Red

A year of taillights. Of barriers so close to that they merged with us, masks making scabs across our bodies.

A year of skin famine, of narrowness. 

Last spring, when I wanted nothing to do with flesh, I wanted ivory. To survive on meagerness until I myself was a bone. 

Hunger can be its own companion, and without meaning to I winnowed the menu to fit the rest of my survivalist impulses.

The Market, after 14 months away, was Martian. I recognized some faces, happened across a colleague, but the shock was the food itself. I had forgotten that zucchini could look like saucers. That squash blossoms were a thing. That mushrooms and ramps and eggplants existed in such vivacious colors. 

I bought berries, the last of the season, rushing back to a new house where I could break down amongst the towers of boxes.

The strawberries will be my undoing, I thought.

I marveled, not eating, for hours. I made a peanut butter sandwich and couldn’t choke it down, oddly overcome by pushing against the boundaries of so many things. The berries themselves were soft and sun-kissed in my hands. I held them individually, an amnesiac that somehow remembered there was a promise inside. I kept running away from them throughout the morning, penning a poem instead of unpacking my tools, paralyzed by their beauty while trying desperately to exit survival-mode. 

I started with a genoise, a cake so light and tricky that you cannot rush any steps, especially in heating the egg yolk and sugar mixture. While making it I texted friends, cancelled and un-cancelled plans because life was suddenly a hurricane around me: the unpacked and packed boxes and the paper cuts and gashes of the most grinding school year that somehow bled out into the end of May.

I could not control my tears. 

But I could control the rise of the cake. 

The crème pâtissière called for a delightful amount of concentration. While letting the milk steep with vanilla bean, I looked back at the berries. I grabbed one, pushed it past my lips.

I would give you all the metaphors about fragility. About patience and seasons and sensuality and resilience and Nature.

But you would only understand the grief when your tongue pushed up against the berries’ sweetness. When the sugars electrified your blood so directly that you might as well be looking at the sun. When the Red Year can be something that you slice and dissect and crush and sugar, then reassemble into something you can finally consume. 

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