By Sarah Tolmie (Aqueduct Press, 2014)
Her parents had gotten her a reservation at the restaurant for her eighteenth birthday. There is no need to ask which restaurant. They had put her name on the waiting list when she was sixteen, plus two guests—anonymous guests, for whose friends are the same at eighteen as at sixteen? They were not sanguine about their chances of being invited themselves—too old, too ugly. What made it utterly out of the question, finally, was the fact that neither of them had had the procedure by that time. Seychelles had been among the first clients once the process was indemnified; hers was the TGB generation. It was going to save them millions in surgery later: parents with any sense looked upon it as a cost-saving measure. So on the evening of her eighteenth birthday, her proud parents saw her into the security helicopter, with her wrist corsage and her two most beautiful friends, Rihoku and Donovan, TGBers, too, and retired to have dinner with their personal trainers behind the reinforced windows of their apartment block. “Thank God they have one-way glass,” Seychelles said, “or everyone would see them eating. Right on the main street. It’s disgusting.” Her friends giggled in their safety straps.
They arrived on the helipad at precisely 7:02 and were photographed by the blogbots of the main papers, looking gorgeously windswept in the dwindling chop of the overhead blades. All the bots were anchored to the roof because of the constant storm of copter blades they had to endure; every now and again the bolts loosened and one would scud off to drop like a bomb for two hundred floors. They were programmed to erase after 15 feet of free fall, so nobody worried about them. Seychelles, Hoku, and Donovan, having talked it over in the helicopter, faced the cameras—or did not quite face them—in animated but serious conversation, in which they contrived to look intelligent, engaging, busy, and to show their teeth at the same time.
They proceeded coolly inside past the checkpoint and were seated at their table, a small round frame of Lucite with mahogany beach chairs. Each of the tables in the restaurant was filled with water, a few waving fronds, and neutral-colored pebbles; and each guest was served on a floating tray of balsa wood. “Both woods just off the watch list,” said Donovan admiringly as she sat down. She was doing embargo law; her father was the city’s foremost nenvironmentalist. He could get around anything. They looked down into the reflective surface of their table. It was rare to see so much water at once. After they had peered down at it for some time, they noticed tiny translucent fish flickering past. “Gross,” said Hoku, “they must shit in there.”
“Exactly,” said the busboy, appearing at his elbow in a raffia apron. It looked like he had lost a battle with a ball of furry twine. “Some patrons were actually drinking the water.”
“Gross,” said Hoku again.
“Yes,” said the busboy, “and quite against our philosophy. If they want to drink, they can drink at home.”
“Quite so,” said Donovan, looking affronted. Seychelles smiled at the correctness of their sentiments. That was why she had brought them. She had known they would fit in.
“Would you like to see the wine list?” asked the busboy.
“Of course not,” replied Seychelles. “Even thinking about alcohol is a waste of time. Please bring us the appetizer menu.” The busboy looked at her appraisingly. Seychelles refused to care about impressing a busboy. Some things were obvious. As her mother always said: those who can’t afford doctors self-medicate. “Thank you.” The busboy departed in a twirl of raffia.
The waiter who returned with their menus was ten years older, as they instantly understood by the fact that he appeared ten years younger. He wore no raffia and instead of alertness exerted an air of command. He set their calligraphic menus lightly and precisely on their balsa wood trays, causing scarcely a ripple. “Pure cotton paper,” he said, “hand-ground ink, reed pen.”
“Thank you,” said Seychelles graciously. He made some subtle hand gesture without moving that powerfully suggested a bow and moved away.
“What’s a reed?” whispered Hoku apologetically.
“Kind of grass. Grows in water,” replied Donovan, trying to pick up her menu without getting it wet. Seychelles grabbed hers without fuss and looked it over. Nothing too unexpected. The fashion for complexity was over. Almost everything from the Asias was tainted now, no use even buying it contraband. She saw the word mangosteen. Engineered, maybe. It seemed improper. Perhaps they could be grown in hothouses. She would ask about it. The point was that they were supposed to be able to make anything you ordered. What else were you paying for?
