The Book of Love: Guidance in Affairs of the Heart

The Book of LoveThree women, seven men and one very wise self-help book merge in a compelling romp through the minefield of romantic love.

In this unusual mélange of fiction and self-help, three thirty-something friends grapple with the vagaries of love: the sordid single’s scene, a cheating spouse and a lacklustre marriage. When one of them finds The Book of Love it becomes a fourth character, a sort of wise aunty dispensing advice. This is the oldest story ever with some surprising twists. — General Store Publishing House; 2011.

A novel with a frisson of self-help

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Ottawa Citizen review Feb. 13, 2011

Ottawa Citizen review, Feb. 13, 2011

Praise for The Book of Love

“Sibbald is a solid writer, and very sure of her mount here. The Book of Love romps across the finish line a winner.” — Bruce Ward, The Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 13, 2011.

“A frank and engaging novel that is a joyous tribute to the gal pals who help get you through the libidinal roller coasters of modern urban life.” — Gabriella Goliger, author of Girl Unwrapped (Arsenal Pulp Press; 2009).

“Love is a ride in an elevator or on a roller coaster, with its inevitable ups and downs, its thrills and chills. This engaging novel visits and revisits that age-old subject in new and intriguing ways..” — Mark Frutkin, author of the Trillium award-winning novel Fabrizio’s Return.

Review in

Review in

“Food for the head and heart.” — Steve Newman,

About the author
Barbara Sibbald was short-listed for the 2007 Ottawa Book Award for Regarding Wanda (Bunkhouse Press; 2006). Click on Demented Particulars for more info.

The kitchen

Fiona steps into the kitchen and even after fifteen years with Luc, she is struck by his profile: the strong nose, that prominent chin, surge of dark curls — is that my partner? she wonders. Then she shakes her head and spreads a swath of paint chips in front of him.

—   What colour do you think for the kitchen? she asks.

He looks up from reading the Globe and Mail, his Saturday morning routine. Normally he doesn’t mind being interrupted, but after moving yesterday, he’s not quite himself. Or maybe he’s too much himself, feeling his forty-three years, muscles aching from schlepping furniture and boxes and head aching from too many trivial but pressing details: find screws for bed frame. Buy padlock for garden shed. Return key to landlord.

—   Colour? he asks, fingering the chips. They’re all the same.It’s bachelor beige, he thinks. That noncolour endemic to the fashion challenged. But from Fiona?

—   They look really different on the wall, Fiona protests, her pale cheeks tint pink as usual at the slightest provocation, much to her annoyance.

—   Why don’t we go for something bright? says Luc. Yellow maybe?

—   I just had these around, she says defensively.

Fiona is taken aback. Is he questioning her taste? She’s the harbinger of fashion as senior editor of City Life magazine. She’s always ruled the décor domain at home: paint colours, furniture choices. He’s never seemed to care.

Luc pushes the chips to the side of the blue arborite table and sips his cappuccino. Cool now, but he savours it anyway. It took him nearly an hour to find the machine in the stack of boxes; worth every second, he thinks. Perfect with the muffin* he’s pulled out of the freezer.

Luc’s not ready to decide anything right now. After the past few frantic weeks with the endless to-do lists, he desperately needs to relax.  But Fiona is buzzing with energy and intent. While waiting for the kettle to boil for her morning tea, she’s noticed that the walls, which appear to be white, are actually streaked with grey and splattered red above the counter: spots of tomato? Or maybe — she peers at it — maybe beets. And the surface around the stove — she runs her fingers over it — encrusted with grease. She’s not a fastidious housekeeper — there are always dust bunnies hopping around the baseboards — but your own family’s dirt is one thing, she believes, someone else’s is another matter entirely. She’s not sure why this is so, it just is.

—   I was thinking we could prep the kitchen for painting — buy the paint, clean the walls. Then I’ll paint after work tomorrow. It makes sense to do it before we unpack, she says, feigning a casual air as she gathers her thick black hair into a clip.

—   I guess that means you want to prep today, and you expect me to help, Luc says, closing his paper and meeting her eyes.

—   No need to get all defensive, honey, says Fiona.

He knows “honey” is code: it means she’s annoyed with him.

—   Sorry, he says. He pauses, knowing he sounds insincere.

—   We’re both tired after yesterday, he adds. No surprise.

—   I’m just saying, Fiona offers, that we have to do it some time and it’d be nice to do it soon so we can hang shelves, get settled.

She’s big on being settled, even though her childhood was remarkably sedentary: same friends, one house — an old Lumber Baron mansion on a shady street in Renfrew, an economically-challenged Ottawa Valley town that still pines for the lumber glory days. Settled until her last year of high school anyway, then her parents split up and her dad left within a week, moved to the opposite end of the country: Vancouver. His abrupt departure and her mother’s subsequent meltdown left her feeling that anything could change at any moment. It left her with a perennial feeling of impermanence.

—   We just moved in yesterday, Luc says; let’s take it easy for a day at least. Je suis fait à l’os!.** I need some time to get my head around all of this…

He sweeps his hands around.

—   … owning a house.

—   With the bank, she adds.

—   Exactly.

A debt shared between them, he thinks, but debt nonetheless, something he’s always avoided; his parents having carried enough for all of them.

—   We signed for the mortgage three months ago, she says, it’s hardly front-page news. Meet me half way here, Luc.

—   You know how I feel about being pushed into doing things, he says. Give it a rest, Fee.

She knows his stubbornness only too well. That and his reluctance to make big decisions is one of the reasons they stayed in their apartment so long. Too long, she thinks, lamenting the wasted rent money. And it’s why they still aren’t married, despite having a thirteen-year-old son. She remembers how they fought about it before Gavin was born. She just wanted a bit of security, of assurance. He said his love should suffice. And, besides, nothing could be forever, he said, which was anything but reassuring, but she resigned herself to being common-law. Marriage seems to be fashionable again though, and sometimes she fanaticizes about her wedding. Ridiculous at my age, she thinks. Forty.

There are a thousand things to do, she fumes. Is he going to sit around all day reading the paper? Then she takes a deep breath and does that counting to ten thing that she’s read about. This is about me, what I want. Luc wants a day off. He deserves it. He works so hard. Always has. Taking courses, earning his bachelor’s degree part time, making his way up the line.

People seem to think civil service jobs are a lark, a boondoggle, but Luc works harder than anyone she’s ever known. It’s part of his attraction for her; she has no time for lazy people.

