A Sideways Glare at Contemporary Society
The late afternoon was hot, the unquenchable kind that sets on you without remorse. The pot began to bubble with tiny thick explosions that capped on the surface and opened wet and sticky. She stirred absent-mindedly, knowing the feel of the spoon and the thickness of the mixture by instinct. Nothing moved in the kitchen except a couple of lazy flies circling like drones, drunk on the smell of chocolate. It was too hot to cook, but it was Opening Night and she was always proud of the compliments she got. It made her feel as though the chocolate actually could go wrong and it was only her skill that made it good. She and only she could conjure the magnificent taste out of chunks and pieces, heating them to the touch and feeling their consistency as they bubbled and quacked forming over the heat, until the exact right moment, when they spread reaching and overflowing into the pan, warm and velvety smooth.
She stirred absently. Tonight was Juliet, and she knew in a couple of years she wouldn’t be able to dance her anymore. It wasn’t that hard, but it was a part for a younger woman. She remembered watching the crones when she was a child still straining for her chance. Seeing them going through the motions of passion, everything in the right place but without a hint of feeling. She knew she was better than that, even then. She remembered the first time, feeling the dance fill her body with Juliet, letting Juliet overpower her, letting Juliet — use her. It had been wonderful and from that dance she had never been the same again. Her purpose was to dance and she was magnificent.
The chocolate slowed over her spoon and she reached for the chili, unconsciously accelerating her wrist. She held the small white plate over the pot, shaking it gently, and watched the red grains touch and dissolve into the dark brown surface. She knew there were exactly enough without measuring. The bubbles died for a second and she peaked the chocolate with the spoon knowing full well it wasn’t ready yet, but it would be ready and it would be magnificent. Then, after the performance, the whole troupe would drink champagne and each have a piece and they would ooh and aah like they always did and she would coyly refuse to divulge her secret and then they’d all go out to a late supper, probably at Lamont’s. It was the tradition of Opening Night.
She loved Opening Night. It always came early, contemplating the season long before it ever started, wondering what the dance would be, which was which and who was who. The agitated wait, nervous to know. Slyly hoping, and waiting for the characters to come for her, memoried in past choreography,. Then finally being told, who was going to be her, and seeing them, discovering how they moved, trying on their clothes, teasing their directors through rehearsals, becoming aware of their flaws, enjoying their simple pleasures. Then shyly, almost coyly, letting them have her, slowly trusting them to have her body and make it move. Until finally they filled her the way Juliet did the first time and her muscles and her instincts and her identity were lost and responded only to them. Then — only then — with the orchestra, and the music, and the lights, and the crowd, they would flow into her and through her and she would soar, reaching and spreading with emotion, overflowing with the passion of the dance. Then the dance would be she and she would be magnificent. And she would do it again and again, night after night until her character exhausted her, used her up. Her muscles, sore to the touch would rebel and . . .
The heat from the pot touched her arm and she automatically turned the heat on the stove down. She placed the wooden spoon against the side of the pot and found an odd fork for the heavy cream which she whipped vigorously for a couple of seconds and quickly folded into the chocolate. She placed the awkward green bowl back on the counter and rapidly stirred the chocolate again. If the heat was too high the cream would burn and not disperse properly. She turned the heat down again until she knew it was just right.
She liked everything just right, working things over and over again until they satisfied her. She remembered the crones playing at dance while she, young and untried, practiced and practiced and practiced again. Dancing until her feet oozed sweet red stains into her tidy white slippers. At first she was worried and a little scared. She thought she’d ruined her slippers, or wouldn’t be able to dance, or that she was different from other dancers. But her mother showed her how to soak make-up pads in cold cream and tuck them into the toes of her ballet shoes. She remembered how cool they felt against her feet and how at first she thought that they would let her dance longer and better than the other girls who didn’t know the trick. It was only years later that she discovered all dancers used similar things. It just hadn’t occurred to her.
The spoon told her the chocolate had taken the cream and it was time to add the rest of the ingredients. She liked to linger over this part a bit and blend things together rather than just combining them. She knew it didn’t matter but it made her think that she was actually working at cooking rather than returning to the same recipe she had made dozens of times. This always gave her a bigger sense of accomplishment. It was a feeling of achievement that justified the troupe’s compliments and besides she knew that she couldn’t just go through the motions, her heart as an artist wouldn’t allow it. She remembered trying to explain this to a reviewer once.
