Fascinatingly Banal

“You seem very preoccupied.”

I  glance at her. She is always needling me when I am silent, which is both beneficial to me and slightly uncomfortable. I like Victoria. More than I will ever say aloud, though I have no doubt she will read about it since she seems to make it a practice to monitor my web traffic. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I feel that my thoughts are clearer when we sit at cross purposes, looking at her plain walls and abstractions. I never fret over her mindset, or how I trouble it. I never imagine harm coming to her. Instead, I feel somehow as if I am absorbing her calm.

That was not a succubus joke.

I’ve gotten lighter on my feet where humor is concerned, and I sometimes feel people assume I am quite funny. In actuality, this is not so. Most humor on my part is “happenstance”.

Pardon me…

“I am.”

“With what?”

I have anticipated this question. It is the one thing I really can anticipate from her. She asks it nearly thrice a session. Probably my doing. If I was more given to vocal expression…well…I suppose therapy wouldn’t be necessary.

“I have been…” I shake my head. I haven’t a good word for it. “Malaise” is as close as I come, but this is habitual. This is the flux of generations. It happens to me several times a decade. “A slump,” I think most would call it. I call it dull and if I am honest, worrisome, because it takes more and more to pull me from it every time it happens — humans and newfound associations notwithstanding.

“Depressed? Like before?”

“Still.” I lean forward and can feel my face working at the difficulty of putting these feelings into words. “When I am beneath it…I am buried, and my head comes out for a breath, but I always sink.”

“Then I haven’t known you when you weren’t ‘under’, as you put it.”

“No.”

“How long have you been under this time?”

I sigh. I know the answer, but it was so long ago in human years, I hesitate to even bring it up lest it shock her into outward spiraling theories and motivational exercises. But really, I should always expect the best from her.

“How many decades, Simon?”

“Now? Ah, me…many. Since the war.”

“Which war?”

I let out a snort. That this must be clarified gives precisely the proper statement. “The war.”

“Are you going to tell me what triggered it?”

“If I have to do that, then we need to have a discussion of history and the merits of the education system in this country.”

She purses her lips. This usually means she believes I am deflecting from answering the question because I feel it will concur emotional vulnerability. She’s half right. I am not answering because I feel annoyed that I must constantly answer this question, that the last of the Great Generation are dying, that I am the only one left who seems to remember how perfectly horrifying it was. I am full of rage at this fact, actually. I am full of absolute condign fury that there are men who have the gall to assert none of it happened.

They want to make oven jokes. My first thoughts are always, “Oh, my sweet juicy child…do not ‘go there’. I have oven jokes for days.”

But that is tasteless, and not in the gustatory way. Instead I ramble on ineffectually in chat rooms and kill the odd asshole. I also gone about other wars, less important wars in the scheme of modern “history”, mass deaths, thousands of men wiped out, whole generations so that this or that king could be in charge.

Would that I could erase the entire idea of “power” from the face of the earth.

Again, pardon me.

She shakes her head. “I can’t fight that war. It’s been won.”

“Has it though?”

“Simon…”

I look away. She is going to ask me what the most immediate problem is. She’s right to do it. It is a sound method, as I never run shy on problems. I swear to you now, gentle reader, if I could silence my thoughts, I wouldn’t know what to do with myself.

Consider this — eating man makes us clever. Not eating men causes stupidity. Eating more men makes us even more clever. What if…after all this time doing this to myself, I am actually manic? Perhaps eating so many people has acted like a kind of stimulant, like methamphetamines.

My mind moves ten directions at once, at full speed. This seldom has a better chance of manifesting itself than when I am in a chat session with some of you. Ten conversations at once, but all lines of thought processing at different speeds. I may be slow to answer a perfectly obvious question, but that is because my recollection has wandered down a road completely thick with brambles. You mention tater tots, and my brain, for whatever it is worth, meanders from tots to processing plants, from that to the potato famine, from there to the Irish, back to the canal and the “malaria” epidemic, and on to the coast of France, and then around again, by degrees, to the plague of London and the pasty I ate while watching a woman dispose of her children in a pile of corpses. As may be obvious, my answers become complicated, clipped, and often require people to ask me what I was getting at. 

It’s called “tangential reasoning” and I am guilty of it in spades. So when you ask me a question and I take a moment to reply…and it makes no sense, and you think to yourself “what the hell…” — this is why.

It’s not just tater tots. It is a mountain. An avalanche. It’s smothering and distracting. It’s impossible to focus and when I do, I focus on the most meaningless of things. Like this shirt. Why the hell did I wear this shirt? I hate this shirt. The fabric is far too thin and the cut is all wrong.

I miss the days before mass produced clothing. I constantly find myself wishing that the tailor who used to have his shop on First was still there, and more importantly, that he had a speed dial function. In those days, there were no clothes but what were made for you by someone with skill. A man had several shirts, one suit, perhaps two. A woman had two or three dresses. Clothes were an investment. 

Now I walk into a Michael Kors and think, my god what is this “handmade” apology of a clothing line? Someone please set those sweat shop workers free and let them use colors! Not everyone looks good in things the shape and shade of cardboard boxes and sailor’s uniforms. And heavens to Betsy, do we really need a label on everything? Who the devil are you, and what is this brass plea for attention? Is it your cheap bid for immortality, Michael?

Look, you see? Where was I?

“Why are we here? What are we talking about today?”

Not my shirt, I assume. “I can’t remember.”

“This keeps happening.”

“I am sorry, but you have a relaxing aspect, and I lose my train of thought. Or rather, I gain fifty of them.”

“We go nowhere.”

A wry smile is my only reply.

“Let’s try something new.” She stands up suddenly, stretching like a gymnast and bending in all directions. With her arms like windmills, she casts out the odd question. “What do you think of first, when Chef smiles at you?”

I tilt my head. What an odd question, indeed. “Blood.”

She doesn’t laugh as I expect her to. Her face tells me she can completely comprehend such a compulsion. “What’s the second thing you think?”