They mulled things over in silence. Seychelles wondered about her friends’ strategies. Had they been practicing for weeks, pulling out their grandmothers’ vintage cookbooks? She had read over a few of those herself. One ancient e-vol, compatible with hardly anything her parents had, had been called The Joy of Cooking. Now there was a word she had never heard anyone use. Joy. It sounded religious, made her think of fundos. There had been a recipe for squirrel. There were still squirrels; she had seen a few on campus. Of course, maybe there were only squirrels in places with armed guards. She had also read restaurant reviews going back twenty years or so. Some of these were surprising: it had never occurred to her that people would travel all over the world to go to certain restaurants. None of her friends traveled, for reasons too boring to think about: risk, disease, security ennui. That people once flew to Istanbul or Beijing just to eat was incredible. Wasteful really. She would not include mangosteen in her order.
When the waiter returned, she was ready. She asked her friends to order first. Hoku chose Japanese. Boring. He was just ordering to go with his hair. Donovan went for quirky, but her choices revealed her as a student of embargo: everything she ordered had been de-listed within the week. Seychelles ordered a watercress salad with black pepper and wild strawberries. This was what came out of her mouth when she opened it, displacing several more ambitious ideas; she was startled. She hoped she hadn’t shown it. She steadied herself, thinking: well, that’s what I would want to eat. If I ate. The waiter wrote all this down in a beautiful cursive on more of his cotton paper and disappeared.
Seychelles, Rihoku, and Donovan sat elegantly in their mahogany armchairs for a few minutes. They watched the fish. Hoku complained that the humidity from the table was ruining his hair. The waiter returned and silently deposited some small cards on their floating trays, conveying by some indefinable gravity that this was a signal honor. The three eighteen-year-olds looked at each other in puzzlement and rising incredulity. The waiter remained by their table like a wound-down clockwork from an eighteenth-century castle. Seychelles reached for one of the small white cards. It was blank. She flashed it to Donovan with trembling fingers. “Carte blanche. It’s the chef’s card. We can—we can order anything, right?” She turned uneasily to the silent waiter. He nodded.
“Why have you brought these to us?” asked Seychelles, in amazement.
“It is Mr. Arar’s privilege,” replied the waiter. This unforthcoming answer increased the enormity of it. Seychelles thought of her simpleminded strawberry order. Had it been such a gaffe that this response was a test of their quality? Would they be thrown out if they ordered badly now? People had been thrown out, she knew, and presumably it was not because they were drunk. Deprived of the list of entrée ingredients that she had been expecting, Seychelles was suddenly at sea. She focused her mind on the wavering green fronds half-hidden by her floating tray and felt lost. She nodded.
“Please thank him for us,” supplied Donovan. Hoku managed a weak smile. Seychelles knew he would have preferred the standard menu. He did not seek out stress. Donovan would already be calculating out all the angles. It was so unexpected that Seychelles could not work out what she thought of it herself. The waiter nodded to her, ignoring Donovan, and departed once more.
“What do we do now?” asked Hoku.
“We wing it,” said Seychelles. Trying to foster some esprit de corps, she gave her one bit of advice: “Just think of something you’d really like to eat. Anything.”
“But there isn’t anything I’d like to eat,” said Hoku, “That’s the whole point of the bypass.” Donovan looked at him as if he’d said something indelicate.
“The point of a bypass is that you can eat absolutely anything you want and it won’t matter,” she retorted. “I wonder what happens if we order stuff he can’t get?”
“Our order’s free,” joked Seychelles. Donovan looked strategic. “No,” continued Seychelles, “I don’t think it works that way. I think we order stuff that would be interesting to eat—or to make, right, it’s the chef’s card—and that, uh, reflects us. It’s a form of self-expression.” Donovan was bent on finding the right self to express. Hoku was sure that his food-self wasn’t going to be as beautiful as his face. Seychelles decided that if she thought about it too much she was going to get nervous and spoil her birthday. “You two,” she said, “I’m starting to stress out. I’m just going to take a little walk around. Might as well see the fabulous people, anyway.”
