When I got off the subway, after what seemed like years, I called Eric from a pay phone at the corner of Bay Ridge and Fourth Avenue.
"Hey. Did you get anything for dinner?" Eric made that little sucking-in-through-his-teeth sound he always makes when he thinks he's about to get in trouble. "Was I supposed to?"
"Well, I told you I'd be late because of my doctor's appointment -" "Right, right, sorry. I just, I didn't . . . You want me to order something in, or-"
"Don't worry about it. I'll pick up something or other." "But I'm going to start packing just as soon as the NewsHour's done, promise!"
It was nearly eight o'clock, and the only market open in Bay Ridge was the Korean deli on the corner of Seventieth and Third. I must have looked a sight, standing around in the produce aisle in my bedraggled suit, my face tracked with mascara, staring like a catatonic. I couldn't think of a thing that I wanted to eat. I grabbed some potatoes, a bunch of leeks, some Hotel Bar butter.
I felt dazed and somehow will-less, as if I was following a shopping list someone else had made. I paid, walked out of the shop, and headed for the bus stop, but just missed the B69. There wouldn't be another for a half hour at least, at this time of night, so I started the ten-block walk home, carrying a plastic bag bristling with spiky dark leek bouquets.
It wasn't until almost fifteen minutes later, as I was walking past the Catholic boys' school on Shore Road one block over from our apartment building, that I realized that I'd managed, unconsciously, to buy exactly the ingredients for Julia Child's Potage Parmentier.
When I was a kid, my dad used to love to tell the story about finding five-year-old Julie curled up in the back of his copper-colored Datsun ZX immersed in a crumpled back issue of the Atlantic Monthly. He told that one to all the guys at his office, and to the friends he and my mom went out to dinner with, and to all of the family who weren't born again and likely to disapprove. (Of the Atlantic, not Z-cars.)
I think the point behind this was that I'd been singled out as an early entrant to the ranks of the intellectually superior. And since I was awful at ballet and tap dancing, after all, always the last one to make it up the rope in gym class, a girl neither waifish nor charming in owlish red-rimmed glasses, I took my ego-petting where I could get it. But the not-very-highbrow truth of the matter was that the reading was how I got my ya-yas out.
For the sake of my bookish reputation I upgraded to Tolstoy and Steinbeck before I understood them, but my dark secret was that really, I preferred the junk. The Dragonriders of Pern, Flowers in the Attic, The Clan of the Cave Bear. This stuff was like my stash of Playboys under the mattress. I waited until my camp counselor left the cabin to steal the V. C. Andrews she stashed behind her box of Tampax. I nicked my mom's Jean Auel, and had already gotten halfway through before she found out, so she could only wince and suppose there was some educational value, but no Valley of Horses for you, young lady.
Then adolescence set in well and proper, and reading for kicks got shoved in the backseat with the old Atlantics. It had been a long time since I'd done anything with the delicious, licentious cluelessness that I used to read those books - hell, sex now wasn't as exciting as reading about sex used to be. I guess nowadays your average fourteen-year-old Texan possesses exhaustive knowledge of the sexual uses of tongue studs, but I doubt the information excites her any more than my revelations about Neanderthal sex.
You know what a fourteen-year-old Texan doesn't know shit about? French food.
Copyright © 2005 by Julie Powell
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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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