She sighs and sits down beside him. Takes up the “Style” section of the paper. I’ll give him a half hour, she decides. Then: blast off. Push his parent guilt button: I’ll convince him we need to set up Gavin’s room.

*Marvelous muffins

Makes 12

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon bran, wheat germ OR ground flax seed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup white or brown sugar, or half and half
1 cup milk
2 eggs
2–3 tablespoons vegetable oil
¼ cup chocolate chips
3 ripe bananas

  1. In a large bowl, mash the bananas thoroughly and add milk, eggs, oil and chocolate chips. Stir thoroughly.
  2. In another bowl, stir together the flour, bran (or wheat germ or flax seed), baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar.
  3. Add dry ingredients to the banana mixture and stir until JUST mixed. Don’t over stir.
  4. Line your muffin tins and pour mixture into each “cup” until about ¾ full.
  5. Bake at 350 for 20–25 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Thank you to Adrienne at Fabricawakuwaku  for this recipe.

** In Quebec, it means to be dead-tired.

Kitchen wrestling

—   What’s for breakfast? asks Gavin.

Fiona looks up from reading about the latest Embassy party, takes in Gavin standing at the kitchen door, practically blocking all the light. How did he get so big? she wonders for the hundredth time. He’s got her dark hair, her father’s height, but Luc’s nose.

—   Coffee, buddy, says Luc, raising his cup.

—   No way José, I don’t want to be a shrimp like you, says Gavin with a grin.

The offer is an old joke between them, dating back to when Gavin first started talking; now he’s thirteen.

—   There’s muffins and eggs and stuff in the fridge, says Fiona. Do you want me to fix you a gashouse egg*?

—   There’s a diner down the block, says Luc. My treat. Let’s check out the ’hood.

—   Bacon, bacon, bacon! chants Gavin. This is like camping, only better.

—   Better? asks Fiona.

—   No bears. I’ll get dressed.

Another delay, thinks Fiona. Now we won’t get started until late morning, if we get started at all.

—   Fee, says Luc, I didn’t mean to be short. It’s a new house, I want a fresh start. You always set the agenda at the old apartment: Saturday morning cleaning, wall colours, new stuff. It worked, don’t get me wrong, but I want it to be different here. I want a say in when and how we do things: what we buy, what renos we do — especially because I’ll be doing them.

—   Are you saying I’ve been bossy? she asks.

And she thinks: nothing would have got done if it were left to him; he’s always been so busy — school for years and years, now work.

—   Yep! Tu me mènes par le bout du nez!** But in a well-intentioned way, he says, grinning and grabbing her hand. I’ve been busy for years with school and working overtime. Too busy to take part and you wanted to make a nice home for all of us. And you did it.

—   And now? Now what are my motives? she says, taking her hand away.

—   I’m not saying they’ve changed, Fee, I’m only saying that now my circumstances have changed. I’m finished school, so there’s just work and I want to share this with you. I want to feel this is my house too.

She flips the page in her newspaper, pretending to read. What he means is he wants the control, she thinks. He already controls all the action in the bedroom, the when, what she should wear, how to do it. But she’s wary of starting that argument. I must talk to Anne about it sometime. She wonders if she has to give in on the household front as well. Where’s my little corner of control?

—   Look, she says, couples have to divvy up the responsibilities, right? You look after the finances, and you take charge in the bedroom.

She smiles so he knows this is a friendly reference, something she’s happy with, even though it’s not.

—   It’s not that I’m bossy, she continues, I just see the household stuff as doing my share. Taking on my portion of the burden. You do most of the cooking.

But as she talks, she’s thinking that maybe his way is better. Making all the decisions about the house is a burden — especially now that they own it. It would be a hell of a lot easier to share it … but make him think he’s winning, so that she gets the points.

—   But, says Luc, it’s different when you own a house. I’ll be doing the renos. I should get a say.

—   I guess you’ve got a point, she says. And it would be fun to do it together.

—   But not today, says Luc. I’m beat. And I have to work tomorrow — no choice there. So do you. Can’t we be happy for the day? Imagine all the things we’re going to do: the painting and where to put art and shelves. How to arrange our office spaces. Where to put the television, living room or the basement? A day of imagining, it’ll be fun.

Fiona knows how this can go. No matter what she says now, Luc won’t change his mind. Why am I pushing? she wonders. We’re going to be here for years; there’s loads of time to do stuff. Despite this rationalizing, she blurts out:

—   But we’ve already discussed most of that stuff. I’d like to go ahead and start doing things. Start with Gavin’s room anyway.

—   I’m doing my own room, announces Gavin. Come on, I’m starving.

Luc grins at her.

—   It’s a family conspiracy, Fee. Tell you what. I’ll put up the curtain rods in the bedrooms.

—   Okay! she says, quickly.

At least it’s something, she thinks, but she feels offended, realizes he’s just throwing her a crumb to get her off his back. Now he’s wrested control and she’s gained nothing.

Gashouse eggs

(per person)

Butter, soft
1 slice of bread
1 egg
Salt and pepper

  1. Lightly butter both sides of the bread. Use a paring knife to cut a two-inch wide circle in the centre of the bread.
  2. Heat skillet over medium heat.
  3. Place the bread slice in the skillet (you can fry the cut-out bit too, it’s delish). Put a dab of butter into the hole and crack the egg into the hole.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and fry until the bottom side is golden and crispy.
  5. Flip with a spatula and cook until done.
  6. Serve with the cut-out bit for dipping into the yolk. 

** Means to boss around.

Bragging rights

— But why can’t I get a tattoo? asks Gavin, pausing in the midst of painting the kitchen baseboard, paintbrush poised in his hand. Justin’s going to get one. Just a small one, a dagger on his bicep. All the kids are.

— Luc smiles at his son’s persistence. Gavin’s too young to get a tattoo, but he’s got chutzpah.

— I hardly think all the kids are getting them, he tells his son. Legal age is what, sixteen? When you can sign for yourself and pay for it, be my guest.

— But at a reputable clean place, adds Fiona, ever the mom. And let me check the design. Please! Lasering them off is really expensive — and it hurts.

Gavin shrugs.

— So does getting the tat, says Gavin. Bragging rights.

— Hey buddy, says Luc, you gonna finish that trim any time soon? I’m nearly good to go on that wall.

— He’s doing a really great job at painting, Fiona thinks. Better than I could ever do. And there are so many walls …  It’s a good thing he’s decided to get involved in the house, she concedes. I could never do all this alone.