Hoku looked affronted. “You got your puffer?” asked Donovan, concerned.
“Yeah.” She stood up and moved away from the table, trying not to look aimless. She could hardly say she was going to the bathroom. There were no bathrooms. She went to the windows instead. She threaded her way through the glowing pools of Lucite and the fabulous people sitting around them; they looked bleached by the white light. The reflections that met her in the silvery tinted windows were even more ethereal; she was reminded of the translucent fish fluttering beneath her menu. The restaurant was an aquarium. Better tell Hoku not to order sashimi, she thought. She smiled at her shatterproof enlightened self in the glass and turned back, passing a dimly-lit wall of glass brick behind which coppery shapes showed in distorted stretches: the kitchen? There was a kitchen, she had read, relic of the restaurant’s past in which ordinary food had been prepared: never much of it, and at exorbitant cost, but still, food.
Arar had led the way into the no-food dining era; that was back in the day before the procedure, when food was still dangerous. He was the first one to appreciate its danger and the remedy for it: at his restaurant you could have the pleasure of commanding every kind of food you could imagine without the threat of having to eat it. At first, she had heard, people had ordered spectacular dishes, and the chef had made them; the staff brought them out for you to see and then took them away again. Soon people began to object to the smell, and some wondered what became of the meals; the chef assured them they were safely thrown out, but no one felt certain, so he dispensed with the display altogether, to higher customer satisfaction. Since the advent of the total gastric bypass, the restaurant had become even more fashionable—it was new again, with a different meaning. In principle, Arar could now be serving whatever toxic feasts his patrons dreamed up, knowing it could not hurt them, but people admired the purity of his resolve. He was a true artist.
Seychelles returned to the table. “There,” she said, “I’ve worked up my appetite.” The other two looked at her in mild horror. “Just kidding,” she said. But she wasn’t kidding. As she had walked around the restaurant, she had been asking herself: what is it people want here? What do I want? Her body did not give her hunger signals, but the place did. A scentless, invisible aura of desire pervaded the room. Seychelles understood, as her friends did not, that she had an opportunity to be the chef’s perfect customer, the ideal diner. She sat down again, gazing at her wobbly Lucite feet. “All ready?” she asked.
“No,” said Hoku.
“Not really,” said Donovan, her face still working, crossing off lists in her mind. Her hands were twitching in her lap. Seychelles remembered her habit of drumming her fingers on the table, which was impossible here. Her estimation of Arar rose: he knew how to make things difficult.
Her friends failed to rise to the chef’s standard. Hoku did indeed order sashimi, yellowtail, with wasabi, ginger, and mayonnaise. The waiter’s eyes glinted at this last detail. Seychelles thought it was with approval, but Hoku was paranoid: “My grandmother always served it that way,” he blurted out. The waiter wrote it down with his beautiful cursive. Donovan ordered a complex dish with three kinds of seafood, two of which were illegal, wild boar sausage, rice, and saffron; it also required a certain kind of Spanish wine in the sauce of which there were fewer than 200 bottles left in the world, as Donovan knew because one of them was in her father’s cellar. The waiter wrote all this down expressionlessly.
Seychelles took a long, calm breath. She remembered being cold as she stepped into the helicopter; her birthday was in late autumn. The celebrated maple tree on campus had turned, and all its red leaves had been collected. She had hers vacuum-framed in her room, along with the one from the previous year. She quickly ordered braised short ribs of beef with caramelized onions and a mashed yellow potato. Then she smiled hugely with relief and a strange delight at her choice, which had come to her out of the blue; she had only eaten beef twice in her life.
“It’s slow,” she said, “but I can afford to wait.” The waiter smiled. He wrote her order down and headed away toward the translucent wall that suggested, but did not reveal, the kitchen’s coppery shapes.
Shortly after that, a door opened soundlessly in the glass brick, and a figure dressed all in white like an ancient magus walked out in soft shoes. It was the chef. He walked silently across the restaurant to their table. The waiter followed him in the hush that had settled over the room and conjured a mahogany chair for him from nowhere that Seychelles could see. He sat down.
