The president, it seems, is a lover of mango. He has recently sampled Lowell's preparation of baked mango gratinée -- usually served as an accompaniment to chicken or fish -- at the home of a friend, who prepared it from Lowell's newest cookbook. The president loved it, as well as the main course, which was apparently prepared out of the same cookbook. Furthermore, Mrs. Clinton has become intent upon sampling some of Lowell's newer dishes (but no chocolate chip cookies, goes through my mind) and wonders if they might recruit Lowell to cook for them during an upcoming weekend at a friend's borrowed home in Boca Raton. Mrs. Clinton will call herself, to confer about the menu, which would be for ten people -- three of them teenage girls -- whenever it is convenient.
I cover the receiver with my hand and whisper: "When can you talk to Hillary?"
Kathryn, from the back deck, maintains this is all a prank.
"Any time," Lowell whispers back.
"Would Mrs. Clinton be able to talk to Mr. Cartwright now?"
"Probably she would right after the Kennedy Center performance," George Stephanopoulos says. "Give me five minutes. Let me get back to you on that."
The phone doesn't ring for an hour. By the time it does ring, the kitten is upright and spunky, chasing after Key limes rolled across the kitchen floor.
"George Stephanopoulos," the voice says. "Are you...there's a landing field in Marathon, correct?"
"Yes," I say.
"Big planes don't come in, though?"
I see the dinner slipping away. "No," I say.
"Is there a roasted pig?"
"I'm sorry, sir?"
"Not at the airport. I mean, is there a recipe for roasted pig?"
"Prepared with a cumin marinade, and served with pistachio pureed potatoes."
"The Clintons have left for an evening performance, but if it wouldn't be inconvenient, I think Mrs. Clinton would like to call when they return. It might be eleven, ten-thirty, or eleven -- something like that."
"Mr. Cartwright stays up until well after midnight."
"I'll bet I'm interrupting your dinner right now. Tell me the truth."
"No. Actually, we've been watching what has turned out to be an incredible sunset and we've been waiting for your call."
"Sunset," Stephanopoulos says, with real longing in his voice. "Okay," he says. "Speak to you later."
"This is amazing," the highlighter says.
"Sting and Trudie Styler rented a house in Key West last winter," Daphne says. "Also, David Hyde Pierce, who plays Frasier's brother, took a date for dinner on Little Palm Island, and he tipped really well."
Since the moment they were introduced, Daphne and the highlighter have gotten along famously. They're sitting on the kitchen floor, rolling limes around like some variation of playing marbles, and the kitten has sprung to life and is going gonzo.
"When would the dinner be?" Lowell asks.
"They're going to call around eleven," I say. "You can ask."
"You ask," Lowell says. "I'd make a fool of myself if I had to talk to Hillary Clinton."
On the deck, Kathryn plucks a stalk of lemon grass growing from a clay pot, puts it between her two thumbs, and blows loudly. The kitten slithers under the refrigerator.
"Reminds me of certain of the doctor's patients," Daphne says, watching the kitten disappear. "You know, what really drives me crazy is that when they call, they give every last detail about their problem, as if the dentist cares whether the tooth broke because they were eating pizza or gnawing on a brick."
The kitten emerges, followed by what looks like its own kitten: a quick moving palmetto bug that disappears under the stove.
"Jesus Christ," Lowell says. "Where's the bug spray?"
Antonio, the chef from Coral Gables, calls back. He wants Lowell to know that since the president will be having lunch at his restaurant, he is not at all offended that the president wishes to dine with us. Every effort must be made, however, not to duplicate dishes. He asks, bleakly, if we have had any success in finding fresh estragon in southern Florida.
Excerpted from Perfect Recall, copyright (c) 2000 Ann Beattie. Reproduced with permission from the publisher; all rights reserved.
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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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