John and Silke
The scent of something woke Silke up. Whatever it was, it was good. She looked at the clock on the mantle over the TV set. It was already seven o'clock. She heard sounds of movement in the kitchen, and inhaled deeply, wondering what was going on in there. Wine. She definitely smelled wine. She sat up, stretched, and, after a moment, stood up and walked into the kitchen.
Ariana looked up from the stove and smiled, "I see you've rejoined the living."
"Smells good," Silke observed.
"I've just started. That's just some onions, garlic, and red wine you're smelling."
"Well, they smell good anyway," Silke replied, still not totally awake. She hesitated for a moment, and said, "Is there…um…anything I can do to help?"
"Oh, don't worry about it. You don't have to do a thing today. Think of it as my thank-you present."
"Thanks, Ariana," Silke smiled, and returned to the couch. She sat there for a minute, but ended up walking right back into the kitchen.
"Actually, Ariana, I think this is all the relaxation I can take. Are you sure there's nothing I can do?" Nothing I won't fuck up, she added silently.
"I'd rather you take it easy," Ariana replied, "but if you really want, you could get five tomatoes out of the fridge and start chopping those up."
Chopping tomatoes, Silke thought, I think I can manage that. She walked over to the fridge, opened the door, and saw a batch of tomatoes in the fruit & vegetable compartment at the bottom. She opened up the compartment, and started to pull out five of the large tomatoes. She tried to hold a few in each hand, but realised that her hands were not as big as the ones she was accustomed to using, and so she ended up with three tomatoes cradled in her arm. Silke couldn't remember the last time she had actually held an actual tomato. She rather enjoyed the cool softness of them, and the smoothness of their skin. She laid them out on the free space on the counter next to the sink, and found the cutting board, but, as she was hunting for the knives, she realised: I guess I should wash these first, right? She decided to err on the side of caution, and turned on the water, placing each one under it for a thorough rinsing.
Having sanitised the tomatoes, Silke looked around for the knives, and spotted them over by the stove.
"Ariana, could you hand me the knife?" Silke asked, walking over to the stove, where Ariana was still standing.
Ariana pulled out a rather large, stainless steel knife, and handed it to Silke.
Silke returned to her counter space, and put the first tomato on the chopping block. She turned it over on its side, and held it with her left hand, while slowly sliding the knife through it with her right. The tomato was halved. Silke smiled. That was easy enough. Speeding it up a bit, she started to slice the halves, while steadying them with her left hand. She'd already made it through to the second-to-last slice of the first half, when…
"What's wrong, sweetie?" Ariana asked, turning in Silke's direction.
"I kinda cut my thumb a bit," she said, facing Ariana. "Damn, that hurts."
"Kinda?" Ariana echoed, incredulously, "I can see it from here!"
Silke looked down at her left hand. Kinda was definitely an understatement. Her entire thumb was quickly becoming coated in a shiny red shade. Damn it! She ran back over to the sink, and turned on the cold water as far as it went. While she was rinsing off her thumb, Ariana had joined her at the sink, and was looking over her shoulder.
"Wow," Ariana exclaimed once Silke's thumb was clean enough to see the cut, "you really sliced yourself there! Just wrap it up in a paper towel for a minute. I'll go get the band-aids."
Silke did as she was told, covering her thumb in half a roll of paper towels and applying pressure. Within about thirty seconds, Ariana had already come running back into the kitchen.
“OK,” she said, unwrapping the band-aids, “rinse your thumb off.”
Once Silke had rinsed off her thumb, she wrapped her other thumb and index finger tightly around the base of her thumb while Ariana covered the cut with the biggest band-aid she could find. It covered most of Silke’s thumb, too.
“Thanks, Ariana,” Silke smiled, grabbing another knife to continue with the tomatoes. Now, she was more determined than ever to continue. Whatever else had changed, she still did not care for feeling or looking incompetent. She was going to cut these tomatoes if it was the last thing she did. Apparently, Ariana had seen the determination in her eyes; she did not try to get Silke back into the living room again.
She took the second tomato, and laid it out on the cutting board. More slowly, this time, she cut the tomato in half, and proceeded to slice it. This time, she got through it without incident. After she finished the remaining three, she gathered the slices together in a pile on the cutting board, and inhaled. The kitchen was filled with the scent of wine that she’d noticed earlier, and now something else, sweet, yet somehow bitter. It smelled delicious.
Ariana turned toward her. “Could you come here a second, Silke?”
“Are you ready for the tomatoes yet?”
“Just about, I think.” Ariana handed her a spoon, “Have a taste.”
Silke dipped the spoon into the mixture on the stove, letting it cool down a little before putting it into her mouth.
“So,” Ariana smiled expectantly, “how am I doing?”
“It tastes great. What’s in this?”
“Not much, so far. Oil, balsamic vinegar, red wine, onions, and garlic. It’s the recipe you taught me.”
Silke's eyebrows subtly perked up at this remark. Obviously, her predecessor (for lack of a better word) had left quite a legacy. Learning how to cook would be hard enough without learning how to cook so well that people looked to her for culinary guidance. So far, she'd discovered three skills that Silke had that John lacked: contracts, German, and cooking. She had also come up with exactly zero ways to deal with that fact.
"Smells like I taught you pretty well," Silke improvised.
Smiling, Ariana put an arm around Silke's shoulder, "Of course you did! I never understood a thing about cooking before you started showing me how that first night."
First night? This, Silke thought, was another thing she'd have to talk to Kevin about.
"So," Ariana resumed, "what do you think? Time for the tomatoes?"
This was exactly the sort of question Silke had hoped to avoid. At least she had the stress and fatigue to fall back on. Ariana would definitely believe that, too, given her initial resistance to Silke even coming into the kitchen to help. She stalled for time.
