handsome?”

Caterina looked straight into Nonna’s eyes. Her acting classes from college were finally becoming of use to her. “Just like John Travolta!”

“Oh Caterina!” Ma sighed, making the sign of the cross on her chest so hard her button came flying off of her shirt and scurried onto the floor. “When will we meet him?” Tears began welling in Ma’s eyes.

“After our tour to Venice where he is flying me this summer…”

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