I listened from the kitchen window to an argument the three of them were having outside. They waited for me to bring out fresh slices of pie for everyone, but they talked in whispers which was what caught my attention. I had disdain for the three of them when they excluded me. No one could really hate John, but I did grow tired of him spilling something on himself at our favorite hangout, a bar on the West Village called ‘the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. We went there all the time. When John would spill his drink, Anthony would quickly reach for a napkin and in a playful manner, in front of both me Linda, would wipe John’s crotch. John would slap Anthony and ask me, “Charles, how come you put up with that?” Linda giggled at their interactions and sick type of unsexual foreplay. She dominated all conversations when she was around, always striving to keep others abreast of her plans to go back to school for a doctorate in communications, not in the least bit concerned whether or not her future husband had any gay traits. Anthony wanting to do nothing but have dinner parties or go out with John and Linda to dinner every night, played new Donna Summer music when we were at our place. Unlike me, John and Linda never grew tired of it. Anthony was obsessed with the queen of disco like I was blueberry pie. There they were, sitting around getting fat in their 30’s, fussing over some secret that obviously, I was not mature enough to handle or take part in discussing.
The pie calmed everyone down. They changed the subject as I came outside through a screen door. The discussion of a weekend trip to Fire Island returned as central topic. “My God,” Linda said reaching for one of the ceramic plates I was carrying. She looked at me with her mouth opened as I spatted a dab of freshly whipped heavy cream atop her second piece of pie. “Never have I had pie like this. Look at it, John. The blueberries have hardly burst, most of them are still whole. It has the consistency of good jam. It’s not too sweet, either. Tastes more like a tart than a pie, Charles. You really should think about starting a catering business. I agree with Anthony, you should make one of these pies to take to Claude and Tilly’s next weekend. Maybe Claude and Tilly will be convinced to subcontract you at their catering company.”
“What were you talking about, just now?” I asked. “Was it really about wedding plans again? Don’t you guys get sick of talking about the ceremony? You fuss non-stop over details of an event you know neither one of you can really afford, and one that will be over with in less than an hour. I don’t think it’s fair that I’m not in your wedding like Anthony is. I could be the gay ring bearer if you want. What am I supposed to do all weekend in Maryland when you guys practice for the big day? Wait with the other forgotten and ugly girls for Linda to toss her bouquet in a feeding frenzy? Anthony is John’s best man. You should have at least asked me to make your wedding cake. I could have saved you a lot of cash. Your third degree is not going to come cheap, Miss Doctor Aldory.” I tossed her plate onto the table. It came to rest at the edge of the table, but did not fall into her lap.
Linda started crying, her shoulder length brown hair fell over her hands as she hid her face as if awfully embarrassed about something. John jumped from a plastic lawn chair, nearly spilling his glass of wine, and ran to Linda’s side to hug her to his hip. He adjusted a set of wire-rim glasses and looked at Anthony and frowned. “You can tell him. It’s not a big deal. It’s only Charles. He does not work at Norma Ribbon. Who is he going to tell? It was an accident, besides, the ring was insured.”
I sat there quietly, waiting for details. The three of them had played this game hide and go seek another bottle of wine for us before. My lover turned into someone else when he was around them, making me feel like a common housewife. I didn’t care. It didn’t really matter to me anyway, all that education, and what really is journalism when everyone can write? I was content to cook for them, and simply have them around me as company. I loved cooking, and the dinner parties, and all our fancy dishes and the fire torches that I lit every night to keep the mosquitos away. Their company, although somewhat distant, seem intimate at times.
I was content living in the seven- year relationship I had formed with just one man. John and Linda had a lot to learn from us. The way I used the small set of teeth on my metal grater was proof of a certain fondness I had for all of them. Many trips to the dishwasher left my metal grater rusty in places, but I felt there must be some nutritional value from trace elements that chipped off of it, and besides, it was impossible to pick out the zest from tiny specks of metal my grater caused when adding the lemon zest.