“Mr. Arar?” said Seychelles. She was shocked. The chef looked exhausted. He also looked old, which was the truly shocking thing. He was very tall and very thin—too thin, she thought, something she could not recall ever thinking before. He had a nose that in anybody else would have cried out for surgery. His eyes were red-rimmed. Though he was still, agitation hung in the air about him. Seychelles nearly handed him her puffer. He looked at her intensely with his black eyes.
“TGB?” he said in a near-whisper.
“Yes,” said Seychelles.
“You ordered those ribs?”
“Yes,” said Seychelles.
“It’s my birthday.”
“Happy birthday,” said Arar after a moment. She felt that this automatic phrase was endowed with some astonishing force. She had just been reborn. The congratulatory image of her own father, perfected, pale, provident, seeing her into the helicopter collapsed in her mind like a house of cards. “Do you always eat something special on your birthday?” continued Arar in his hoarse voice.
“Not usually, no. I’ve been TGB for a while. But this is a restaurant, isn’t it?”
“This is a restaurant. Yes,” said Arar. He seemed to lack the strength to go on.
“And I thought it would taste nice,” said Seychelles, gently, to the thin man staring into the depths of their table. Arar lifted his burning eyes; she was surprised the water was not boiling.
“You thought that?” he said.
“Yes. That it would taste nice,” said Seychelles. Her friends looked at each other. They had no idea what was going on. The chef suddenly extended his thin hand across the table, over the bobbing balsa wood, to Seychelles. Some of the tense wrinkles around his eyes smoothed out; he looked younger.
“Hardwicke Arar,” he said, his rough voice gaining life. “You may call me Hardy.”
The formality of his tone made her conscious of a great privilege. “Thank you,” she said. “Seychelles Xenobarbus.” She found they were still holding hands over the floating pool of the table. The chef’s hand was dry. Something made her press her hand down, still holding Arar’s, until it just broke the surface of the water. The wooden trays rocked and the fish scattered in fright. He looked down at their clasped hands, and suddenly pushed them down harder, all the way to the bottom of the tank, soaking her sleeve and her watch. No matter; it was waterproof. She laughed. The chef smiled suddenly and let go her hand, bringing his own out of the water and shaking off the drops. Hoku flinched away from the flying droplets, fearing fish poop.
“Would you like to see the kitchen?” asked Arar, standing up. The waiter’s flicker of emotion was as evident as if he had fainted.
“Yes, of course,” replied Seychelles. “I walked by it before. I didn’t know if it was still in use.” She rose, and the chef took her arm. They walked across the floor between tables of gaping people.
“It’s a meditation chamber now,” said Arar. He led her through the glass-brick door. A large room was revealed to her, full of chrome machinery and copper pans hanging in neat rows. A large empty space was cleared in the center, and a white futon lay on the floor in the precise middle. Seychelles turned slowly. Most of the hardware she had never seen before.
“This is all still here?” she said, “From before?”
“Yes,” said Arar, with finality. He looked down at her. “If I were to make those ribs,” he asked solemnly, “would you eat them?”
Seychelles looked back at him with equal solemnity. “Yes,” she said.
The Last Supper
Seychelles was just forty; she couldn’t bear it. All in all she was likely to live for another sixty years minimum. She was healthy; she was TGB; she had a medical annuity of almost half a billion. She could afford doctors as long as there were any on earth. She would have killed herself except it seemed like such a huge waste of money. Her parents had attributed so much value to her life that she had to keep it intact. After the accident in Santa Monica—the Playhouse Nuke, as the headlines had screamed—they had not even let her visit for fear of exposure; they had never come home but died of radiation sickness in the sanatorium in California. Her father had called it the Nuclear Hotel; it had been a standing joke for the short time they had remained alive. After they were gone Seychelles was worth billions. It was their money; she could not abandon her last link with them. That’s it, Hardy, too cheap to die, she thought in grim agony.