— I know what, says Fiona, how about a temporary tattoo.

— Those are lame, says Gavin. Happy faces and hearts. They’re for babies.

— What about one of those creatures from Alien? asks Fiona.

— Hey, good idea, says Luc, winking at Fiona. On your chest.

— I’ve got my markers right here: three colours even, says Fiona.

— Grab him, says Luc.

— Noooo, says Gavin, laughing and backing out of the kitchen. You guys stay away from me!

Luc nabs him at the door, and despite the difference in height, gets him to the floor. I won’t be able to do this much longer, he thinks.

— You pin him and I’ll draw, says Fiona.

— No fair, two against one, shouts Gavin.

— And who ever said life was fair? asks Luc.

Fiona begins drawing on Gavin’s chest as he squirms and giggles.

She can’t help but notice the odd darker hair on his chest, especially around his nipples. No, she thinks, not already. She remembers bathing his smooth, flawless body when he was a baby. It all happens in a blink, she thinks. She finishes the drawing with the flourish.

— There! she says.

— Okay, go have a look, says Luc, releasing him.

Gavin thumps up the stairs.

— Cool, he shouts down. How long will it last?

— Considering how often you shower, months, says Luc.

Fiona looks at him, grinning, and they both burst out laughing. Gavin comes back into the room and picks up his paint brush and starts in on the baseboard again.

— The house is going to look so great when we’re finished painting, says Fiona. We could have the Queen over for tea.

— Oh, is Grandma coming to visit? Gavin asks his mother.

— Maybe at Christmas, says Fiona. Queen, that’s a good one.

There is a pause as all three get on with it: Luc rolling on paint, Gavin and Fiona intent on the foot-deep baseboard and door and window trim.

— Tell me again what happened with Grandpa, says Gavin.

Even after all these years, the question gives her pause, but she launches into her pat answer.

— He left, says Fiona. I was seventeen. He just told us one day that he was going and within a week he was gone. To Vancouver. And we were still in Renfrew then, so I only saw him in the summer after that. And every other Christmas.

— That’s harsh, says Gavin.

— Yeah, it was hard. For everyone. Of course it would have been harder if there had been another woman, but that wasn’t why he left. At least that’s not what he said. Though he did hook up with Lorelei kinda fast. Anyway, he never really gave us, your Uncle Neil and I, any reason.

— What about Grandma?

— I don’t know what he told her, but it was super hard on her. That’s why she moved back to Halifax, to be with her relatives and old friends. I mean she had lots of friends in Renfrew, but it wasn’t the same after Dad left.

— But you stayed?

— Well, by the time she made up her mind to sell up, I’d left home for university. Then I was with your dad.

— Where did you guys meet anyway? Gavin asks turning to his dad.

Fiona and Luc glance at each other across the room. She smiles.

— Gosh, that was a long time ago, she says. Portage du Fort was across the Ottawa River from Renfrew, and we all used to go swimming in the summer at Norway Bay on the Quebec side of the river.

— So, you met at the beach?

— Yeah, says Fiona. This one day I was there with this girl from school. Janet. She was new and I didn’t know her very well, but I wanted to be nice. She was really pretty….

— Stacked, interjects Luc, winking at Gavin.

— Luc! Anyway she definitely out-shone me in the bathing suit department. So all the guys were coming over and saying Hi, or flexing as they walked by. All that testosterone stuff, and she’s basically surrounded by guys. Then your dad comes by and starts talking to me. That’s the first time we met. I was seventeen.

— So you started going out? asks Gavin.

— No, not then. He was like twenty-one. I think he just felt sorry for me. The next year, I moved to Ottawa to go to Carleton and your Dad was working at the radio station there — station manager at CKCU.

— Radio station? That’s so cool, says Gavin.

— It was the best job ever, says Luc, so creative and great people. All volunteers — except me — but they were all so keen. We had so many laughs and controversies. I loved it. On the downside, the pay was crap and they’d never heard of benefits.

— Anyway, there we were, these two Valley kids. I was in my last year of university — I guess I would have been twenty-one — and so we started hanging out.

— That’s not very romantic, says Gavin.

— I have left out a few details, says Fiona, grinning. I don’t think you want the nitty gritty.

— I’ll just finish up this trim, says Gavin.

— Anyone want lunch? asks Luc. I made tomato soup* this morning.

*Best-ever tomato soup 

Serves 4

1½ pounds tomatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon each pepper and paprika
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons soft butter
3 tablespoons rich cream (18% or 35%)
Sherry to taste (usually 2 tablespoons)

  • Peel tomatoes by immersing in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds. Put in colander under running cold water and slip skins off.
  • Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan, add onions and tomatoes, stirring frequently. Cook over medium heat until sizzling (10 minutes or so).
  • Add seasonings and broth. Boil gently for 15 minutes, uncovered.
  • Blend soft butter and flour to a paste and stir into soup until dissolved. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
  • Add cream and sherry. Taste for seasoning. Serve.

Can be frozen after step 4. Thaw, heat, add cream and sherry.

Ground control

Fiona opens another bottle of Mezzo Mondo, their new vin ordinaire, at only eight bucks a bottle. Thank goodness, she thinks, or Trish would be drinking us out of house and home. I wonder if she has a problem? I wonder if we do? She pours slightly less wine than usual into their glasses.

—   Cheers! says Trish. A friend told me that if you don’t make eye contact when you clink glasses, it means seven years of bad sex.

They pop their eyes open and stare at one another, then laugh.

—   Hey, I wanted to ask, says Fiona, are you still going to New York City with Yvette and John?

—   Oh, gawd, Charles is raising a big stink about it, says Trish, pulling her wavy reddish hair back into a ponytail.

—   He doesn’t want me to go at all now.

—   You’re kidding! What’s it to him? Why would a boyfriend even have a say?

Trish gets up to stir the veggie chili*.

—   Yum, this looks great. He was okay with it until I told him John and I used to be lovers.

—   Trish! Are you crazy? Why’d you do that? Don’t you remember what The Book of Love said? I thought we agreed to never tell your squeeze about past lovers, it always ends badly.

She never listens to me, Fiona thinks. Then again, she’s only twenty-five. She has to make her own mistakes.

—   I know, I know I broke the rule, says Trish. But Charles was being so sweet about my meltdown over that lousy D in French. Why did I ever take that course? A death wish? Anyway, he helped me write the letter to the Dean and everything. Then we were talking and he asked how I knew Yvette and John…and well, it kinda popped out.