“Really, George, you just don’t understand. Anyone can dance. All one really has to do is draw the feet out on the floor. It’s really very easy. But to touch the audience and make them see it, that’s the really hard part.”
“But isn’t it difficult do the same thing over and over again? I’d be mortally bored to death,” he had said.
“That’s why I am an artist, George, and you have to write about me. Artists really don’t need anything more than their art. Without me, George, you would have to go do some real work”
“Ah, but you inspire me.” he had said,
“I inspire everyone, George.” she had replied.
She knew that wasn’t true but it seemed witty at the time. Actually it wasn’t her at all that inspired anything, it was the characters she danced that reached the audience. It was the strange blend of their personality vibrant with passion and her body caressed by the music that shone in the footlights. After all, nobody would come and see her — cook, for example, and why should they? There was no passion there. She smiled to herself thinking about standing on stage in her sweatsuit, stirring fudge and hearing wild rounds of applause. Perhaps for the Christmas season she could bake a cake. She didn’t know how to bake a cake, but given some good rehearsal time and decent direction she could learn. She learned how to make fudge hadn’t she, and everyone said her fudge was magnificent.
She placed the pot on the back burner to cool just a bit and thicken and turned the front burner on high. For the first time she had to concentrate because this part was difficult. The mixture had to cool to just the right thickness and then be put back on the very highest heat for just the right amount of time. Too much and it would burn, too little and it wouldn’t set, soft in the middle, firm on the outside. She needed just the right touch now and had to calm her eagerness. She found her calf muscles tensing and the small of her back straightening her slightly. She could feel the heat from the stove and reached to touch the pot to see if it was cool enough. Soon but not yet. She tried to calm the muscles in her legs but it was too close and they wouldn’t relax. She willed herself to wait, feeling the heat glow over the front of her, touching all the way to her face. She touched the pot again and moved the pan closer to the stove. She touched the pot again. She angled the pan a little closer. She touched the pot again. She knew the feel wasn’t quite right but she couldn’t wait any longer. She slid the pot on to the glowing burner and grabbed the wooden spoon beating it into the mixture. Heated like this the chocolate began to liquify and she could feel the change in texture, feel it give way just a little. The first bubble appeared, then another and another. Her wrist, unused to the motion tired but she forced herself to stir faster. She could feel the heat on her hand and the thickness of the chocolate on the spoon. Her wrist worked against the resistance as the chocolate bubbled and spattered, sticking slightly and letting go, stuttering against her. There were more bubbles now as the chocolate boiled up, frothing against the overheated pan, reaching up the sides. She stirred even faster almost aching with the effort and the heat of the stove. Suddenly the heat caught and their was no resistance, the mixture foamed as it boiled and she pulled it off the heat, practically spilling it into the pan before it overflowed. It sputtered and hissed into the cool pan spreading out to the very edges. She stood and watched it for a second, watched the final drips run from the upturned pot. She used the spoon to wipe the last bit out of the pot and carefully blowing on it to cool it, she tasted it. It was magnificent.
It was cooler now. The sun had reached around behind some building and her apartment was half covered in shadows. She looked at her creation already smoothing and cooling. Soon she would have to go to the theatre. There was not enough time left to do anything but too much to do nothing, so she sat. She liked to cook fudge. Maybe next year she would learn to cook other things, but she knew she wouldn’t. She had tried once, years ago, the year she’d taken a lover. He liked to cook, so she let him. She liked to dance, so he let her. And on Opening Night, they ate fudge. She hadn’t thought of him in years, many years. Maybe next year she would take a lover, but she knew she wouldn’t.
In the fading light she wondered what other people did. People who cooked things and had lovers. People who went to movies and ate pizza. She looked into the kitchen and wondered what a kitchen was supposed to look like. She didn’t know; she hadn’t seen one since she was a child, younger than Juliet. Soon, she would be too old for Juliet and she was unhappy with the thought of that. She liked Juliet and Juliet liked her. Suddenly it occurred to her that eventually Juliet would have to find another dancer, and that’s all there was to it. And that made her sad. Juliet had been fun, but soon, she knew, she would have to switch to older characters, more experienced characters. The expectation of that was exciting and she was happy again. And tonight was Opening Night and she would be magnificent. She stuck her finger into the pot and scraped some of the fudge up into her mouth. It was sweet and still a little warm. She rolled it in her mouth and walked down the hall to change for the theatre.