Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Dinner is served

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair...” Alice fell asleep before she’d finished reading the first paragraph, her cheek on the smooth page of the hardcover copy of A Tale of Two Cities. She’d read the book in high school, and felt that it set the tone for her present state of mind. However, her sobs of frustration and loneliness had taken their toll and she succumbed to exhaustion as soon as her eyes started moving across the page.

There was a tap tap at the door, and Alice roused herself enough to mumble sleepily, “Who’s there?”

“It’s Gwen,” her roommate answered through the locked door. “Are you going to come down for supper? It’s ready now.”

Alice rubbed her eyes and looked at the clock on her bedside table. Oh wow, she’d zoned out for the whole afternoon, since after her embarrassing encounter with Stephen, Gwen’s brother. It was now 7 o’clock and her stomach was rumbling again, telling her it was time to eat. She closed the book and got off the bed, fumbling with the lock to let Gwen in.

Suddenly she was hit with the most tantalizing aroma. Cooking odours both rich and complex were drifting upstairs. Her mouth immediately started watering and she felt faint with hunger. Gwen smiled at the look of amazement on Alice’s face and said, by way of explanation, “It’s Stephen cooking. He’s a professional chef. Didn’t I tell you that?”

“No!” blurted out Alice, totally overcome by desire. “I didn’t know.”

She descended to the kitchen with as much decorum as she could muster, trying to control the salivating and the rumbling of her stomach. When her eyes beheld Stephen girt in her apron, the one with the trout in the frying pan and the logo “The end of the Rainbow” on it, humming quietly to himself as he lifted pot lids, tasted for seasonings and opened the oven door to remove something that made Alice think of Christmas dinners, she nearly swooned. It was too much. He was beautiful to behold and a chef as well. The part of her mind that always set her up for disappointment whispered, “He’s probably gay.”

Stephen looked up as Alice and Gwen entered the kitchen. The table was set with linen and crystal, the wine glasses Gwen had received from her mother on her last birthday, and there was a bottle of baco noir uncorked and ready to pour. With a flourish, Stephen took off the apron and hung it on the coat tree in the corner, then proceeded to serve soup before he sat down himself with his sister and her roommate. He smiled warmly at Alice as she gingerly dipped her spoon in the creamy, golden liquid. “I hope you like it,” he said. She smiled shyly and took a tentative sip, letting the liquid lie on her tongue a moment before greedily swallowing it.

“This is fantastic!” she gushed. “What is it?”

Stephen smiled again before answering, “Carrot and sweet potato. It’s our mum’s recipe, actually. I just dressed it up a bit.”

Alice didn’t reply; she was busy scraping every last drop of the precious potage out of the bowl with her spoon. Gwen and her brother exchanged glances, but said nothing.

The soup was followed by broccoli-cheese strudel wrapped in delicate phylo pastry, golden brown and crispy on the outside, melt-in-your-mouth delicious inside. There were oven-roasted vegetables drizzled with a balsamic vinaigrette and a rice pilaf, all of which Alice devoured wordlessly. Just as she thought she couldn’t possibly eat another bite, Stephen produced bowls of fresh fruit salad, fragrant with crème de cassis liqueur.

When everything was gone, Alice sighed in contentment. Never had she eaten so well, never had she had a meal prepared by such a beautiful and talented chef. At this particular moment, it was definitely the best of times.


“Typewriters are always better than computers, for writing anyway, and there are no exceptions to that rule.” Alice reread the sentence in the book in front of her and burst out laughing. You don’t write with typewriters, she thought, you write with pens and pencils. You type with typewriters, and if we were talking about creative writing, then nothing beat a pen or pencil on lined paper, double spaced with lots of room for crossing out and scribbling in additions, one-sided so you could add whole paragraphs on the blank facing pages. Crazy, she mused. Who thinks up these things anyway?

It was lunchtime, and Alice could feel the hunger pangs and hear the growls as her stomach insisted on being fed. She had such an appetite these days, and she never seemed to be full. It was insane. Maybe she had a tapeworm, like her great-aunt Mathilde had always joked about. But then, great-aunt Mathilde had been grossly obese. The tapeworm excuse was only so she could keep filling her maw with rich pastries and chocolate bonbons. Alice was thin as a rail and no matter what she ate or how much of it, she never seemed to gain weight.

The cat stalked into the room, looking for a scratch and a cuddle. Alice obligingly picked him up and started stroking the soft fur under his chin and behind his ears. The cat purred contendedly, shutting his eyes in pleasure. If only someone would pick me up and stroke me like that, Alice thought wistfully. It had been a very long time since she had had a boyfriend and she missed the intimacy and other pleasures that came with it.

She put down the cat, washed her hands in the kitchen sink and thought about food. That was one pleasure she could definitely afford and was readily available. Her roommate, Gwendolyn, had just come back from shopping; the fridge was full of fresh produce and the pantry had been restocked. Alice considered what was available and then settled on a sandwich: aged cheddar, dill pickles and sprouts between two slices of fresh pumpernickel spread with dijon mustard. Her mouth watered as she set it on the table with a glass of milk alongside. It seemed somehow sinful, that she should enjoy the simple act of eating so much. This was why she preferred to eat alone, so that she could concentrate on the tastes, aromas and textures without being distracted by conversation. That first bite, even of simple fare, was almost an orgasmic experience.

Just as she was raising her sandwich to her lips, getting ready to savour that first explosion of flavours in her mouth, a man, a stranger who seemed somehow familiar, entered the kitchen. Alice quickly put down her sandwich as though she had been caught in a forbidden act, feeling guilty for no reason. She felt ashamed and angry at the interruption at the same time.

“Oh, hi,” blurted out the stranger, “I’m sorry to interrupt your lunch. I’m Stephen, Gwen’s brother. I’m visiting for the weekend. You must be Alice.”

Oh my god, Alice thought as she blushed, how could she have forgotten? Gwen had told her that her brother was coming for a visit; that was why the larder was so well stocked all of a sudden. No wonder he seemed somehow familiar. The family resemblance between brother and sister was quite strong and they had the same inflections of speech. Alice looked down at her sandwich, afraid to bite it now for fear of revealing something about herself to this young man to whom she suddenly felt an overwhelming attraction.

“Um,” she stammered, “have you eaten yet? I could make you a sandwich.”

“Sure, if it’s not too much trouble,” replied Stephen. “What have you got there?”

Alice described the contents of her sandwich all the while looking at Stephen’s mouth, imagining the bread spread with the dijon, the thinly sliced cheddar, the salty pickle and the hairy sprouts passing between those lips, being tasted on that tongue. She was feeling increasingly uncomfortable. She wanted to be that sandwich.

“Look,” Gwen’s brother said suddenly, ”you eat your lunch, I’ll make my own. I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I just got here and Gwen’s gone to the bank, so I thought I’d get some food while I was waiting.”

Alice sighed and nodded. Quickly she chewed and swallowed her sandwich while his back was turned to her, preparing his own. For some reason, she didn’t want this young man watching her eat, and that took away from the pleasure she was anticipating in enjoying her chef d’oeuvre. She swigged down the last of her milk just as he turned around with his finished creation.

“It was nice meeting you,” she mumbled as she pushed her chair away from the table. “See you around,” and fled. In the quiet and solitude of her room, behind a locked door, Alice hugged her pillow and wept.