“I’m boring.”

Her movements come to a halt. “Clarify. You see him and think ‘I am boring,’ just like that?”

“Yes. Just like that.”

“Seeing him makes you think about how you’re disappointing him?”

“Yes. No. I…Well, its something like that, I suppose.”

“That was every answer. Stand up,” she beckons. “Come on. Do it.”

I am frowning, but she has a magic to her. The number of times she’s coaxed from me things I had never dared voice is simply remarkable. I cannot deny her yet another chance to make a cowed fool out of me. I take too much pleasure in watching her be brilliant.

I stand. 

She smiles. “Do what I do.”

“Simon says, I don’t play this game.”

“You’re a mimic. So mimic.” She puts her hands above her head, high above, to touch the ceiling, or the light floating on the sterile air, or whatever divinity refuses to make itself known to her. “Come on. Do it.”

I oblige, and feel like an idiot. I am reminded of my first Holy Mass. It was long ago, before I’d even grasped the languages around me. I was hungry then and weary. I had gone to the church because of the pointy thing on top of it. It rang. People went there. They made noises and they bobbed up and down like birds pecking. So I learned to genuflect.

Ha! How’s that? I learned to kneel before I learned to speak. I learned to grovel before I knew to beg. It turns my stomach. It’s philosophically repugnant to me. If Socrates were here, or Descartes, of Voltaire, I’d probably get the back of a hand across my face if they could stop pleasuring themselves long enough to expend the effort. No, never mind, Voltaire would likely not care. 

There I go again.

“You’re boring.” She is looking up. I am looking at her. She ignores me. She carries on with her calisthenics. “But you’re not worried that disappoints him. Clearly he is smiling at you, so he isn’t disappointed.”

“Indeed. May I put down my—”

She waves her arms. all around, swirling and twirling. I shake my head. For my trouble, I receive a nudge of the chin. “What are you really thinking when he smiles at you?”

All this movement, this ridiculous bullshit. I certainly hope this isn’t something she picked up in that university of hers, or else that degree came far too expensively.

“This is annoying.”

“Because you’re not embracing the act.”

“If you’re not careful I will embrace your new chair and you’ll need another one.”

“Simon…you are difficult.”

“Yes! Yes I am. I am absurdly tedious! I am grateful you’ve noticed.”

“You’re not even participating.”

Finally, I have lost my patience. I drop my arms and turn away, teeth clamped down on wordless spitting.

“What do you really think when Chef smiles at you?”

“That I am deceiving him!” I snarl, and before I can topple the sculpture and upend the table, she has taken her seat as if she never moved.

“Go on.”

I commend her for her commitment to driving me out of my own solitude with a torch and pitchfork, but one day it will get her killed if she isn’t careful. I cannot tell her that. It will only please her to know how close she comes to the core of me.

I sit down, ruffled, on the edge, but because of this, duller in my defenses. Stress forces me to compensate, compensation takes calories, calories drive a wedge between me and my consciousness. words become difficult, but feelings more evident. I suppose, to the observant sculptor, I become malleable. 

“There isn’t anything interesting to me. Not one thing. I do perfectly mundane tasks. I eat, I sleep. I watch television. I scroll Tumblr.”

“Are any of these bad?”

I have often contemplated that. I am not sure of the answer. This experiment has broken many boundaries I once had. It has been absolutely trying on me since the books were published. There was a time when reproach from a human meant disaster. For most of my life, one tiny comment was enough to set me calculating just how long I could go without food before this person became the menu item, just how far I had to walk to get away from my own reputation. Then came the time of mayhem, when I stopped caring and men became their own monsters. I hated who I became then. I hated the things I did, but I still did them.This new era, of rampant commentary, it has a numbness to it that conflicts with everything I have learned, and when I receive the odd anonymous ask or sharp message…it doesn’t pain me. 

Pain isn’t the right word.

I don’t care what they think of me, truly I mean that. But in me is a natural instinct to flee or kill, and that is triggered with every hateful retort. When I receive the asks, I have to walk away, think about what century this is. Remember how silly this all seems to them, the perspective of the thing. I have to eat and consider the best way to proceed.

This month…it was that I am boring.

“You are boring…good luck with the experiment,” this person said to me, and while I readily agree that I am, this felt somehow wrong. Why wrong? What do I care if they find me normal, average, exactly what I have always argued that we monsters are? Why would that matter?

Because it echoes my own lies, my own deceptions to those I hold dear. It makes it obvious that I have managed to slip by undetected, into that sacred circle. Don’t look at me. If you do, you will see I have infiltrated and you will hate me for it. You will punish me for it. I will kill you for it.

I am boring, and yet you are smiling at me.

“Come back.”

I press my face into my hands and take a deep breath. Those two words are like a command, a mantra. Now, even when I am alone, and my mind is going in eternal circles, I can say it aloud, and suddenly I am standing there, and I am Simon, in this year, looking at a toaster and knowing that to push the lever down turns the bread brown.

“I am lying to him.”

For the first time, she seems concerned. She has large eyes, and by that, I mean they are disproportionately shaped. I have recently learned that the Sumerians prized that as an attribute. Apparently they mated specifically for that purpose, to have children with large eyes. As I have had it explained to me by my editor, this has the unintended consequence of increasing the size of the frontal lobe, as the visual cortex is the part of the brain most responsible for the personality…

Come back.

“What do you imagine he is going to do, when he finds out you’re lying?”

I am loathe to utter it, because the word itself, once a refuge for me, now summons all manner of chilling, unimaginable horrors.

“Leave.”

“He’s smart.”

“His intellect is immaterial.”

“Is it though? He’s trustworthy too.”

“Again I say—”

“Simon, don’t you think it’s possible that you believe you are deceiving him because you don’t trust him or think him capable of seeing past your exterior? You are treating him as if he isn’t capable.”