—   Oooh, bad call. But I know how that goes. I have chronic foot-in-mouth disease. I get so impatient with people. So, did you tell him why you want to go?

—   Yeah, yeah, of course. I told him how we were staying with Yvette’s dad, Trevor Magnum, one of my favourite writers, and how I was dying to meet him and how it might help my career. But Charles wasn’t impressed.

—   So he’s pissed now?

—   Let’s just say he hasn’t touched me in two days. Not even a peck on the cheek. Then yesterday, he tells me he regrets poking his nose in. Says he should have sat back and just let the cards fall. So I ask him why and he says it would have given him a better of indication of how I feel about him. Then I say: so, you want to sit back and see what I do and judge me? And, get this, he actually says Yes!

—   What! You’ve got to be kidding?

—   Oh and it gets worse. Later he says that if I do go, he demands, demands no less, that I tell him if anything happens. Then he gives me a deadline, until Tuesday, to make my decision.

—   I’m speechless, says Fiona. He’s behaving like a mad man. Why would he use the word “demand”? Who is he to set ultimatums? What are you, his property?

Her quibble with Luc over control suddenly seems very lame. But then again, Charles’s an extreme. In dire need of therapy, judging from what Trish’s told her over the months.

—   He doesn’t trust me, says Trish.

—   That’s for sure. And you telling him about John fuelled his fears. Now he thinks he has the right to set demands! It’s so controlling.

—   Base element of men, says Trish.

—   Most women too, come to that, says Fiona, thinking of her talk with Luc about the house, about her own insistence on how things ought to be done. She shakes her head: I’ve got to loosen up.

—   It’s a no win for me, continues Trish. If I go, there’ll be a big fight, and if I don’t, he’ll think he’s won. And I’ll be pissed at myself for missing out on a great chance.

—   Do you think he’s jealous? asks Fiona.

—   He says he thinks Magnum’s work is derivative. What isn’t? I mean there are only what, seven basic plots?

—   Really? Do you know what they are?

—   My English 312 prof was just talking about them: overcoming the monster, rags to riches, quest, voyage and return, tragedy, comedy and rebirth.

—   You’re a good student! says Fiona, who is impressed and rather surprised.

Have I underestimated her? she wonders. Is that the curse of a beautiful woman? The assumption that they’re not so bright?

—   Anyway, back to Charles, says Trish. What do you think?

—   What about this, says Fiona, tell him that you won’t go, just as a token of good faith, not because he’s in control. But the caveat is that he has to learn to trust you, has to give you the space to have your own life. Distrusting you is hurtful, especially after four months of being together.

—   But then I won’t get to go!

—   No, I’m not finished yet. I’m thinking it might be a wake-up call for him. Here you are, being so understanding and magnanimous, it might make him question his behaviour and decide he’s being unreasonable.

—   So, get my way by giving in…. And if it doesn’t work?

—   If he doesn’t realize there’s something wrong with his attitude then there’s no hope, is there? He’ll keep on distrusting you and he’ll keep on making you miserable. Call it a passive-aggressive ultimatum.

Trish sips her wine.

—   I’ve got nothing to lose at this point. I’ll try it. Hey, do you think that chili is ready yet? I’m starving.

*Veggie chili

Serves four

1 cup tomato juice
1 cup raw bulgur
4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
½ cup onion, chopped
1 cup each, washed and chopped: celery, carrots (peeled too), green pepper
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon basil
3 tablespoon chili powder
Dash of cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 cans kidney beans (19 oz) drained
2 plus cups chopped tomatoes (or 1 large tin)
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3 tablespoons dry red wine

  1. Boil juice and pour over bulgur in a small bowl. Let stand 15 minutes.
  2. Sauté onion and garlic till translucent.
  3. Add carrots, celery, peppers and spices; cook until tender.
  4. Add lemon juice, kidney beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and red wine.
  5. Heat gently, simmer for an hour or so (if you have time).
  6. Serve on rice, topped with cheese, parsley and raw onion, alongside a big green salad.

Talkin’ turkey

The kitchen is in a state of post-Thanksgiving disorder: empty tins, plastic tubs and wine bottles spill out of the recycling bin by the back door. The turkey roasting pan and two empty Mason jars block the stairs to the basement, awaiting conveyance. The dish rack is piled high with clean pots and pans, still wet, and the other counter is crammed with colourful tins and jars containing homemade cookies and nuts from their guests.

Butternut and acorn squash in autumn settingFiona finishes sweeping the floor, makes a pot of Earl Grey, then looks out the back door window for Anne. We haven’t seen each other in ages, she thinks. That’s the problem with having a physician friend, they’re so darned busy. I’ve missed her, she realizes. Trish is great, but she’s so messed up. And young. Anne and I are more equals.

There was a thunderstorm yesterday, but today is clear and cold. A bundle of blue walks briskly up the back steps.

— Anne! says Fiona, flinging open the door. Get in here, it’s freezing.

Fiona wraps her arms around her petite friend, and they kiss each other’s cheeks.

— Where are Luc and Gavin? asks Anne, shrugging out of her turquoise wool coat.

— Out spending money. Luc thinks he needs a snow blower. Boys and their toys. Have a seat, I just made some tea. I’ve been cleaning for hours. We had a great dinner yesterday, too bad you had to work.

— Yeah, Georges said the meal was magnificent. Roast turkey with fruit and nut stuffing*. You raise the bar pretty high my friend!

— Luc’s fault. He loves trying these gourmet recipes. Who am I to argue?

The women settle at the table with a cup of tea.

— You’re looking great, as always, says Fiona.

She has always admired her friend’s ability to look wonderful. Even after a gruelling shift at the hospital, her blonde bob is impeccably coiffed, her white shirt looks freshly pressed, and her fashionable jeans are close fitting, but not tight. She’s polished and elegant, a style Fiona aspires to, until she’s lured by the fashion du jour.

— These old jeans? says Anne. Hey, I have to tell you this story I heard at the hospital last night. It’s incredible. This patient, a young woman — maybe twenty-five — she’s in under observation for a severe concussion and she tells me how it happened. She was meeting her future in-laws for the first time, visiting them from Toronto, and since it was Thanksgiving, the house was packed with aunts, uncles, cousins.