Hardy had always gone along with her ludicrous wealth. Until she had met him she had not even realized how ludicrous it was. He had pointed out to her in his more astringent moments that the money she had already cost—in education, in surgery, in security—could support a whole city; her projected life expenses could buy half a continent. She could have all her cells gold-plated individually. There was no end to the ridiculousness that much money could cause: she was dwarfed by it. The wonder of it is, Seychelles, he had said, that despite the buying power of nations you remain just one girl, and I love you. Seychelles was not the richest of her circle of friends, and she had never thought like this before. He had made her think on a different scale. But he had loved her, and that was the second reason she did not kill herself: she could not do away with something that Hardwicke Arar, greatest chef of his generation, had loved.
When she looked down the faceless corridor of her life without him, the one thing she could not see herself getting through was the dinner hour.
He had died at home in her private hospital. On the day of his death, she remembered, she had sent the staff away: the medical officer, the nurses, cleaners, and all. She had left him lying propped on the severe white bed with its pristine linen sheets—he was always a stickler for whites—and wandered around the rest of the house. She had not contacted the undertaker, the lawyer, or the psychiatrist waiting for her call. She had not called her friends. By seven that evening she had been starving, sick and faint with hunger. So it had seemed to her, though she knew she could not be, because of the bypass. Hunger had been cut out of her when she was sixteen.
Still, by the end of that awful day she was famished, a pale and shaking visage in her bathroom mirror: her stomach, or something in the place where her stomach had been, was rumbling. Hunger was the metaphor her body had chosen for grief. There was no gainsaying it. She went to the kitchen, Hardy’s beautiful kitchen, and fixed scrambled eggs with chives, brown toast, chanterelles. She put them on one of his white plates and went back to his room. He lay there quietly, his long hands still on the turned-back sheet, his eyes closed, his head tilted back as if inhaling the smell of her mushrooms. He did not argue with her about salting them. She ate everything. She did not speak to him. She would have felt stupid talking to a corpse.
Hardy had always made her hungry. He had taught her to eat before he taught her to cook. Total gastric bypass was irreversible—or not safely reversible, which came to the same thing, it had never been indemnified—or she would have gone back for him. He was not TGB, though by the time he met her almost all his clients at the restaurant were. So he actually lived on his own food. This was so unfashionable it was almost obscene. He did not discuss it in public. But the amazing thing about him from the beginning, from her first meeting him at NoFood the day she was eighteen, was the way in which his cooking—the very idea of his cooking—restored to her the sensory demand of which she had been deprived.
She did not need any food at all, except Hardy’s. From sixteen to eighteen she had hardly eaten. But from the moment she had risen to his challenge and eaten the meal he had cooked her (short ribs, they still had them every year on her birthday), that powerful feeling, hunger, had come back to her in all of its urgency. That first evening she had felt it so strongly, and it was so alien, that she feared she was having some kind of breakdown; she had come near to overdosing on her puffer from anxiety and had been completely tranquilized at the table. Hardy had overlooked her drugged docility and served her food anyway, and the shock of it had broken through her torpor: not just the taste but the satiety. No longer accustomed to feeling either empty or full, the satisfaction was totally unexpected.
She had spoken to psychologists about it afterward: the effect was classed as a phantom sensation, suffered by a small percentage of the TGBers. Her surgeon was apologetic: there were therapies. Seychelles said nothing but went home laughing. She was not suffering. Hardy had given her back the truth, and she did not care that it was a medical impossibility. Hardy was a magician.
Over the twenty-two years they had been together, perhaps her initial euphoria had cooled, but never entirely. As she matured and came to understand herself, she learned that it was her love for Hardy that caused her hunger and repletion, mapping the ebb and flow of her desire and admiration. It was a phantom sensation, stronger than a real one. Her worry soon became that she could inspire no similar hunger in Hardy. He got hungry, he ate; it had nothing to do with her. It was heartless. She schooled herself into reading his love for her by other means, but always felt in this strangely his superior, constantly giving herself over to the enormous involuntary power of her love for him in a way he could not reciprocate.