“No…I…”

My, but I am an arrogant bastard. Is that really it? Have I, all this time, medicated my own vulnerability by cultivating this unnaturally low opinion of the human I care for most in this world? Have I, through fear, pushed him away? More importantly, have I ever acted on that opinion? Have I made him feel it? Have I made him feel reviled? Have I ever once been cruel to him in a way to which I was oblivious because I was so wrapped in my own…

“Stop.”

My eyes are closed. My body is beginning to ache in that ancient way. Like a skin made of bruises, it causes more recent wounds to itch and older ones to tug. “I’m sorry. I am almost at my limit, Vicky.”

“There’s something I’ve learned about you.”

“Oh? I daresay there’s a lot you’ve learned about me — not all of it spoken.”

She smiles knowingly. “All this stuff you’re doing, jumping into the deep end with humans…as unsettling as it is for you, I think you knew…maybe instantly, what it will give you. I mean how you benefit from it. You knew all at once. You have taken hold of it and you are strangling the meaning from it.”

“I tend to strangle things, it is true.”

She remains appropriately stoic. It is unfair that I am laughed at for deep revelations and given a stern reproof when I am flexing my sense of humor. But so be it. Monsters aren’t allowed to be amusing. Fair enough. You invented the languages, spoken humor is your domain, I suppose.

This vexes me, however. Some day I will invent something and exclude you from it just to “be a dick”.

“Everything you’ve ever told me about your past leads me to believe that this hobby of collecting, sorting, stockpiling is a new thing. You were nomadic before. You couldn’t collect because you couldn’t carry it. All of a sudden here you are, pulling things close and worrying yourself silly over them.”

“Silly is a strong term.”

“Tell me you didn’t just nearly eat me because you worried you had actually hurt him so that you wouldn’t have to feel vulnerable with him.”

“Point taken.”

She lays her head back against the chair and gazes upward. As per her usual custom, she has shed her shoes and sits balled up. I know our sessions are not relaxing for her, but she gives the impression of finding them thusly. But as I think this, I wonder if it is something she does intentionally, to demonstrate that she is at ease with me even when she is not, as a means of manipulating me into a sense of camaraderie.

“I’m sorry.”

Her gaze flicks to me. “Why?”

“I’m doing it again.”

“You can hear my heartbeat. I am absolutely calm.”

“Yes.”

“So am I deceiving you, oh great deceiver?”

I cannot help but laugh. Here we are, two professional liars, using skill to break down defenses, using knowledge to have an effect. She is far too intelligent for her own good. Some day I am going to have to eat someone for her. Again.

“I want to hear more about this. Why do you believe you are deceiving him? Is it because he finds you interesting when you are actually boring?”

“Precisely.”

“Uh huh. He’s not allowed to find you interesting? He’s not allowed to be more boring than you?”

“He isn’t boring. Quite the opposite.”

“Oh, I don’t know. All he does is cook and drink and hang around you. I think that’s completely boring.”

“Do you?”

“No. I am making a point. That in the same way you don’t find him boring, he doesn’t find you boring.”

Her skill is magnificent. If my face wasn’t already set in a grim line it takes far too much energy to craft, I’d be smirking at her. “He may do as he pleases.”

“But he’s stupid if that’s what he does.”

“Stop putting words in my mouth.”

“Stop making it so easy. You’re ordinary, completely mundane. So what, you eat people? Whatever! There are plenty of people who eat pistachios and no one thinks they’re odd.”

I cross my arms and roll my eyes.

“The monster thing is about as interesting as having one leg longer than the other.”

“Yes!” She is mocking me for a purpose, but what I cannot tell, unless this is to goad me into yet another spontaneous utterance. “I don’t change! I just sit here like a sloth. A large, blood sucking, man eating sloth who happens to have better hygiene. Did you know they cultivate a moss in their fur? Someone told me it was a fungus, but I looked it up again, and it is a moss. And now there is an entire population of them dunking themselves in latrines! No one knows why…Apologies.”

She is pinching her lips again in that unflattering smile, and her huge eyes are glittering from between drawn lids. “Simon.”

“Victoria.”

“I know you appreciate a good humbling.”

“Like I do a good flossing.”

“Well, I’m not going to give you one.”

“That isn’t fair.”

“Why do you maintain this belief you are unchanging?”

Incredulity, on my face has a rather stupefying look to it. As if all of a sudden someone has crushed my skull with an anvil. Most people actually find it rather unsettling, because as I have made abundantly clear, I am not human, and my features revert when I am not paying attention to them. The mouth falls open, the soft tissue around the eyes…the feelers reach out for…Let’s stop before I go off again on a tangent. 

So it is that often when mankind is at it’s most remarkably idiotic, with heights of nonsense that shame Nature, I am made far more obvious. Ironic isn’t it? That as a monster, I am more obvious when I am perplexed at how fucking stupid you are as a species…is mockery. It has to be a defense mechanism. Natural Selection made sure that when you were at your least intelligent, you absolutely could not fail to notice us. Probably why the old myths are so preposterous.

I trust you’ve seen Monty Python and the Holy Grail? Let me put you in mind of that “She’s a witch” skit in the middle of it. If that happened, the witch would be instantly forgotten, because there I would be, at the time quite ignorant of physics or facetiousness, shaking my head in slack jawed offense to common sense.

And the witch would be safe to hex another day.

I know this because I lived through the time that was referencing, and frankly, if I’d been less worried about dying myself, I would probably have had many a conversation that began with, “Can we dispense with this ‘if she drowns, she goes to God in innocence rubbish, since killing an innocent creature would make you all murderers in the eyes of God?’.

Ah…yes. I’ve done it again. 

Anyway…I look at her with this face. She ignores it. The silence fattens itself on our unspoken thoughts and makes jolly love to our mutual understandings until the air is peopled with little dancing retorts.

“Could it be because you look at yourself every day?”

“If I didn’t someone would notice.”

She says my name in a warning. “Tell me about coal. How amazing is coal?”