"Umm, let me have another quick sample."
Ariana brought her a spoonful, which she slowly sipped, concentrating intensely to figure out what exactly indicated that the tomatoes could go in. The mixture tasted good at any rate.
"Yeah, I'd say the tomatoes can go in."
Silke carried the cutting board with the chopped tomatoes over to the stove, and poured them into the simmering mixture. She stirred everything together, and noticed, surprised, that some of this was starting to feel somehow familiar. At least the movements involved felt somehow as if she'd done them often enough that they were practically automatic. At any rate, it looked and smelled delicious.
Leaving the cooking to Ariana, Silke started moving between the various drawers and cabinets, hoping that Ariana wouldn't notice that she had no real idea where anything was. After a minute or two, she'd found enough to begin setting the kitchen table in anticipation of dinner. While setting the table, she found herself distracted – for what must have been the hundredth time that day alone – by her hair falling into her eyes. How women could avoid losing their minds with so much hair getting in the way, she did not know. She sighed, exasperated, and brushed it out of the way.
"If it's OK with you," Silke announced to Ariana, "I'm going to hang out in the living room now."
"Of course it's OK with me," Ariana smiled back, "I'll let you know when it's ready."
"Thanks so much, sweetie," Silke replied, as she curled back up in the couch. "I can't wait."
Thanks so much, sweetie.
The phrase stuck in the back of Silke's mind as she rested on the couch. Thinking back, she couldn't be sure about a lot of things, but there was no doubt in her mind that John had never once used the word sweetie with Adriana, or any of his other girlfriends for that matter. She seriously doubted that the word had ever crossed her lips before, and yet there it was, hanging in the air in front of her. And she hadn't even noticed that she'd said it until after it was already out.
Not now, dammit. I'm trying to relax here.
She sank farther into the couch, trying not to think of any of it, trying to think of nothing at all, aside from the scent of the positively intoxicating dinner Ariana was putting the finishing touches on one room over. Inhaling deeply, Silke was astounded to realise that she could confidently isolate every single individual element of the aroma she smelled. She could smell the deep, full sweetness of the red wine, the pungency of the garlic, the soft background provided by the olive oil, the half-sweet, half-tart mixture of the tomatoes she'd cut…everything. She gradually realised that she was starving.
"Here's a little something for you to nibble on while you wait," Ariana smiled as she walked into the living room, carrying a plate of something Silke couldn't quite see. Silke could feel the pride in Ariana's face as she set the plate down on the coffee table in front of her. On the plate, Silke saw several slices of very appetizing-looking French bread, and a slightly dark coloured mixture next to it that appeared to contain olive oil. It looked very good.
Ariana was beaming. "That's olive oil, balsamic, and a bit of fresh oregano and crushed red pepper." She looked down expectantly at Silke, who was already picking up a piece of bread with her unwounded hand, and soaking up some of the mixture with it. She took a bite.
Silke let the mixture wash over her, a look of intense concentration on her face. Finally, she swallowed.
"That is delicious!"
"You like it?"
"Like it? It's perfect. You are a great cook, Ariana."
"No, that's you. I've just picked up a thing or two in seven years."
"Don't be modest. Have you tried some of this? You're good," Silke replied, dipping a piece of bread in the mixture and holding it out to Ariana. Ariana took it, chewed it over.
As Ariana swallowed, a grin exploded across her face. "This is good!"
Silke giggled, "I told you!"
The two young women wrapped their arms around each other, laughing together, in a spontaneous embrace.
After a moment, Silke was the first to speak, "Thanks again for doing all this. I can't wait to see what else you've got."
Ariana grinned, "Patience."
Silke watched Ariana run back into the kitchen, feeling an unaccustomed warmth that she couldn't quite identify. She inhaled, and the scent made her even hungrier.
"OK!" a voice called out from the kitchen, "the table awaits!"
Silke did not need to hear more. In five seconds, she was sitting at the table, watching Ariana bring the source of the delicious scent over to the table. First, she set down the sauce, and then she went back to get another pot, which Silke assumed had to contain some sort of pasta.
"So, how much do you want?"
"Right now, I think I could eat it all," Silke laughed, as Ariana began filling their bowls, first with pasta that Silke dimly recognised as penne, then with the rich, red sauce that had perfumed the entire ground floor. After filling both their bowls, Ariana sat down and eyed Silke expectantly.
Realising that all eyes were on her, Silke picked up her spoon and stuck it into the bowl, pulled out a mouthful, and tasted it. She let it soak in, as she chewed, conscious that she had an audience. It was quite possibly the best thing she'd ever tasted. Somehow, this sauce had an incredibly complex flavour. It managed to be tart, sweet, spicy, and subtle all at once. And this was something she had taught Ariana?
"So?" Ariana brought her out of her reverie.
Silke swallowed, "I love it! It's just perfect." Ariana beamed, and took her first bite.
Perhaps because she was so hungry, or because she was exhausted, Silke didn't say much during dinner. Mostly, she concentrated on the food. She couldn't be entirely sure, but it seemed to her that all the tastes were somehow amplified, more intense than she remembered tastes being. Of course, she thought, it could also be something to do with Ariana's excellent cooking.
With this thought, Silke looked up at Ariana, who was positively beaming. Clearly, she mused as she had another mouthful, Ariana was very proud of herself for putting all of this together. A sudden warmth filled her as she met Ariana's gaze. Whatever else has changed, I still love to see her smile, Silke thought, smiling back at her best friend.
"Thank you so much," Silke broke the silence, "for this…for everything…"
"You don't need to thank me," Ariana replied, stretching her arm across the table to hold Silke's hand, "you've done this for me plenty of times."
Copyright 2006-2007, Élise R. Hendrick, All rights reserved.