'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Joys of Cooking

The rain has returned after a few weeks of fine weather. It's because of the school holidays. I remember when I was young, it always started raining as soon as the school holidays started, and it kept raining until we went back to school in September. We'd sit in our classrooms and look out at the clear blue skies. But then, I also remember that it was always sunny during the school holidays, much sunnier than the summers we get now. I remember a hot air balloon rising out of a lake as well, but that's neither here nor there.

My aunt Bridget loves having the house to herself. On one Saturday afternoon, the kids were all out, either at sporting events or visiting friends or climbing mountains in other countries. Her husband, Harry, had gone on a fishing trip with some friends. They were hoping to catch a legendary fish, or at least to encounter something they could stretch into a good story. They'd almost certainly have to rely on encountering something they'd have to stretch to breaking point, because according to the tales told about the fish, it was over a hundred years old and it had a moustache.

She appreciated the silence of the house after they had all gone. The cat sat on the mat outside the back door. Bridget sat on a garden chair and purred contentedly as she thought about cooking the dinner. She enjoys cooking good food every bit as much as she enjoys eating it, and she enjoys thinking about cooking as much as she enjoys cooking. The cat's dinner came out of a tin, but he didn't seem to mind. He also enjoyed preparing his meals as much as he enjoyed eating, but this only applied to the dinners he killed. Bridget had never killed her own dinner and she always tried to avoid thoughts about where meat came from.

She went inside to start preparing the meal. She couldn't think of anything more relaxing than cooking when she had the house to herself, so she was annoyed when the doorbell rang, and she was even more annoyed when she opened the door and saw her sister, Elaine. Bridget knew that Elaine would end up staying for dinner, and that she'd keep talking while Bridget was cooking, and only Elaine would enjoy the meal. Before heading for home, sometime around midnight, she'd say, "I really enjoyed myself and that was an amazing chicken pie." And Bridget would have to smile and say 'You're welcome' when she really wanted to say 'I might have enjoyed the meal if you had been able to stop talking about your hair for a few minutes'.

As expected, Elaine never stopped talking. Bridget can easily stop listening, but it was still annoying to have the sound of her sister's voice droning on in the background while she was trying to cook. But she thought of a way to restore the peace and quiet for a while. She didn't have any cream for the apple tart they'd be having for dessert, so she asked Elaine to walk into town and get some cream at the shop.

Bridget appreciated the silence more than ever after Elaine left to get the cream. The gentle humming of the oven was as relaxing as the sound of waves on an isolated beach. But the silence lost its calming effect when it went on for too long. The dinner was nearly ready and Elaine hadn't returned from the shop. Bridget went outside to look down the road towards the town, and she saw her sister outside their neighbour's house. Elaine had never made it to the shop. She'd been talking to Bridget's neighbour, Sean, all this time. In truth, she hadn't done much of the talking. He'd been telling her about a book he'd been reading, '101 Things to do with Toast', and he'd still only reached number thirty-seven. He was up to number forty-five by the time Bridget finally managed to drag Elaine away. If they'd left at number forty they might have saved the dinner, but even before they had reached the front door of the house they got the smell of burn. The water had boiled off the potatoes, and the pastry on top of the chicken pie was black. Bridget was too angry to say anything.

Elaine said, "Why don't we try that new fast-food place in town."

"That's your response to the demise of my dinner? It would be like holding the funeral of a nun in a lap-dancing club."

"It doesn't matter. I wouldn't want to go there if you're planning a funeral for your dinner."

"I'm not planning anything."

"Let's go to a proper restaurant so."


"Don't sulk. It's only a dinner."

"I'm not sulking," Bridget said. She hated being told not to sulk, especially when she was sulking.

"Look, I'll cook something with whatever I find in the fridge."


"No 'buts'. You go off to the shop to get the cream and I'll start work on the dinner."

Bridget felt she needed a relaxing walk to the shop, so she agreed to let Elaine cook. She walked quickly past Sean's house in case he started telling her about toast. With that hurdle out of the way she did her best to relax, but she couldn't stop thinking about her peaceful afternoon and her dinner, both of which had been ruined by Elaine, who was probably busy ruining the innocent items of food she found in the fridge.

Elaine made an outstanding lasagne with the food she found in the fridge. For Bridget, this was worse than the barely edible mess she'd been expecting. Her sister was an excellent cook, which was annoying, and Elaine irritated Bridget even further by constantly pointing out how much she hated cooking.

Bridget fought hard against enjoying the meal, but the power of good food was too strong. She started to relax again, and she was nearly back to her old self when they were eating the apple tart and cream. But things took a turn for the worse when Harry and his friends arrived back with the fish they'd be having for dinner. They kept pointing out that they had killed it themselves. People had been trying to kill this fish for hundreds of years, they said, and they had finally succeeded in catching it. This made them heroes.

Bridget was appalled by the fish. It was anything but legendary. Harry insisted that it had a bit of a moustache. Bridget had a close look at it, and she couldn't deny that it did have something resembling a moustache, but this only made the thing more reprehensible in her eyes. She dreaded the thought of cooking it for Harry and his drunk friends.

But she was rescued by Elaine, who said, "This fish would be perfect as part of the seventeenth way to use toast."

She couldn't resist trying out this recipe. Bridget poured herself a glass of wine, sat at the kitchen table and breathed an audible sigh of relief as her sister got out the frying pan and the toaster. Elaine had to admit that she enjoyed cooking, especially when it involved toast. Bridget had to admit that she enjoyed talking about the garden and drinking wine while other people cooked, and that she was glad her sister had paid a visit. Harry and his friends had to admit that there was nothing legendary about the fish they brought home, but they steadfastly refused to make any such admission. The excellence of the meal made with the fish was evidence of its legendary status, they said. In truth, the quality of the meal owed more to the toast than to the fish.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't trust my memories of past summers. He takes everything I say with a pinch of salt. I've become accustomed to the fact that he questions my mental acumen, and I try to use his superior intellect whenever I can. A few days ago, a brain surgeon called to the house. He asked me if I wanted any work done. I said I'd never considered having anything done to my brain before. He looked closely at my face and he told me I should definitely consider it, and that I might even need some work done before I start considering it, if I wanted to be able to consider it properly. I consulted the moose's head on this matter. The expression on his face told me that the brain surgery wouldn't be a good idea. I don't know why so many people assume that I need something done to my brain. Or else they believe that something's already been done to it, and that it can't be reversed.