I blink at her, but then I’m off, thinking about coal fires and how much easier they were to maintain. Wood cost a bloody fortune by the time the area around London had lost all its ancient forest. Coal fires would blacken the insides of the train tunnels, so that an engineer would end up covered in dust, till only his eyes peeped out. I remember how tedious it was to get off the wallpaper. Two or three deaths per annum. Ah, and then gas! What a lovely discovery that was. Lanterns were such wonderful things. Far superior to candles. My god, the wax! Everywhere! And not the lovely beeswax you envision, or the perfect white tapers of today. The whole town smelled like a livestock farm had been pushed into a live volcano, and the stuff caused all manner of fires to burn beyond control. But then the lightbulb, preceded by my nemesis, electricity. But even that had it’s finer moments.

I remember the exact day and time that my home began electrification. It wasn’t a glorious light up as you perhaps imagine, gentle reader. 1886. Alternating current wasn’t dominant. Tiny fits and starts of power serviced by neighborhood companies, but my was it amazing! As each patch came to life, I could hear it. It sizzled in my mind. Suddenly, I could see with my eyes shut, hear the world in a current that hummed in strange thrumming pulses…

“How long did it take, to go from wood to electricity?” she asks casually.

Sometimes it amazes me how astute she is. Then I remember that I have aided her task marvelously by writing this bloody journal and feel I am remiss to afford her an accolade. Less genius, more observation. But then again, to collate all that into an accurate picture of me is invaluable. I require her assistance to see myself from the outside.

“Two hundred years or thereabouts.”

“All that change…in only two hundred years.”

At a loss for words, I am transfixed by the corner of her mouth. She is smiling at my expense. Let her. She has earned it.

“Perhaps you only think you’re boring because you see yourself in the mirror every day. To you the changes are long, drawn out, incremental, thousand fold if there’s one. But to everyone looking at you, you are an amazement of sheer willingness to change.”

Is that the secret? Is it deception, or do humans actually find me interesting? Many of the gentle readers who contact me say they like my stories — some of them that this is the chief reason they speak to me. They appreciate hearing the history. They like the “realness” I bring. Perhaps they also enjoy that the creature talking about the time he saw a man flung through the air into the side of a fortress, is doing so from a smart phone that is so stupid it thinks that I can’t spell “Caliphate.”

No, Siri…go hang yourself, I am not going to talk about you.

“You don’t hold back,” she continues, sensing I am about to drift and summoning me with ease. “Humans don’t like to change. We don’t like to feel insecure. We can’t thrive when truly alone as you have, being so different from us and your own species. You do all these things without even thinking about it…and to you, it’s boring, because to you it’s just how things are done. Moment by moment, year by year, decade by decade. You just learn. And not only that, you turn around and tell others about it. Suddenly there is a real person talking. You don’t find that amazing, because you are that person, and this life, as long as it is, is perfectly ordinary to you.”

I am tracing the long line of my existence with a mental straight edge — point a, to b, to z to the nth power. But it isn’t a line. That is a myth I craft for myself by standing so far away I cannot see all the wriggles to it, the bloodshed at each pitch and rise. I lie to myself. I go day by day. I struggle with forever, on a daily basis, but should it ever be looked at daily, if it takes so long to come about?

Increments mean nothing to Time. It is as indifferent to them as I am to blood spatter. All those tiny droplets painting a final moment, tracking a person’s life back to the time of their parents’ parents, their mother’s womanly ancestor, backward, as far as you care to go, forward to that end, as large as you care to look, and as tiny as a pinprick.

None of that means anything.

Time is a billion endings, unfolding endlessly.

Why do I measure myself in days when I am moving on a far different scale? Why am I chaining myself to you and your records?

He smiles at me because I am new though I am old, and that is something he cannot imagine. And here I am, hating that he smiles at me, because I am old and tired and fighting a stupid touch screen.

It’s preposterous.

“Humans refine what they have. They seldom turn their life upside down because they get bored. They seldom decide to change anything. I know. Ten times a day I coach people into embracing change, not fearing change, welcoming change, seeing change for what it actually is. Humans are not built to progress. They’re built to survive.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing,” I murmur.

“Surviving? Adapting, you mean?”

“Yes. I was surviving by blending in.”

Sometimes when she looks at me, I have the strangest impression that to her, I am childlike in many ways. I don’t mind it, because she never condescends. I approve of it the way I approve of the Spawn when they share their profound wisdom with me.

“You weren’t adapting. You were being exceptional. It’s the humans who were being disappointing.”

“I’m not exceptional.”

“No. You’re quite possibly the most boring patient I have ever had. Except that you’re so fucking good at it, it boggles me.”

It shakes me as it escapes, this low laugh that often bothers average men. It does nothing to her.

“Look at the baby boomers. how many of them can use a computer, let alone a smart phone? Not many. They’re not boring. They’re intractably rigid. That’s not the same thing. No matter the century, you somehow manage to be flexible enough to stay boring.”

“Quite the achievement.”

“Almost lovable.” She licks her lips, and that is the end of our time. “You know…if a person is into that sort of thing.”

I bow my head and let out a long sound of appeasement. Chef calls it the “purr”, but truthfully it is more like a growl of mingled understanding and acceptance of things I cannot ever undo. It is a begrudging compliment to her talents. “Next session, Young Lady, I’d like to tangle with the unrelenting burden mankind has placed on my shoulders to always be fascinatingly banal—”

“Get out of my office.”

“I haven’t damaged anything yet.”

“I’ll get over it.”

 

Shall We Celebrate? The Tapas Art Competition

art-contest

October is by far and away, my favorite month, because I am a monster. Though I spend most days carefully painted and dressed to blend in, during this season, I am free to be myself. October is the month I celebrate my monster-hood, and so…I would like to propose a competition!

