When the crusty gossip witnessed Thomas McGuire's own fierce reaction to the new scent, she knew that she was on to something all right. She watched with glee as Thomas stormed up Main Mall (to the town council, no doubt) in his Land Rover, rubbing her wrinkly hands over her thickly veined thighs in a moment of unrestrained happiness. She was sitting over a gold mine of news, enough to last for weeks to come!
Dervla Quigley would not have to wait long for further entertainment. Soon after Thomas charged off toward the town council building, the shop's red door opened, and out walked Layla.
It seemed that Marjan, in all her meticulous attention to the extraordinary details on her grocery list, had failed to buy sufficient bags of white onions, those humble servants of so many magical dishes. Her initial stock was already used up in the dolmehs and the pot of red lentil soup simmering away on the stove top, and she would need more to complete her opening day menu. Panicked, Marjan pushed Layla out the shop door with instructions to buy as many bags of onions as she could carry in her long, slender arms.
Red lentil soup, although quite seductive in scent, is as simple to make as its name suggests. Marjan preferred to boil her lentils, before frying the chopped onions, garlic, and spices with some good, strong olive oil. Covering the ready broth, lentils, and onions, she would then allow the luscious soup to simmer for half an hour or so, as the spices embedded themselves into the compliant onion skins.
In the recipe book filed away in her head, Marjan always made sure to place a particular emphasis on the soup's spices. Cumin added the aroma of afternoon lovemaking to the mixture, but it was another spice that had the greatest tantric effect on the innocent soup drinker: siah daneh "love in the midst" or nigella seed. This modest little pod, when crushed open by mortar and pestle, or when steamed in dishes such as this lentil soup, excites a spicy energy that hibernates in the human spleen. Unleashed, it burns forever with the unbound desire of an unrequited lover. So powerful is nigella in its heat that the spice should not be taken in by pregnant women, for fear of early labor.
Indigenous to the Middle and Near Easts of the girls' past lives, nigella is rarely used in Western recipes, its ability to soothe heartburn and abolish fatigue quite overlooked. Modernity, it seems, prefers over-the-counter pills to the advice of ancient seers. Marjan, aware that the spice would not be readily available in Ireland, had packed several envelopes of seedlings in the boxes they had shipped over from London. Layla would never fully realize how fortuitous a move this shipping of seeds had been, for she was already following the destiny its perfume had assigned her, undulating as it was from Marjan's simmering pot all the way out to the sleepy street.
Benny Corcoran, owner of Corcoran's Bake Shop, was the first townsperson Layla encountered as she made her way down to Fadden's Mini-Mart. Rather than buy a van for delivery runs, Benny transported the loaves and rolls he packed for Fadden's in a large red wheelbarrow. He had just finished his second delivery trip to the grocery store, sweat running down the creases in his freckled face and onto his wheelbarrow of bread, when he saw Layla. Almost at once, Benny was stung by the cloud of nigella that had blended with the young girl's own rosewater and cinnamon bouquet. The poor man didn't know what hit him. One minute he was wandering around in his own lonely vacuum, the next he was in an Eden of tempting fruits, standing before an Eve whose long, dark hair and fragrance soothed his very heart.
It would be easy to attribute Layla's effect on the opposite sex (and the occasional Sapphically-inclined female) to her youth or sweet, natural perfume, but the real reason behind her attraction was far more complex. Of course, there was no denying her beauty, the consistency of her angled, porcelain features, that tilt in her almond eyes, which shined like half-moons across her celestial face. Unlike her two older sisters, who sported wayward brown ringlets, Layla had hair that was long and jet black. Tied up or let down, moussed or gelled, nothing could excite her stubbornly straight locks. They were a definite throwback to some latent Oriental chromosomes roaming deep inside of her.
Excerpted from Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. Copyright © 2005 by Marsha Mehran. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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