Except for the coconut cake (filled with Meyer lemon curd and glazed with brown sugar), most of the desserts she made for Walter were not her best or most original, but they were exemplars of their kind: portly, solid-citizen desserts, puddings of rice, bread, and noodlessweets that the Pilgrims and other humble immigrants who had scraped together their prototypes would have bartered in a Mayflower minute for Greenies blood-orange mousse, pear ice cream, or tiny white-chocolate éclairs. Walter had also commissioned a deep-dish apple pie, a strawberry marble cheesecake, and a layer cake he asked her to create exclusively for him. Everybody expects one of those, you know, death-by-chocolate things on a menu like mine, but what I want is massacre by chocolate, execution by chocolatefiring squad by chocolate! he told her.
So that very night, after tucking George in bed, Greenie had returned to the kitchen where she made her living, in a basement two blocks from her home, and stayed up till morning to birth a four-layer cake so dense and muscular that even Walter, who could have benched a Shetland pony, dared not lift it with a single hand. It was the sort of dessert that appalled Greenie on principle, but it also embodied a kind of uberprosperity, a transgressive joy, flaunting the potential heft of butter, that Protean substance as wondrous and essential to a pastry chef as fire had been to early man.
Walter christened the cake Apocalypse Now; Greenie held her tongue. By itself, this creation doubled the amount of cocoa she ordered from her supplier every month. After it was on his menu for a week, Walter bet her a lobster dinner that before a year was out, Gourmet would request the recipe, putting both of them on a wider culinary map. If that came to pass, Greenie would surrender to the vagaries of fleeting fame, but right now the business ran as smoothly as she could have hoped. She had a diligent assistant and an intern who shopped, cleaned up, made deliveries, and showed up on time. The amount of work they all shared felt just right to Greenie; she could not have taken an order for one more tiny éclair without enlarging the enterprise to a degree where she feared she would begin to lose control. Alan said that what she really feared was honestly growing up, taking her lifelong ambition and molding it into a Business with a capital B. Greenie resented his condescension; if Business with a capital B was the goal of growing up, what was he doing as a private psychotherapist working out of a back-door bedroom that should have belonged to George, who slept in an alcove off their living room meant for a dining room table? Which brought up the subject of George: was Alan unhappy that Greenies work, on its present scale, allowed her to spend more time with their son than a Business with a capital B would have done?
Delegation, said Alan. Its called delegation.
This was the sort of bickering that passed too often now between them, and if Greenie blamed Alan for starting these quarrels, she blamed herself for plunging into the fray. Stubbornly, she refused to back down for the sake of greater domestic harmony or to address the underlying dilemma. The overlying dilemma, that much was clear. Through the past year, as Greenie began to turn away clients, Alan was losing them. His schedule had dwindled to half time, and the extra hours it gave him with George did not seem to console him.
Alan, two years away from forty, had reached what Greenie privately conceived of as the Peggy Lee stage in life: Is That All There Is? Greenie did not know what to do about this. She would have attacked the problem head on if the sufferer had been one of her girlfriends, but Alan was a man, chronically resentful of direction. When he was with friends, his argumentative nature was his strength, a way of challenging the world and its complacencies, but in privatealone with Greeniehe fell prey to defensiveness and nocturnal nihilism. She had known this before they married, but she had assumed this aspect of his psyche would burn off, under the solar exposure of day-to-day affection, like cognac set aflame in a skillet. Next year they would be married ten years, and it had not.
Excerpted from The Whole World Over by Julia Glass Copyright © 2006 by Julia Glass. Excerpted by permission of Pantheon, 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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