To all you gifted artists, you avid amateurs, you comic contributors, I offer you a challenge: look through the scattered pages of The Creature’s Cookbook or Simon’s Snacks (available only on the Tapas app), and summon up your muses! It will be your task to illustrate my life. You may make use of any medium you wish, and submit as often as you like. Your art will be judged by your peers through “likes”, by the staff at Tapas, and most importantly, by me. The winners – for I dearly hope there will be many – will have their art included in the book or short story from which they drew their inspiration. Your art will be available for all to see, an integral part of my work forevermore. You will be, my gentle readers, published artists.

Think of it as a pairing, of sorts.

This contest can be free to enter. What I mean by “can be” is that many of the chapters are open, but these will, of course, have the most entries. You may open more chapters or stories for the cost of pennies per piece (the total cost of the books do not exceed the amount of purchasing the book at a bookstore). You may also submit a portrait, and I will choose the one I like best to use as a bio-pic for my Tapas author’s profile.

Please submit your illustrations by uploading to the Tapas forum post pertaining to this competition. Vote on the submissions of other artists, and please, as always, be polite!

1. The Work Must Be Original:
You must be the creator of the art that you submit to the competition. Your art must be your own original concept and not a copy of anyone else’s copyrighted material. (If your image infringes upon another’s copyright it will be disqualified.) Upon submitting your work, to this competition, you are solely responsible for any infringement on copyrighted materials.

2. Copyright:
The artist retains all copyrights to their artwork without exception.

3. Multiple Submission:
There are no restrictions to the number of contests in which the artist participates, nor the number of pieces they may submit, nor the number of prizes they can win.

4. Submission Deadlines:
Artworks may be submitted until midnight Pacific Time on 10/31/2016. No artworks will be accepted past the posted deadline.

Note: It is best if the images submitted are no smaller than 800px X 800px

I cannot wait to see what you produce, my lovely friends!

Lemon Meringue Pie, a recipe

This pie recipe has gone through several iterations, refining it for maximal citrus flavor. It is not to be taken lightly, as it employs many more difficult aspects of cooking science. I highly recommend attempting it, only if you are well-versed in baking, or pies in general. And by this, I do not mean eating pies. You may eat as many chocolate cream tarts as you like, it does not make you proficient at baking.

Tools:

  • pie pan
  • saucepan
  • several glass bowls of varying sizes
  • standing or hand held mixer/ whisk and considerable endurance
  • microplane or cheese grater
  • plastic wrap
  • fork or pastry cutter
  • metal wisk
  • silicone spatula (for scraping)

Ingredients:

For the crust:

  • 1 1/3 c flour
  • 1/4 c. butter flavored vegetable shortening (You may use lard if you can find it, but for most, it can be quite difficult. However, this is the ideal element.)
  • 1/4 c. unsalted butter
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3 Tbsp of ice cold water

For the filling:

  • 4 very large eggs (six small)
  • 1 c corn starch
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 1/3 c. sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp butter
  • 1 c. lemon juice (I highly recommend Mayer lemons)
  • 1 Tbsp zest (You may use the zest from the lemons, or add in some more interesting zest from another citrus relative, if you wish. Buddha’s Hand has a lovely floral note.)
  • cream of tartar and extra sugar (for the egg whites)

Instructions

  1. I know this seems strange, but separate your eggs, placing the whites into a large bowl in the refrigerator.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425°
  3. Mix flour and salt for the crust in a bowl, forming a small well in the center.
  4. Cut the shortening and butter into small cubes, keeping them as cold as possible.
  5. Place these into the well, and then incorporate flour with fork or pastry cutter until mixture resembles the texture of peas. Do not use your hands as the heat from them will melt the shortening, causing the pastry to be “heavy”, not light and flaky.
  6. Once mixture is the right texture, add the ice water and combine with a fork. It may appear as if it needs more water, it does not. Quickly gather the dough into a ball and flatten into a 4-inch-wide disk. Wrap this in plastic, and refrigerate at least 30 minutes.
  7. Remove dough disk from refrigerator. If stiff and very cold, let stand until dough is cool but malleable.
  8. Using a floured rolling pin, roll the disk on a lightly floured surface from the center out in each direction, forming a 12-inch circle. Please recall that if it falls to pieces, this means that the pastry will be flaky. If you wish it to hold together more, simply work it more, however, this increases its chewiness.
  9. To transfer the dough, carefully roll it around the rolling pin, lift and unroll dough, centering it in an ungreased pie plate. (Or you can fold dough in quarters, then place dough point in center of the pie pan and unfold, whatever is easiest for you.)
  10. Prick the dough all around with a fork. Bake for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until light golden brown. Cool before filling.
  11. Gather your filling ingredients and begin by whisking the yolks in a small bowl. Set these aside.
  12. In the saucepan, combine your water, sugar, corn starch, and salt. Heat this on medium until comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute or until it thickens into a translucent sludge.
  13. Ladle by ladle, add ½ of filling mixture to the bowl of egg yolks, whisking it furiously as you do so.
  14. Once incorporated, add this egg mixture back into the pot of remaining filling mixture. This is called tempering, and prevents the eggs from cooking, and turning into egg chunks
  15. Heat this on low heat for another minute more, then stir in the butter, lemon juice, and zest, incorporating fully. If this mixture is too runny (not the texture of a thick pudding) then you may need to play with chemistry a bit more. I advise taking a tablespoon or two of corn starch and making a rue in a cup, with as little water as possible. Add this to the pie filling mixture, stirring constantly, and heat until it begins to thicken. Immediately remove from heat and stir until it is cool.
  16. Add this to your cooled pie shell and set aside
  17. In your icy bowl, or in the bowl of your standing mixer, beat the egg whites, adding pinches of sugar and cream of tartar as you go, until they form stiff peaks. What does this mean? Try turning the bowl upside down. If it falls out, it is not a stiff peak. However, you cannot magically make this happen. If you have been at this for several minutes, and the peaks simply refuse to rise, add a bit more sugar, and if this doesn’t work, resign yourself to a flat but tasty meringue.
  18. Shovel this atop your pie, being careful not to smash it down. Picture a fluffy cloud. Use the back side of the spoon to create the little points by allowing the meringue to stick and pulling upward.
  19. Place this in the oven at 375 for about 12 minutes, or until the meringue has become a toasty brown at all its highest points.
  20. Cool before serving

This pie is tart, and very lemony. I suggest plating with a sprig of mint, and pairing it with gin. It is excellent as a breakfast dish, minus the gin, of course.

tumblr_ocjunwdqoE1vtggjfo1_1280

In this image, you can see that I have made the pies smaller. It is identically the same recipe, doubled, and rather than bake the pie shells in a pie pan, I have merely made them in a greased cupcake tin, paying careful attention to their condition, as they baked.