I carefully scraped away the outer layer of the lemon and added this yellow saw-dust to the other pie ingredients. The yellow skin of the lemon quickly disappeared and the sugar mixture slowly away at the tender skin on the blueberries. This was how the three of them affected me, I concluded, sitting there trying to make sense of what ring they were talking about. The sweet juice had the consistency of beef gravy. In less than ten minutes, a violet liquid had formed at the bottom of my glass bowl. I wanted to create this same pie again, only this time, adding a little more butter under the top crust. My mother, who I watched as a child, making such pies, told me that if someone cries at the supper table, it meant the food was good. For a moment, I thought the tiny pieces of metal we were eating in the pie were affecting all our brains. I stuck my finger in the mixture as it marinated, not caring about germs because it was John and Linda coming over for dinner again. I licked my finger when I was cooking, laughed, then puckered and contemplated whether to use quick cooking tapioca pudding, as was suggested in my “New York Times Cookbook. Surely I had not poisoned her, I thought. I wanted to make the exact pie again to take to Claude and Tilly’s on Fire Island, only this time, I would use a knife to scape the skin of the lemon. I wanted it to be exactly like the one we were eating, so I chose then not to fix something not broken. What was causing such emotion in Linda? They seemed not to want to fill me in.
Although my pastry shells were thick and I wetted the crust with water before sealing on the top shell and fluting the edges, I grew somewhat concerned thinking about how to improve the dish. I distracted myself from the conversation at hand and started brainstorming about the effects of quick cooking tapioca as a substitute for the flour in the berries. I wondered if the hot pie would start to bubble if I used Tapioca. I surely didn’t want another smoke scene in the kitchen again. The pie we were eating that night bubbled over in the oven. I had to take out batteries from the fire alarms. Tasty blue lava seeped through the steam vents cut like little bird prints upon the top of the pastry. There was so much to think about as I sat there, tuning them out, inventing.
Tapioca offers a certain thickness to the consistency of pies crafted of blueberries, but I knew with Tilly being British, it was silly to make a dessert with the consistency of American jelly. Tapioca infused pie filling reminded me of cheap, store-bought pies though. I had experimented numerous times with blueberries, but had never used lemon zest, as recommended by a recipe in a Better Homes and Garden cookbook. One little ingredient changes everything, I realized. Oh how I cherished that cookbook. It was printed in 1955. The introductory pages taught women on the importance of good cooking. I bought it at a yard sell in Pennsylvania while antiquing with my lover on a rare summer weekend when the two of us went somewhere without John and Linda tagging along.
“We lost a ring that was a sacred Jewish heirloom. An ancestor of mine had it on while running from the Germans,” John confessed, sitting back down in front of a fresh slice of pie. “I’m so sorry,” said I, pretending all the time to be overly concerned about a little ring.
“What ring was that?” I asked. “Fresh whipped cream anyone? I made it from heavy cream, you know. You never showed me a ring. Was it an engagement ring?”
Linda removed her hands from her face and explained, while holding her left hand as though she had burned it, what they had been discussing. “It was John’s great grandmother’s ring. I feel so bad. How could we have been so careless? We think it may have fallen through the crack of our livingroom floor.”
“Oh, but all is not lost,” my lover insisted, rather casually as he reached for his concha y toro. “It was insured for $50,000. How bad can it really be for the two of you and a ring older than dirt? Are you sure you really lost it, or are the two of you running a scam to pay Linda’s tuition?”
Linda giggled just then. John’s face turned from blue to pink as he took a bite of my famous pie. For a moment, we all stopped talking and just ate our warm pie. My orange tabby cat came through the bars over the opened kitchen window. She could hardly squeeze through. Bette Midler, as I called the cat, brushed by Linda’s leg. The cloth napkin fell silently atop the cobblestone patio. I didn’t say a word other than, “That was the last piece.” I secretly hoped one of the tender, baked blueberries would fall upon Linda’s white skirt. None of them did, she gobbled it without staining her thin, pink lips.