On the other hand, she also felt that there were ways in which she could never get close to Hardy, though he could to her: chiefly, he digested her food. The things she made for him became part of him. Her love was in his flesh. This was not true for her. Hardy’s beautiful food never touched any part of her flesh but her mouth and her anus; otherwise it passed through bioflex tubing.
By the time she had finished her chanterelles that evening, though, anger was growing inside her. It made her desolate to think that it was the only thing that could grow inside her. That had ever grown inside her. She had not been able to bear Hardy’s child.
At first, of course, she had assumed that this was perfectly normal, part of the order of things. Women who could afford TGB—which was everyone she knew—were spared the risk and demeaning and timewasting labor of carrying their own children. Their uteruses had been excised along with everything else, removing forever the chances of vile gynecological cancers, humiliating fatness, and career interruption.
Yet when she was about to set up the standard VF surrogacy, thaw a few eggs, Hardy came over all panicky. She was confused. She had always known he was a purist, had weird retro notions, but had imagined that they were confined to eating.
“Hardy, love, come on, this isn’t a food thing. This is our child we’re talking about.”
“Oh God. Yes, I know. I just didn’t think—you mean all that’s gone, too? I thought it was bad enough at the restaurant, catering to that spooky shunt that runs through everyone, and now—”
He tried repeatedly to make the standard donation so she could set up the surrogacy, but for over a year emerged from bathrooms, bedrooms, and clinics pale, clammy, and retching.
“I can’t do it,” he said, finally, humiliated.
Seychelles had stared at him in despair. “Hardy, why? I just don’t get it. It takes two minutes.”
“No, it’s not that—well, yes it is—but I can’t stand the thought of the baby growing outside you, being fertilized outside you, stored eggs, ugh, like caviar—sorry—and then fastening itself inside somebody else like a parasite—”
“You’d rather have the parasite inside me, then?”
“Would you want it inside you?”
“Yes! Yes! Rather than a stranger. Yes! It would be my child then. Ours. In substance and design. Is there some way—?”
“So it’s not our baby if it doesn’t eat us, Hardy?”
He was silent. “Yes,” he whispered. She had walked out. They had not spoken—and she had not eaten—for two years. He had closed NoFood and gone on a trip to the Asias, falling dangerously ill for eight months in Taipei. “Just my luck the borders had re-opened that year, isn’t it?” he said shamefacedly afterward. But he had not come home with any fresh conviction of the superiority of civilized life and the benefits it conferred, such as the equality of the person that Seychelles believed she was assuming in divesting herself of her uterus.
He had seen pregnant women in the hospital.
“They were in the hospital, Hardy,” she could not resist saying, “They were sick. They were at risk.”
“True,” he admitted. “But they looked happy.”
“You didn’t see them in labor.”
He jerked his head in assent but could say nothing. They had one final argument about it, but it was an exhausted one. They had fought slowly around the circle until he had interrupted with:
“So what about the surrogate?”
“What about her?”
“How is she made equal by your operation?”
“Then how can you talk about the equality of the person? You mean the equality of rich people who can afford surgeons.”
“Hardy, I don’t care about her!” she had shouted. “I care about me! I don’t care: not everybody can afford equality!”
He had remained stubbornly silent, letting this close their exchange. By means of this cheap trick—it was a cheap trick, she maintained—he had got the better of her. Her own angry shout echoed in her mind. It was not that she developed radical empathy for the surrogate, whoever she might have been, and she didn’t think Hardy had any either. He was just desperate. He did not believe in the new kind of person that she was, and it was his misfortune that he loved her anyway. She saw herself through Hardy’s eyes, not as modern, enhanced, stripped down, safe, but as violated. Everything about her missing guts terrified him. He loved the outside of her but could not bring himself to think about her insides. All this had left a crimp in their sex life for years.
Consequently, she was alone when he died, and it was all his fault. She put down her knife and fork with trembling hands and stared at him lying there complacently. Hardy, you stubborn bastard, she thought, I could be sitting here with our ten-year-old.
He had been the gutless one.