Potato, Leek, and “Ham” Soup

This is a favorite for dark and stormy nights, but I find that it can also be served cold or lukewarm, especially if run through a blender. As is always true of my recipes, the protein must be substituted. I have used thinly sliced muscle deep to the spine that I braised in wine, but I will give instructions for pork. This makes a large pot, so do expect to feed a group.


Tools:

  • Large soup pot
  • Frying pan
  • Good chef’s knife

Ingredients:

  • 3 good sized leeks
  • 4 good sized potatoes, that will fit in an open hand with spread fingers
  • green onions
  • garlic
  • fresh parsley
  • chives
  • 2 medium yellow onions
  • butter
  • milk
  • heavy cream
  • white wine (You may drink some as you cook, as you will only need about 2 cups worth)
  • Vegetable stock (You may use a stock concentrate, cubed or jellied, or you may use a liquid stock. The only important thing is to gain about 8 cups of yield, or about 2000 ml)
  • bacon
  • 1 pork loin steak (A pork chop will also do, but trim off all the fat and gristle)
  • green beans and peas (Optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper
  • Crème fraîche (or sour cream)

Instructions:

  1. Chop the leeks by simply slicing across them and separating the rings. Chop the yellow and green onion. Mince the garlic.
  2. Cube the potatoes (and prepare your beans and peas) but set them aside
  3. Put a few tablespoons of butter in the bottom of your soup pot. When melted add in the three types of onion and the garlic. Sweat these in the pot for several minutes. You can estimate the doneness by the yellow onion and how translucent it becomes.
  4. Pour in the stock and wine and let come to the boil
  5. Add in the potatoes (beans and peas)
  6. While the soup simmers happily, put a little butter in your pan and fry your bacon, then remove to let cool. Add the pork steak to the pan and cook until medium rare (don’t worry, it will continue to cook in the soup). Set this aside to rest.
  7. While the meat is resting, deglaze the pan with a little bit of wine, working it around the pan to free up all the tasty pork bits. Let it boil off all the alcohol (You can check this by sniffing the fumes). Then pour this into the soup. (This will also aid you in cleaning your pan, and should really be done any time you cook meat. It not only loosens all fat deposits, it also gives you a delicious base for gravy.)
  8. After the pork has rested, slice it thinly and then chop. Chop the bacon too. Add the meat and all its juices to the soup pot.
  9. When the potatoes have finished cooking, add in a couple cups of milk and some cream (To taste). Keep the heat low, or the proteins will muck up and give you a skin on top. A little salt and pepper should do. It should now begin to taste like soup, but do continue to cook for as long as you like, stirring regularly. The longer it cooks, the more it will reduce, and the softer the veggies will get.
  10. While it is cooking, mince up your parsley and chives.

To serve, put in a bowl, spoon in some crème fraîche , and garnish with chives and parsley. (My chives suffered in the sun this year, and I ran out, and so you will see from my photo, that I have instead substituted green onion). Add a freshly baked loaf of bread and a tangy white wine, and you cannot go wrong.

 

Reflections

Here it is, or rather, here I am, in all my “glory”. In the late seventies I took one single polaroid photo, and kept it in my box. To avoid the meta data and photo recognition software (as well as other problems associated with displaying my image on the internet), I sent the photograph to an artist somewhere in Europe. He took some liberties, in an effort to make it more “artistic”, but I think the finished product is rather good. I do worry that it has not captured the eyes quite right, but then again, artists seldom do manage the distant stare of a malign intellect.

And before you scoff at me, I am malignant. If you knew how many times a day I peel the skin off of passers-by with my thoughts, you would never wish to come face-to-face with me, I assure you. Unless, of course, you fancy looking like an anatomical model of yourself.

Simonportrait.jpg

If you find me unsettling…good. It is as it should be. If not…see how easily you are fooled? The image will remain up for some time. I may at some point lock it. If I do, I will put the password somewhere or other, and you may hunt around for it. I apologize, but this may become necessary.

Combustion

“I hate it.”

I stare at him. How can he hate it? It is my face. I can understand not liking my face, certainly, but he has never said that he does not like my face, in fact quite the opposite.

“Don’t put it up.”

“Why?”

“I don’t want you to.”

“Again, I say why?”

He stomps away and before I can turn from this latest recording of my reflection, he is up the stairs and on the roof, forming an alliance.

“Did he show you that shit?”

Rebecca is caught mid-mouthful and mumbles incoherently. I join them, still caught in a tangle of confuse emotions. I have never found myself completely human, that is true, but my face is as balanced as any other: two eyes, nose, mouth – all slightly odd, but all in place. It meant a great deal to me to take that photo out into the light of day, to digitize and disseminate it to an artist so far away there would never be a risk of discovery. But here he is, hands on hips, glaring down at Rebecca as if he is my father, she my mother, and I have been caught smoking cannabis behind the Seven Eleven.

She dabs the corners of her mouth. “Um…You mean the picture?”

“Yeah, duh! I mean the fucking picture.”

Her gaze swivels to mine as if to imply one of her usually onomatopoetic rejoinders, like “Whhhhaaaaaaa?”

“It’s his book, his face, his life.”

The muscles in his neck tug as he scowls. “You’re okay with this?”