The in-laws make her feel welcome and all that but she feels like a real outsider, and super nervous, so she starts pounding back the beer. So there she is half cut and of course, after all that beer, she has to pee. She’d been told not to use the downstairs bathroom because it’s being renovated, so she goes upstairs, but the door is closed. She knocks and this old woman calls out: just a minute. She thinks it’s the grandmother. So she waits and waits, but the lady doesn’t come out. She’s hopping one foot to the next, worried she’s going to wet her pants, and decides to go to the downstairs bathroom, thinking maybe the toilet still works, but it’s just a mess. She goes down and sees that the toilet is actually dismantled, but there’s a small sink attached to the wall. She’s desperate by this point, so she hikes up her skirt, pulls down her pantyhose, rests her butt on the sink and starts to pee. Suddenly, the sink gives way and crashes to the floor. She falls, hits her head on the tiles and passes out. She wakes to her fiancé’s mother leaning over her, asking if she’s okay. She doesn’t know which is worse: having her future in-laws see her with her pants down or having them know that she was going to pee in their sink.

— My gawd, the poor woman, says Fiona, laughing. How embarrassing! Either way. And to end up in hospital on top of it all!

— Yeah, but she had a good attitude about it, saw the humour in it and everything, says Anne.

You have to be able to laugh at yourself, thinks Fiona, but if I were her, I’d be mortified. And I certainly wouldn’t be telling the story to anyone. At least not all the gory details.

— I don’t know how her fiancé feels, continues Anne. Or the in-laws.

— In-laws! says Fiona, shaking her head. That reminds me of my turkey story. Our first year together I invited all Luc’s family here for Thanksgiving dinner. That was my first mistake. Did I forget Luc’s got nine siblings? There were 23 of us all told. A real crowd. So I got this giant turkey, like 40 pounds or something. It wouldn’t fit in my roasting pan so I bought one of those big disposable aluminum pans. It barely fit in the oven. I’d been cooking for days: whipped squash, candied yams in maple syrup, cauliflower soup to start, pumpkin pie with crème fraiche — the whole shebang. So everyone’s over and yakking away in the living room and I’m in the kitchen alone checking the turkey and I decide it’s done. So I’m taking it out and I guess I don’t have a proper grip on the aluminum pan, or it was too flimsy for this huge bird, anyway, it slips out of my hands and the turkey smacks to the floor and splits in two: the dressing going everywhere. Luc’s mom comes rushing into the kitchen just as I’m bursting into tears and she just closes the door and says: Merde! Don’t worry, ma petite, we can put this back together. She scoops the bird up onto the carving board and while she’s taking out the stuffing, she asks me for thread and a big needle. And doesn’t she just sew it back together. Just like that. Luckily it was the bottom side that split. It’ll be our secret, she tells me. We’ve been friends ever since.

Anne throws her head back and laughs.

— Omigosh! Did you ever tell Luc?

— Never! Only you.

— It’s in the vault, she says, making a zipping motion across her lips.

*Fruity and nutty: Turkey stuffing with a twist

To stuff a 12- to 15-pound bird.

¼ cup butter
5 stalks celery, washed and chopped
2 onions, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 teaspoons dried sage
1 teaspoon celery seed
½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper
2 apples (unpeeled), diced
14 cups cubed day-old whole wheat bread
1 cup toasted, chopped pecans
1 cup chopped dried fruits (currants, cranberries, apricots, apple: any combo)
½ cup chicken stock (made from a broth cube if you like)

1. Melt butter and sauté celery, onions, garlic, sage, celery seed and salt and pepper for about 7 minutes.
2. Add apples and cook another 5 minutes.
3. In a large bowl, toss together the celery mix, bread, nuts and fruit. Drizzle with stock.
4. Stuff turkey or put the stuffing in a greased 12 x 9 inch baking dish.
5. Cover and bake at 350 °F for 20 minutes, and then stir and bake uncovered for 12 minutes more.

Talkin’ turkey redux

— Who would have thought there’d be so many stories about roasting a turkey*, continues Anne.

— It’s not the turkey per se, says Fiona. It’s about the family gatherings.

But Mom makes our family gatherings so grim, she thinks. I should phone Neil, see when they’re coming for Christmas.

IMG_4287— Family, eh, says Anne. I remember I was at my sister-in-law Theresa’s one Christmas. My brother’s house I should say, but it’s really her road show. She calls the shots. Anyway, they’ve got the five kids, as you know, and so it’s always nuts, and this was years ago when the kids were just little, so it was even crazier than it is now. The kids had been up since 4 a.m. and everyone was cranky and a little giddy from too much sugar. Luckily, most of the food had been made ahead of time and basically all Theresa had to do was get the turkey into the oven and keep the kids from killing each other. So after the turkey was in, she starts nipping into the sauce. No surprise there; I would have done the same.  I arrive with my salads and pumpkin pie and we’re sitting around yakking in the living room and every so often Theresa goes off to baste this turkey. I’m feeling like a slug sitting around drinking wine and so at one point I ask Theresa if I should check the turkey. Sure, she says. So I go to the kitchen and open the oven door and the bottom of the oven is in flames. I’m a bit cut myself at this point. I close the oven door, calm as can be, and walk out to the living room and say: your oven’s on fire. Pandemonium breaks out. The kids are yelling; one of them starts crying: I want turkey! I want turkey! My brother yanks the bird out of the oven and douses the flames with baking soda. It turns out that Theresa was the victim of an oversized turkey as well. She’d put it in the only pan she had and it was a little too small, so the turkey hung over the edges and the grease started to drip out.

Fiona howls with laughter.

— You’re killing me! I would have loved to have seen the look on Theresa’s face. Did you save the bird?

— Oh yeah. But we had to wait for the oven to cool so we could clean it up. The bird was a bit dry, but that’s nothing new. She comes from my mom’s school of thought on the turkey front: roast it at a low temperature for about seven hours. Yikes! I know they both own a copy of Joy of Cooking, but obviously haven’t cracked it open. Anyway, it all turned out okay. And you know, in an odd way, the story of it has brought us all together. We tell it almost every Thanksgiving, part of our shared life, our story.

Fiona goes to the sink to refill the kettle. Shared stories, she thinks. That’s the glue that binds, with friends and with family. It’s all I really have with Mom. But most of that story is so horrible. All about Dad leaving, how he mistreated her. Her bitterness was understandable the first few years, but it’s been over 20 years now. She’s just annoying. Still, I should make more of an effort to be kind. Damn guilt.