Day two crawled by. She still had not called the authorities, the coroner, whatever, and was getting anxious about germs. Hardy was still lying in his bed. He had left no funeral directions. By evening she was once again starving.
She prepared a more elaborate meal this time: chicken stew with raisins, saffron rice, spiced fava beans. She popped the beans out of their casings one at a time. There was no need to hurry. Hardy had hated to hurry his cooking; it was the legacy of a lifetime in restaurants, always in a rush. It was one reason the no-food concept had appealed to him: if you don’t actually serve any food, no one will rush you. You can unfold the intricacies of menu planning unpressured by all the last-minute crises of meal preparation. At home, while cooking real food, he proceeded with a kind of willful slowness. Dinner had regularly taken three hours to prepare.
Seychelles could not equal him; she was done in less than two and a half.
On the third night she decided to try a recipe she had never made before. It required some specialized ingredients. Normally she would have ordered them in but instead went out herself to get them; she didn’t want anybody else in the house. Hardy would wait for her.
She went to Bernini and Fiasco’s and got what she wanted, some capers and morels, the latter only on the strength of Hardy’s influence with the proprietor, as they had recently been re-listed. Wild mycelia everywhere now were heavily guarded due to some interest they had raised among machine geneticists: something to do with models for distributed sentience, Donovan had told her. Seychelles was past caring about this. She loved mushrooms.
Donovan had followed her father’s footsteps into embargo and was always up-to-date on the lists. All the time Seychelles and Hardy were operating Floating Island, the private catering business that had succeeded NoFood, they had kept a hotline to her office: they had prided themselves on compliance. Donovan could have got them off of anything, she was the smartest lawyer around, but they felt that the power of their timely information—the lists changed hourly—was more impressive than defiance. It was hard to keep Donovan convinced of this, however. She was a pugilist and an epicure. She had been a founding member of Floating Island, supper club of the super elite. Their first event had been at her place downtown.
Seychelles came home from Fiasco’s, opened all the doors that separated the kitchen from the hospital wing, and began her tasks of chopping and blending. A delicious smell percolated through the house. She worked for three and a half hours. The dish was a success. She carried it proudly through the aromatic halls to Hardy’s room and ate it beside him, in her familiar chair. He had never been fond of Mediterranean food, but she felt this was a time to strike out on her own. Maybe she was nervous about this piece of independence, however; she spilled a bit of tomato-fennel broth on the corner of his white bed as she sat down.
She could hardly take her eyes off it as she ate.
All night she worried about that little red stain on Hardy’s bed. She knew he would have hated it. He always kept at least three sets of whites handy in the kitchen, even at home. Things were getting out of hand.
She got out of bed, unslept and ragged, in the early morning and called the lawyer. He was not surprised at her call but was surprised at her request. He would take care of everything. She should take care of herself after all the strain, call her psychiatrists, he would look after it.
Seychelles went to Donovan’s place for two days. Though Donovan cooked for her, cooked like the gastronome she was, charter member of the most exclusive dining club ever to exist, Seychelles couldn’t eat. She reminisced about Hardy, used her puffer a lot, and cried. Donovan held her hand as they sat together on a couch of illegal leather and peered out over the lights of the city and the occasional passing helicopter through their bloodshot eyes.
When Seychelles returned home, all the doors were neatly closed. The house was pristine. There was a strange smell. It reminded her of cinnamon, and she immediately determined to do some baking. She checked on Hardy in his room. The stain was gone, and the bed was flawlessly made with hospital corners. He reposed quietly there, long hands still on the top of the turned-back sheet, eyes closed, head tilted up as after a long sigh. He looked exactly the same. His coffee-colored skin was smooth, his face thin and taut over its bones, his bird of prey nose jutted up proudly.
She immediately felt the need for a snack.
Smiling, she went to the kitchen, leaving all the doors open behind her. A while later she returned with mace-and-nutmeg scones, cheddar and pears, some Earl Grey tea. She laid these on the small white table that had appeared there. She sat and ate them in a kind of distant contentment, watching Hardy’s face. She planned her menus for the week.