Jimmy, silent at the barbecue, flipping his hamburgers with purposefully stooped shoulders, finally glances backward. “Yo! Wanna relax?”

“No! No I do not want to relax!” He looks around him at every face, young or old, until finally, he realizes that no one feels nearly so strong as he does. In that instant, his ire is redirected to me. “What the fuck are you thinking?”

“Language!” Porter grumbles. The children look up from their table in the open greenhouse. Katherine’s face peeps above the window sill. He turns abruptly and latches onto me with an iron grip. I am dragged bodily from the roof, and down the stairs, following behind him in a shocked silence.

You know me, friends — if I may be permitted to call you that — and you know how much I dislike being given ultimatums. Quite possibly, you also understand that while I am willing to make enormous allowances for the sake of those in my care, I respond to anger in kind.

However, Chef is different. When he is upset with me, something happens to my organs, that results in a complete and utter shutdown of my nerves, tongue, or capacity for greater reason. I wither, in an entirely embarrassing fashion.

I apologize. This is again one of those times when I am acutely aware of the divide I traverse by discussing events out of chronological order. You see, since the publication process began, I have had to develop a system with my editor. I send all my diary entries to her on an almost daily basis. She reads them and tells me whether or not they are “plot”. I have no idea what “plot” she is referencing. Usually I do not have the slightest concept of what any one volume of my life will be “about”, until she has curated the entries. She scrubs detail, alters names, transforms the events so that they do not match any newspaper articles or news programs, and then arranges the entire thing so that it at least has some adherence to the standard publishing models of the industry. For this, I pay her a substantial salary and my literary agent sings her praises, but there are unfortunate side effects, such that when I receive Kristina’s emails (some half dozen a day), I am often told what I can and cannot discuss with my readers directly, as those details may arise in further sequels.

Why am I telling you this? So that you understand that the relationship I now have with Chef is a very different one than is detailed in my first novel, and do not think that in some way, I have misled you about my character. Believe me, I do not enjoy having multiple personality disorder, or frankly disorder of any kind, but this is the only way I am allowed to keep my dear website intact, concurrent with the published works.

When Chef pulls me to the car and steals the keys, I am surprised by the violence of his feelings. While he drives, I sit quietly, staring at myself in the wing mirror, wondering what I have done to earn his distemper. He does not ferry us very far; we end up at the river docks, parked facing the bridges.

“You can’t put it up.”

“Why?”

He closes his eyes and covers his face with his hands. “You know what they told you. They said no pictures. No evidence of any kind.”

They are not in control of my life. Nor does one commissioned portrait constitute a declaration of war. It is a drawn image, based upon a photograph. It is not documentation.”

“Simon, please…”

I cross my arms stubbornly. He makes a series of sounds and throws himself out of the car, pacing up and down its flank like a puma. I slowly unfold and emerge, barricading myself behind my door, arms draped over the roof.

“Explain to me what is really at issue here! You have never once seemed to care about them. Why all of a sudden?”

The metallic gaze slices up the bridge of my nose, and runs me through. “Really? With all the times I’ve had to stuff food down your throat and stitch you up with cooking twine to make sure the skin closes properly? Really?”

“You exaggerate.”

“I am not exaggerating and you damn well know it!”

“Chef—”

“I won’t allow it! I’m telling you not to.”

The air thickens around us as the full weight of what he has said settles. Never in all our acquaintance, not even since discovering all the many facets and implications of our partnership, has he ever seen fit to leverage my actions with that old magic. It is a betrayal, of all that we are, and as I look him in the face I see that he knows it. He knows I will not forgive him, and is willing to pay that price, if only to rescue me from a fate he believes I am ignoring.

“Is this a command?” My voice is a hiss, and comes out more sharply than I intend, but I cannot hide the disgust that I feel at the very notion of being anyone’s slave.

“Please, Simon. Do not post that picture.”

“And if I do?”

“I can’t watch you get hurt again.”

“Nothing will happen to me.”

“How can you possibly know that?”

I close my eyes, and think that if something did happen, it would merely be one in a long line of new things, new adventures that have made the last five years bearable.

“I just do. Far be it from me to once again cite my age and experience—”

He snorts. “Yeah, but here we go.”

“I am older and more knowledgeable than you. They will not bother me, and if they do, I will handle it. Stop manufacturing ancient clandestine cults out of a few stragglers who communicate by smoke signals.”

“Now you’re exaggerating.”

I slip around the car. Somewhere nearby a fishing boat trades its grateful use of the first month since the fisheries reopened, for the more lucrative task of tugging civilians out onto the water for the festivities. As I wrap my arms around his neck, the brine and anxiety mingle. He tastes of Hemingway burgers. Gunpowder wafts on the breeze as the fireworks displays are arranged.

“Nothing will happen to me,” I soothe. “Please stop worrying.”

“I can’t.”

“I know.”

He tugs on my hair and smashes his face to mine. “You can put it up, but please take it down if they ask you to.”

“I will,” I say, but in all honestly, I am disgusted at the thought of being at anyone’s behest. They know this. They know I will not bow out so easily, and they are right to fear my reply should they argue.

“Let’s stay here. This is a good place.”

The lot has begun to fill with other onlookers carrying lawn chairs and children. The sun has dipped below the water and the sky has darkened. Soon there will be sounds that put the canon fire of my youth to shame.

Strange that humans should celebrate their unions by blowing something to pieces.

Imagery

“Writing is collaborative. You’re not just perfectly rendering a world. You’re making a pact with the reader, and it’s a new agreement, every time the book is read, even with the same person. Also…If you’re still worried about your personal safety, IMHO it’s better that you don’t do it, since the readers’ image of you is always fuzzy and changes all the time.”

I stare at the words for a long while. I wonder if I can agree.

I often wonder this. Every time I confront an opinion on the internet with which I strenuously disagree — modern political discourse comes to mind — I stare at it and project forward several decades. I contemplate the world, still carrying on, after the offending individual is little more than a pile of dust. And I like Kali-ma am treading the bones on the battlefield and smiling that somewhere among all the putrid rubble of humanity, my editor is being crushed underfoot.