— My mother told a good story one time, says Fiona. This young woman moves into her first apartment and invites a big gang of friends over for Thanksgiving. Turkey’s on the menu, obviously, but the thing is she gets the butcher to chop it in half, stuffs it and cooks it in two pans. One of her girlfriends remarks that this is a bit weird and asks her why she does it that way. It’s how I learned, she says. My mom does it this way too. But it’s so much extra work, her friend says. I wonder why your mom does it like that. The woman didn’t know. She starts wondering about it and the next day she phones her mom. Her mom explains that when she was a newlywed, living in a small studio apartment, she invited her family over for Thanksgiving and bought a huge turkey. It was too big, not only for her pan, but also for her oven. So her husband cut it into two, and their upstairs neighbour cooked one half and she cooked the other. The party was a huge success and everyone said the turkey was delicious so she just continued to cook turkeys that way — in two pieces.

— Another family mystery explained, says Anne. There are so many little rituals in family life — the way we fold sheets for example. For years I folded mine in neat little thirds and I finally realized I did that because my mother’s linen closet was narrow and that way you could fit in two stacks on each shelf. But most of the time — like your lady with the turkey — we have no idea where these traditions come from.

— Enough turkey talk, says Fiona. I think I hear the car; the boys must be home. I hope the snow blower wasn’t too expensive.

*Upside-down roast turkey

The turkey conundrum is that by the time the dark meat is cooked the breasts are dried out. I know it sounds strange, but this method of cooking keeps the breasts moist.

1 turkey (about 15 lb or 7 kg)
¼ cup butter, softened
½ teaspoon sage
1 teaspoon each of dried savory and marjoram.

4 ½ cups chicken stock (homemade is best)
1 ½ cups dry white wine
1 onion peeled and chopped
½ cup each of sliced carrot and celery

¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon butter

1. Remove giblets and neck from inside turkey and place in a large saucepan. Set aside.
2. Rinse turkey inside and out; dry skin and cavity with paper towel. Loosely stuff with fruit and nut dressing (see last week’s recipe). Tuck the pinion (little part of wings) under the bird. Tie legs together loosely with cotton string. Combine butter, sage, savory and marjoram; rub on all sides of bird.
3. Place turkey breast side down in roasting pan.
4. Roast at 325 °F, basting every 30 minutes for 3 hours.
5. Meanwhile, make the stock. In the saucepan with the neck and giblets, add stock, wine, onion, carrot and celery. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 3 hours, skimming off fat. Strain with a sieve into a large measuring cup, adding enough wine to make 3 cups. Set aside.
6. After 3 hours of roasting flip the bird over. First loosen the bottom with a sturdy egg flipper. The easiest way to flip it is to use two oven mitts. You’ll have to wash them afterward, but at least you’ll prevent turkey-on-the-floor syndrome. Alternatively, stick a long carving-type fork into the cavity (where the stuffing is) and use your egg flipper to turn it. Tricky, but doable.
7. Continue to roast at 325 °F, basting every 30 minutes for another 2 hours or until the thermometer inserted in the thigh reads 185 °F. Remove to a platter. Let stand, lightly covered (with a tea towel), for 20 minutes while you make the gravy.
8. Skim off fat in roasting pan. Stir flour into pan and cook over medium heat, stirring with a whisk for a minute or two. Whisk in stock, bring to boil, and stir to scrape up brown bits. Reduce heat, simmer 5 minutes, and then whisk in butter and season with salt and pepper. Strain if you like (or need) to.
9. Carve turkey and serve with gravy.

The reading

— Hi ho, says Trish, banging open the back door. I’ve brought some vino. Sorry I’ve been such a mooch.

— No problem, my friend! says Fiona, thinking to herself, it’s about time!

— Hey, this is pretty good stuff, she adds.

— Ripasso, says Trish. The guy at Vintages says it’s a star.

Fiona moves aside the newspapers on the kitchen table, puts down a plate of figs agrodolce* and they sit down and make a toast to the coming of fall. Fiona wonders how she should start. There’s no good way she decides.

— Thanks so much for coming over, Trish. I wanted to talk to you, but not over the phone. I hope you won’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to interfere, I just care about you…Oh, gawd that sounds dumb.

— Not at all, Fee, what’s up?

— At Charles’s reading last night, well Luc and I were both shocked at that passage where he talked about beating up the woman.

Trish laughs, weakly it seems to Fee.

— Yeah, I know what you mean. The first time I heard it, I was shocked too, she says. I asked him about it and Charles says the idea came from the way his friend felt after a woman broke up with him — she told him she was a lesbian and his ego was all smashed up.

— That’s nasty! says Fiona. Still…Luc and I were talking about it and, this probably sounds paternalistic, but we’re worried that Charles might, you know, be violent toward you.

— Oh, he’d never hurt me! says Trish.

— There’s more, says Fiona. I went up to Charles after the reading and I told him I found it offensive. And Charles just shrugs and turns away from me. He didn’t say a word. It was like I wasn’t even there.

Trish takes a gulp of her wine.

— He didn’t say anything to me about that, she says. Don’t take it personally, Fee. He’s like that sometimes. And you’re not the only who was shocked. Francine and Lynne told me afterward that they would have dumped him as soon as they heard that passage.

— It’s misogynistic, Trish.

— It’s not real, she protests. It comes down to that old debate over what’s fiction and what’s fact. This is fiction. I think there’s artistic value in his work, value for the way it challenges us to think about what we believe. And it’s a metaphor too, for the damage we inflict on each other in relationships.

— Or it’s some sicko’s wet dream, says Fiona. That’s what it came across as. I know the difference between fact and fiction, but I also know that to ring true, the emotion has to be there. This was like hate literature, that’s what it would have been labelled elsewhere. But we all shrug in that Canadian way and mutter platitudes about freedom of speech.

— Hate literature? That’s a bit harsh, says Trish.

— Not really. Anne was telling me about a nurse friend of hers who just got back from Somalia. She was talking about infibulation. Have you heard of that?

— No.

— It’s this extreme female genital mutilation where they cut out the clitoris and the labia minor, then they sew together the labia major, leaving only a small slit for urine — and sex, which is extremely painful. And childbirth can be horrific. If they make a surgical incision, the baby just rips out all the scar tissue.

— Ewh! That’s horrible! says Trish.

— It’s the extreme result of men’s jealousy, of their insecurity and inability to trust women and their need to control us. I think that Charles is doing that to you, emotionally.

