Art Pact 187 - Cookery


For all his meticulous preparations, when it came down to the actual cooking he was a flurry of indecision and carelessness. Clouds of flour and steam filled the kitchen, billowing forth into the surrounding rooms to coat the floors and walls thereof with a stick paste of proto-dough that would linger there for the following month, proving almost impossible to clean. Pots and pans pile up haphazardly in the steel sink, forming teetering monoliths that threatened to collapse in catastrophic style every time he added another layer to their edifice. The bowls and boxes in which he had organised his mis-en-place ingredients covered every visible flat surface, and each time he had to put down another steaming pan of something plucked off the hob he was first forced to shuffle the current contents to one side with a carefully extended elbow, so that the incumbent crockery began to jostle against each other all along the countertop, slowly but steadily pushing the furthest nearer and nearer to the brink until plates and bowls and mixing bowls and teacups filled with the residue of egg whites were all huddled together on the very edge of the surface like copper coins in one of those seaside games in which the object is to tip the balance and cause a cascade of tuppences to tumble into the collection slot. I had been forbidden to interfere under any circumstances, and I knew that when Katie said "any circumstances" she excluded only his imminent death. Unable to help or to watch as her precious crockery was nudged closer and closer to its own destruction, I came and went from the hallway, sometimes watching then darting away to sit on the stairs, to fruitlessly tidy, or - when the stress became just too much - to go outside and puff frantically on a cigarette until my nerves had calmed down again and I had succeeded (for a few minutes at least) in reminding myself that crockery could be repaired or replaced, and that I had been ordered not to get in the way and therefore would not be blamed for any destruction.

The dishes that he was preparing, meanwhile, began to accumulate somewhere - but quite where, I was not sure. I rarely saw him finish anything due to my nerves, so I would see him removing a joint from the oven or a pressed cheesecake base from the fridge, but then I would be distracted to the point of terror by a sudden lurch from the jenga-stack of ironware rising from the sink and miss the ultimate destination of the food he was carrying. Some of it, I supposed, must go into the fridge - but whenever I caught a glimpse of the interior of that appliance it seemed to be relatively empty (relatively in as far as it was always well stocked, but that he had shuffled things around as part of his prep so that there were five large shelves completely free in the middle, their contents somehow consumed or packed madly into the door so that its hinges groaned ominously every time he opened it).

At first my all-consuming terror of the devastation his culinary technique was bound to visit upon the until-then orderly kitchen was enough to distract me from the question of where the food was actually going, but as the hours wore on my mind and body became so saturated with worry that I travelled through it and began to pass out of the other side - I still winced every time the tower of pans teetered one way or the other, I still yearned to save the crockery that was even then inching its way towards a shardy doom, but the part of me that had been paralysed by nervousness and helplessness began to struggle itself free of the odd straitjacket that Katie's orders had put it in and wander this way and that - this way being towards further speculation about how he would irrevocably destroy some vital piece of equipment, but that way being in the direction of the mystery. I found myself able to stay longer between cigarettes, obsessively focusing on where he was taking each piece of the dinner. He seemed to be aware of my scrutiny, though, because I noticed that he began to put things aside after removing them from the oven - to cool, I assumed he would have said if I had been allowed to question him, but I suspected that the truth was rather different; that he was putting them to one side to wait me out, then removing them to their ultimate resting-place when the nicotine craving or nervousness overcame me and I was forced to head outside again. I would watch a pie, say, for a good ten minutes after it came out of the range, only to return from a swift puff to discover that it had vanished in my absence. The first few times I thought it must be coincidence, but soon enough I was convinced that it was deliberate. He was waiting until I left, and only then spiriting the food away to wherever it was he was hiding it.

Once decided that I was being deceived, I began my own counter-deception, miming increasing desperation for a cigarette and then slipping away only as far as the foot of the stairs - opening and closing the side door to give the impression that I had gone outside, but actually staying within, hidden in the long shadow thrown by the grandfather clock. When half a minute had elapsed I crept stealthily back along the hallway and peeped in.

Well, I don't know what I had been expecting, but it certainly was not that. In the middle of the kitchen, standing as bold as brass, was the giant dog that we'd seen that evening in the forest. It was so large that its shoulders almost came up to his, yet he seemed not in the slightest afraid of it. I watched him lift a joint out of the oven, then out of the roasting pan, and place it gently directly onto the beast's extended tongue, which then whisked the food down its maw to oblivion.

I am afraid, at that point, that I may have let out a tiny yelp.

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