Chef glances at my stern face and lowers his ordering paperwork. “What’s she nit-picking now?”

“My face.”

“How can she do that from two states away? She’s never even seen you! You haven’t started putting up photos have you?”

I would never do something so rash. He knows my fears about facial recognition software, databases, and meta-data. He knows I value his privacy as much as my own, and while he will sometimes steal my phone and annoy the readers who converse with me, he prefers to keep his distance. This is my experiment or personal search, and while he respects it, he is only a tertiary part of it.

“I have considered commissioning a portrait.”

“Why the hell would you do that?”

I stare at him narrowly as I swivel my chair. “People continue to ask for pictures of me.”

“Fuck them.”

While succinct, his criticisms are not quite perspicacious. “Kristina’s argument is a trifle less derisive of my fans. But I disagree with it similarly.”

His mouth falls open and he regards me blankly. “You’re still pissed about all those big words she made you change, aren’t you? Whiny Emo kid.”

Stretching as I rise, I surreptitiously roll my eyes upward. “You only say that because you have no idea what those big words mean.”

“Like trying to suck face with a god damn thesaurus,” he mumbles. “Mouth full of paper cuts.”

“Self-inflicted, you overgrown infant.”

I wander into the bathroom and stare into the mirror. I glance over my features, those odd things I cannot seem to capture when I attempt a self-portrait. I stare into my dark eyes and let the white light sculpt my cheeks and chin.

“Would it augment their experience, or detract from it, I wonder?”

He appears behind me, arms crossed. I know the look on his face; he worries any time I change the rules. He treats it as if he will be one of the things excised by the press of time as I squeak through.

“You don’t owe them anything. They paid for the book, that’s all. Next thing I know, you’re going to be making an appointment on some national television show to have your guts exposed.”

He is adorable in his distress, his eyes shimmering and his face like alabaster, but he needn’t be so concerned. I have no intention of being the first to step forward. It would be betrayal to my cousins, who choose to live in anonymity. It would make their masquerade impossible, our disagreements notwithstanding.

“Even if I did, it would be considered a massive hoax, or did you not hear of the Alien Autopsy debauchal?”

“Yeah, but with inconclusive non-human DNA and an X-ray of your weird ass organs?”

“David Blaine can fly, and before him, Dan Brown could read minds, and oh, yes, there was Houdini and his water tank. I doubt anyone would even take my call.”

I open the plastic case for my eyebrows and lashes. They are handcrafted of mink and cost as much as a new laptop. Their application would be daunting if I had not done it a thousand times. The glue becomes tacky as he stares at me with those uncannily penetrative eyes.

“Where are you going?”

“For a drive.” But that is a half-truth. He follows me down to the car. As I extricate myself from the eager mutt, and slip into my seat, he scrutinizes me. After I have driven away, I receive a text. In my car’s female voice, it sounds strange.

“I love it when you lie to me.”

I shake my head. I know what the next message will be. Chef enjoys being lascivious whenever the opportunity presents itself. You might be tempted to think this is because he cannot accept me and is overtly compensating for my dearth of emotion, but I know that this is not true. I think perhaps, foremost on this earth, he is a person who truly understands me.

“When you come back I’ll be waiting for my apology.”

I park in front of the bank and fish the tiny key from among its many fellows. The manager jumps as I knock on his door jamb. Whether or not he realizes it, I have been a customer of this bank since its founding. I have funneled my assets from place to place for centuries, turning them over like one tills a field, rotating stock and bonds, planting wealth in fertile soil. I am here often, and the entire staff knows me by name.

“Mr. Alkenmayer! Do we have an appointment?”

“No, forgive me. Today I’d like to visit.”

He sees the key in my hand and raises his own in salute.

I almost never come to my safety deposit box. Most of my belongings are more secure in a safe in my own home. Only a few get shoved away, put in the hands of mortals. Only a few things would ever mean anything if they were found to be in my possession, but if hunters ever do come to my door, they will miss me. I will be here, collecting these few things, readying myself to move along.

I follow behind him, my mind tracking his peculiar lumbering gait. I knew his grandfather. The man was stocky, built like a lion, but with the most graceful sea legs. He could run across a heaving deck in the slick of a storm and pull a full net better than a pack mule. That his lineage have become skip-stepping bankers is an interesting development.

“Your diet is doing you good.”

“Thirty pounds!” He looks back at me. “I’ve started jogging!”

He removes my box from its sconce and gives it to me with a curious and eager smile.

“Please tell me you’re about to pull out another ancient promissory and make my week.”

He can count the number of times this has happened upon one hand, and finds my constant, dragon-like obsession with my wealth to be amusing. That is because he has no idea I have witnessed the rise of banks and still find them terribly bizarre and untrustworthy. I haunt them lest the numbers dwindle, a kind of fiduciary phantasm.

“I’m afraid not.”

With a shrug, he vanishes, but I know he will be hovering right outside.

I open the lid. The book is on top, tightly wrapped in gauze. The leather binding is nearly a century old, and the paper is yellowed with age. I crack the spine and leaf through the pages, falling through time.

My fascination with technology is as old as the subject. From the tinder box to the electric coil, from the fire iron to the washing machine, from the telegraph to the internet — I have tinkered with them all. Photography has not escaped my notice.

I stare down at the turn of the century hat, the unused side arm, the beaded ballgown I wore to a local charity event in the mid thirties. Me after me, in many forms, all assiduously collected and curated, for no one other than myself.

In the Old Age, certainty was easy. I could control exactly how and when I was seen. Now it is almost impossible, and I have given up the fight, or rather, taken it to a different front. Now I cheat time with makeup and prosthetics, human assumptions and easy gender transformations, such that even should I walk right into the manager’s grandfather, the salty dog would never know me.

The photograph I seek is on the last page. I remove it carefully and tuck it away.