— No, he’s not! protests Trish.

— I don’t know, Trish. I’ve been listening to you talk about him for months about how he gives you the run-around, doesn’t trust you, questions you every time you go out, wants to know all about your past lovers. How he even withholds sex to punish you, for goodness sake.

— Just the once.

— I’ve dried your tears, says Fiona, losing patience. And I’ve tried to be a good friend to you, but you’ve said it yourself: the relationship isn’t healthy. And yeah, you’re right, he hasn’t hurt you physically, and maybe he’s not capable of it, but he sure as hell has pummelled you emotionally. Psychologically he knows how to press your buttons: insecurity, dependency.

— You’re mixing it all up! says Trish. Sure we have our problems — all couples do, especially at the beginning before they know each other well and they’re so passionately in love. I’ve hurt him too. We’re just sorting ourselves out.

— Oh, is that it? says Fee sarcastically. You’re so quick to dismiss what I say. How can you forget what he’s done to you? How he’s tried to control you? Look at the New York trip — all the hassle. And I mean he did “let” you go, but what does that say about you guys? I mean what right did he have to “let” you go? And he doesn’t trust you any more now than he did then. I know the sex is great, Trish, but it’s not everything.

— You’re jealous, that’s all, retorts Trish. You and Luc probably haven’t had a moment of passion in months, years. I don’t have to listen to this.

— Trish, this isn’t about Luc and me!

— I’m sorry, she mumbles. She goes to the back door and begins putting on her shoes, tears slipping down to the linoleum floor.

— Don’t leave, Trish. I didn’t mean to be so blunt, it’s just that he’s not good for you. You’re crying all the time and questioning yourself.

Trish sits down, crying in earnest now. Fiona hands her the tissue box and puts her arms around her. I’ve gone too far, she thinks. Making her cry. I should have been more gentle.

— You know I’ve tried to leave him, says Trish, you know that, but…

— You’ll find someone else. You’re beautiful, talented, creative, fun…Come on, you don’t have to put up with this shit.

But they both know she’s not ready to turf him, not yet.

*Figs agrodolce

½ pound dried figs, stemmed
1 cup red wine
2 strips orange zest

1. Place figs and zest in a stainless steel saucepan and cover with wine and water.
2. Cover, simmer on low heat until figs are soft — about 2 hours.
3. Remove from heat, let cool and transfer to a glass bowl with the liquid. Cover if serving later.
4. Serve at room temperature.

Thank you to Lucie Brien for this recipe.

Break-up roulette

Fiona turns down the pot of Bolognese sauce* to low. She can only make it on Sundays because it has to simmer a minimum of three hours. Luc and Gavin adore it. It’s her guilt recipe that she makes after a really busy week, when she’s been out almost every evening at some social event or another. The past week she’d worked late one night getting the magazine to bed, attended a friend’s book launch, the opening of a new tapas restaurant, and a movie with Anne. It’s too much, she thinks. I have a child. It’s not fair to Gavin. Then again, he’s busy too with sports after school. And there are nearly always sleepovers on the weekend. He’s growing up so fast. Separating, she thinks. From the time he was born really. First he separated from my body, and now that he’s a teenager, it’s going to get a lot more intense. That’s where the difficulties come from, she realizes. Separation.

She hears a tap at the back door and turns to see Trish, her eyes red and swollen, hair pulled back in a ponytail, no make-up. She looks astoundingly young and vulnerable. Fiona rushes to open the door.

— Trish! What’s wrong?

Trish falls into her arms and starts crying, her thin body shaking.

— Charles broke up with me! she says, pulling away. Bastard! He’s going back to his ex. Says he has unfinished business.

She blows her nose.

— Whoa, slow down, sit down. Who’s this ex? You’ve never mentioned…

— It’s that woman from our writing retreat last year. I think I told you about her…Julia. Great jet-black hair and wonderful clothes — expensive, all coordinated. I hated her the moment I saw her. I had the hots for Charles, but he and Julia hit it off big time. I still remember her hickies and the slinky green dress she wore two days running. Her smile. So self-satisfied. I was insanely jealous, not of her relationship with Charles per se, but of the obvious passion between them.

Fiona hands her a glass of water, she takes a sip.

— Thanks. Charles said the affair only lasted a few months. Turns out she was on the rebound — that’s what he told me anyway — and she had two pre-teen kids so he wasn’t sure about getting involved in all that. Plus she lived in Montreal. They broke up about three months before Charles and I started seeing each other.

— And now?

— Well, you remember I told you Charles went to Montreal on the weekend? He said he was going to go see his brother for some one-on-one time, but actually he went because she wanted to see him. I knew something was up.

— How could you know?

Trish shrugs.

— I just knew it. I was so anxious when he left, but I dismissed it — never do that! Then he calls me Saturday afternoon, tells me he’s having dinner with Julia. Just wants to be honest with me, blah blah. So I ask the obvious: who called whom? And he says she called him last week, saying she was desperate to see him. And he says: How could I refuse? She’s still a friend after all. If we broke up and you called me and said that, I’d meet with you too.

— Yeah, well maybe, says Fiona, but he should have told you he was going to see her before he went to Montreal. If he wanted to be honest.

— That’s what I said! And he says he didn’t want me getting all upset for nothing.

— That’s so paternalistic! And cowardly!

— I know. Well, now I know. But on the phone all I said was that I was worried and I asked him to call me right after dinner.

— And…?

— He didn’t call. Not all that night. And he knew I was worried. At first I was really upset, crying and all that. Then I got super angry — how dare he break his promise to me. Who does he think he is? Blah, blah. Then 15 minutes later I felt humiliated. I phoned you…

— We were at over at Anne and George’s for dinner and cards, says Fiona. It went pretty late.

— Well, eventually, at about 11 p.m. I get his brother on the phone and he didn’t even know that Charles was in town. So he’d lied about everything. I just cried for hours and then I eventually fell asleep. He finally called about an hour ago. I told him I talked to his brother, and called him a liar. All he says is that I had no right to call his brother. Then he spins this line about how he and Julia have unfinished business. That their breaking up was all a misunderstanding. He’d questioned whether he wanted to go out with a woman who had kids and she assumed that meant there was no future in their relationship so she walked out. But he says he was just thinking aloud. Being honest. And now they think they can get back together. They’ve made love. Who knows how many times…?

The tears come afresh. Fiona hands her a another Kleenex, gives her a hug.

