Natalee Grant, Contributor
He had always had a love affair with food. The rhythm of the boiling pot, the simmer of the sauté and the smoothness of the fricassee awakened a deep sense of fulfilment in him. The smell of spices marinating on his fingertips was a familiar aroma that centred him, kept him balanced, kept his world in orbit.
Cooking was a delicate two-step, and the textures and colours of the food were his dance partners. He willingly pirouetted and sashayed to the crunch of freshly sliced vegetables accompanying the sensuous slide of melting butter on potatoes seared in an earth stone oven.
Fresh fruit in a bowl was a Bachata bursting at the seams with flavour and possibility, an idea for a banana-melon - nutmeg topping sprang to mind as he rearranged his files, he smiled and reached for his BlackBerry making a note of it. He had begun to rely on his gadgets - gadgets proved handier than memory where his recipes were concerned. He had downloaded every episode of Rachel Ray's '30 Minute Meals' on his iPad and had spent his evening working on the meals from season one.
There was a garbled announcement over the intercom and he wearily got up. From his vantage point on the balcony he could see the entire factory floor. He motioned to the foreman with the microphone at his lips to make the announcement again. For a moment, he could feel them watching him, feel the resentment and disdain that worker bees always directed to the superior. The foreman announced again and they turned their eyes towards him; 35, empty, tired stares focused their end-of-the-day weariness on him. Robotically, they went into the end-of-the-day procedures - sorting, packing, following a routine that would make it easier to pick up the daily grind again the next day.
He returned to his office; the dull grey walls engulfed him as he went back to his chair. The one spot of colour was a faded, orange, safety poster. He had inherited it from the previous manager. Apparently his predecessor needed a visual to remind him of factory procedures. Burke didn't need to be reminded, especially in light of the accident that had happened in his last year as a foreman.
The sound of the final buzzer interrupted his reverie; he heard the hum of the drones as they departed the hive. The end-of-the-day buzzer blared in short, punctuated bursts and he sighed heavily. Another day of work had ended incident-free, a sense of relief and peace engulfed him. He reached for his attaché case (a gift from his mother on the day they announced his promotion). He gathered the paperwork that had become bedtime reading in the past week (a 'gift' from his ex-wife's lawyer). Divorces in the Caribbean are major undertakings, especially if you were from old money. There was no clean breakaway, it was always an avalanche of paperwork, paperwork that separated lives into unused china, family silver, cars, timeshares.
Twelve years of marriage was broken down into a list; a list of what's mine and what's yours, a list of who bought this and who bought that. He felt a searing pain in his temples just thinking about that list on top of all the things that he had to do; the list was the last thing he wanted to think about. The thought of his lemon chicken marinating gave him a moment of blissful reprieve. He went home to a quiet apartment, well, relatively quiet, as quiet as it can get in a St Andrew gated community. His new, young neighbour loudly shared his musical tastes by playing the best of Vybz Kartel; it seemed that particular 'album' was always on repeat. Bringing up the noise control act at the apartment committee meetings was an exercise in futility, and the label of 'informa' was one he didn't relish at all. He had seen enough of the nightly news to know the repercussions that title could have. So he escaped in to the aroma of his lemon chicken.
Dorothea had made it at the last class. He salivated every time he saw her, her heavy derriere straining against the material of her pants, her mammoth breasts heaving as she demonstrated the correct chopping techniques. Women and food - the two great loves of his life. His mother had introduced him to the kitchen and his love for Dorothea had kept him in it, to his wife's downfall. He watched her caress a steak as lovingly as a mother caresses a newborn and in the next instance, he watched her dice that steak into quarters; this was the nature of Dorothea - inconstant, unpredictable, one was always unsure of one's place. Many a day he would dream of sharing his true feelings with her, but something kept him back. He feared that she, like the great Alexandrian teacher Hypathia would rebuff him with an offering soaked in imperfection and toss him aside like an ill-shaped croissant.
He brought it to his lips. The tangy, savoury essence of it melted on his tongue and he sighed - the sigh of success. He would share this one, this was the dish that would set him apart, and this was the recipe that would take him from protégé to professional. Beethoven's Symphony Number 9 beckoned him back to the present and he reluctantly reached for his phone. Another angry email reminder from Angela, he read it, while slowly reuniting fork with plate, he shook his head at the tone, the mean-spirited, biting tone of the email. Had she always been that way? Had she always had the personality of a lime? How had he missed it during their two years of courtship?
He should have noticed that first morning she made him breakfast; codfish fritters only seasoned with salt and black pepper. He had bitten into them expectantly waiting for that kick of flavour from the scallion and onion that he was sure she had put into them. Instead, he had been greeted by saltiness, a saltiness which should have been enough to let him know that Angie and Burke were not meant to be. He had plastered a smile on his face and eaten every bite, hurriedly chasing it down with the store-bought orange juice she had poured into a small glass.
He read the email again, mentally putting together his reply, musing on her eagerness to be free, after all, it was he who had been shackled; bound for 12 years to a woman who seasoned her food as carelessly as she seasoned her conversation. Tied helplessly to a woman who found no joy in the ginger root and treated garlic with the casual disdain one would give to a newly minted dollar coin, no, it was he who longed to be free. And so he had escaped, escaped in Dorothea's cooking class, escaped on long weekends where he could be alone with the Food Channel and like-minded foodies who liked pairing a 'slap and a tickle' with condiments and whipped cream, escaped into the kitchen of women who garnished with colour and care. Angie - poor, neglected, Angie had sat like unpasteurised cheese in a corner and read 'marriage' books. Had analysed their differences, had made parallels about Mars and Venus all while regurgitating, paltry cuisine and passing them off as meals. Angie's cooking was the allegory of their marriage; average, bland, flavourless.
He answered her email seasoning it with sarcasm. Smiling as he applied the appropriate punctuation (he would not give her the satisfaction of a typo). He covered his lemon chicken with cling wrap, forwarded her email and his sarcastic reply to his lawyer and hung his apron up for the evening.