— He’s so not worth your tears, she says. He’s a liar, you said it yourself. And he’s a cheat.

— But I love him!

— Do you? You were just saying the other week how you’d had it with him, how he was so self-centred. Always wanted to talk about his writing, never even asked how yours was going. How he was so critical of you all the time: what you wore or said. Who you were friends with. He hates me, that’s a given. So, what? You were going out with a guy who totally disapproved of everything in your life. And he treated you badly, Trish. You know that.

— Yeah, yeah.

She wipes her face, blows her nose.

— I was thinking about breaking up with him… I think I might have.
— Well, maybe he felt that and found his own way out of the relationship. A way where he wouldn’t be alone, where he would still have someone in his bed.

— Maybe…

— Maybe the real problem is that you wish you’d broken off with him first.

Trish grins.

— Maybe I just want to get him back so I can break up with him.

— Talk about control!

They laugh, although the tears haven’t yet dried on Trish’s face.

*Spectacular Bolognese sauce

1 stalk celery, with leaves, washed and chopped
2 large onions, peeled and chopped
2 green peppers, washed and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 – 20 oz tins tomatoes
2 tins tomato paste
½ teaspoon cloves
½ teaspoon nutmeg
¼ teaspoon sage
½ teaspoon cayenne
2 bay leaves
3 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped green olives
1 pound ground steak
½ pound cleaned, sliced mushrooms
Grated parmesan at the table

1. Brown celery, onions, green peppers and garlic in olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat.
2. Add all the remaining ingredients except the final three (steak, mushrooms and parmesan).
3. Simmer slowly, uncovered, for 3-4 hours. Add water as it boils down.
4. A half-hour before serving, brown the ground steak and add to the sauce (or leave out for a vegetarian dish).
5. Cook spaghettini in a large pot of boiling, salted water.
6. While it’s cooking, sauté the mushrooms.
7. Spoon sauce over spaghettini, sprinkle with mushrooms and serve with freshly ground parmesan.

(Freezes well, but without the mushrooms.)


— Luc? Are you home? Luc?

— Upstairs, Fee. I’ll be right down.

Fiona puts down her panier and takes off her biking shoes. She notes that her heart is still pounding. The smell of cauliflower soup* flooding the kitchen — a smell she would normally love — makes her feel nauseous.

— Hey there darling, says Luc, giving her a kiss. He pauses to peer at her pale face. What’s wrong?

— I just got flashed, she says.

— You what?

— Flashed. Well, more actually. I was biking home on the path just past the bridge and I saw this bright colour in the shrubbery across the river. So I glance over, then do a double take. There’s this man standing there, holding his turquoise T-shirt above his head with one hand, but peeking out of the head hole. And with his other hand, he’s handling himself.

— Pervert! Did he see you?

— I’m sure he did. He turned toward me and then dropped his thing. It was flaccid, so obviously he wasn’t even having that much fun. He was a young guy, too, and in good shape. Flat stomach.

— What did you do?

— Well, I sure as heck didn’t stop. I was astounded. Is he a perv? Is he a university student on a dare? Then I started to laugh. I mean it was just too ridiculous. He obviously wasn’t turned on. It’s pathetic. Then I started to think that maybe I should call the cops. I mean it’s okay for me, I couldn’t give a toss, but what if he flashed a young girl or an old lady? Do you think I should report him?

— Yes, definitely. It’s against the law. You don’t need to call 911 though. I’ll find the general number.

He starts tapping on his phone.

— I’m just glad he was across the river, Fiona says. I mean what if he’d been right in front of me?

Luc wraps his arms around her, bringing her in close.

— I’m so glad nothing happened, Fee. Sit down darling, let me find the number.

His anger rises. What if the perv had confronted Fiona? What if he’d tried something? Bastard! Luc thinks. If he’d touched her…

He finds the number.

— Here, he says, handing Fiona his phone.

The police officer thanks her for the report. She says they’ve had a lot of incidents along the city’s bike paths — men exposing themselves, saying indecent things, even attacking women.

— It’s not flashing, Fiona says to Luc after she’s hung up, it’s public indecency. I’m glad I phoned. I had no idea it was such a problem.

— Me neither, says Luc. People probably don’t call it in.

— Yeah, she says.

— What if there’s an I.D. line-up? says Luc. What would they say? Okay, drop your pants.

— And if they ask how tall he was, says Fiona, giggling, I’d say, oh, about six inches.

— So you were looking, says Luc, grinning at her.

— Who wouldn’t? I mean how often do you get the chance to gawk? What I don’t get is why someone would do it?

Luc shrugs.

— The thrill of upsetting someone, of being seen but being anonymous at the same time.

— Maybe it’s a chance to be sexual without the risk of rejection, Fiona says. Have you ever…?

— No, but a friend of mine did when we were about 13. We were playing Truth or Dare, Gerard, me, and this girl Danielle, who was in the next grade. I had a big crush on her. She had this long brown hair that was all curly and she had immense breasts.

Breasts, thinks Fiona, it’s always the breasts. Despite herself, she feels a surge of jealousy for this distant, adolescent crush.

— We were in Gerard’s rec room. Most people in Portage didn’t have things like rec rooms, but his parents were relatively well off. I forget what his father did for a living, something at the mill. He was an only child, so maybe that’s why they had money. Anyway, Danielle asked him if he’d ever touched himself while thinking of her. He refused to say, so she dared him to drop his pants, and he just did it, without even thinking. And his penis was so pathetically small and shrivelled. She started laughing and pointing and laughing. I’m sure he’s still traumatized about it. I didn’t like her after that.

— But that’s not really the same as flashing, because she was right there and it was consensual. In fact she asked to see.

— Yeah, but it seems related in my mind, because we just watched. And he was so willing. It was very weird.

— It’s a sad state of affairs, she says. So many people looking for love in all the wrong ways.

*Gobika soup (cauliflower)

Serves 4

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped roughly
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne
2 medium potatoes, peeled, and diced into 1/3-inch pieces
½ pound (2-plus cups) cauliflower, washed and broken into florets
5 cups chicken stock (can make from bouillon cube)
2/3 cup cream

1. Chop onion, garlic and ginger. Sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle on spices and heat.
2. Add potatoes, cauliflower and stock.
3. Bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until the potato is tender.
4. Blend soup in blender in 2 batches (carefully, it’s hot).
5. Pour back into pot, add cream and heat gently.

Can be frozen without cream.

Thanks to Josefine Lami for this recipe.