Read Grist Mill Road Online

Authors: Christopher J. Yates

Grist Mill Road (3 page)

 

NEW YORK, 2008

Hannah kisses him goodbye but then, halfway out of the apartment, she turns as if she has forgotten something. Oh, one more thing, Patrick, she says. Are you buying any food today?

He is.

Then don't forget the cabbage, Patch, she says, blowing him a second kiss as she closes the door.

How is it that Hannah manages to come up with something new every time, playing with words as if they were plastic bricks?

Be sure to remember the sugar, sweetie.

Can you get us some veal, baby?

Buy whatever's most expensive, dearest.

Don't forget the rice, Paddy.

He goes to the kitchen, makes coffee and thinks about the long hours until she comes home. But at least there is one pleasant task today, their anniversary meal. He is making steak, a huge bone-in rib eye for two with saut
é
ed potatoes. And that's it. He won't have a plate of steak adulterated by green vegetables. No salad, no spinach, no broccoli.

Steak and broccoli? Had Hannah actually once said that or was it just a bad dream?

But she will want
something
green tonight. Green means health. Hannah wants them both to live forever, or at least until flaky parts of them start to drop off.

Can't say I find the idea wildly appealing,
he thinks, lifting up the slab of beef and sniffing, the meat well aged and just high enough. He sniffs again. Green pasture with a hint of sweetness like fresh-baked meringue.

No salad, no spinach, no broccoli. Instead he will make a green appetizer, an emerald riot of health. He starts writing a list. Zucchini and sugar snaps. Asparagus, Granny Smiths, pea shoots. He'll whisk up a lemony salad dressing. Maybe he should also buy chervil, every mouthful of salad alive with green sap.

It is a fine-looking piece of beef, aged enough to have taken on the deep red of old leather tomes, thickly edged with rich white fat.

He can picture the look she would be giving him, sitting at the kitchen table, assessing the piece of beef with a wary eye.
You can always cut the fat off, Hannah,
he imagines saying to her, his tone playful, half-challenging.

Fat is where the flavor is,
she replies, mimicking one of his favorite sayings. And then somewhere in the back of his head, he pictures her sighing an affectionate sigh.

Patrick salts the steak and slides it into a large vacuum pouch, fetches his jar of bacon grease and smears some over the meat. He clamps the pouch in the vacuum sealer and starts the machine, which begins sucking all the air from the bag, its plastic shrinking until it wrinkles up tight to the flesh, the machine whining as it applies heat, sealing the pouches airtight.

He puts the beef back in the fridge, enough prep for now. Later he will drop the pouch in a water bath, 134 degrees Fahrenheit. There are machines for this as well,
sous vide
machines, but a year ago he decided he wanted to build his own. He had even wanted to make his own immersion circulator. The electronics looked simple enough but the soldering was an issue.

If they lived in the country he would have a workshop. But Hannah will never move to the country, so instead he bought him
self a temperature controller and hooked the thing up to his rice cooker.

He pictures her at the kitchen table feigning a swoon.
Immersion circulator?
she says.
Temperature controller? God, you make tonight's anniversary dinner sound so darned sexy, Patch.

This is Hannah's favorite way to speak to him about his more esoteric cooking techniques. Mostly sarcastic. Not wholly without love.

It's called cooking
sous vide
. That's French, Hannah. What's sexier than French?

You're right, Paris was so romantic. Le Jardin des Tuileries, Paul Gauguin, le Musée d'Orsay
 
… Wait,
sous vide,
Patch? Isn't that the thing you explained to your brother by referencing Death Valley?

OK, it was true, Patrick had explained it that way to Sean and his wife, Beth, thinking that something more muscular than
gentle water bath
might have appealed to his older brother.

Look, Sean, this is how it works. The highest temperature ever recorded on earth was at Death Valley, Nevada, in 1913. One hundred and thirty-four degrees Fahrenheit. And one hundred and thirty-four just happens to be the perfect temperature for medium-rare steak, exactly how you like it, right? That means you could fill up a bucket with water on the hottest day in Death Valley, wait for it to reach the ambient temperature, drop in a steak sealed in plastic and you know the water temperature's never going to rise above one-thirty-four. You literally can't overcook the thing. You leave it for an hour or two, take it out, brown it quickly in a hot pan. And there you are, perfect steak, one-thirty-four.

You mean, tournedos
à
la Death Valley?
Mmm,
sign me up, Patchman. Can I get a side of pommes de Sahara with that?

Potatoes have a completely different molecular structure, Sean. You'd need something like one-eighty-three. You could use a hot spring, perhaps.

Something like
one-eighty-three? Total nerd! OK then, how about a little creamed spinach Kalahari, bro?

A week later Patrick had invited Sean and Beth to their house for dinner, even printed up a fake menu. He made them
Tournedos
à
la Death Valley but he crisped the potatoes at four-sixty and called them Pommes de Venus. Sean licked his plate clean and admitted the meat was maybe the best he'd ever eaten.

Remembering all of this gives him an idea. Patrick finds his computer, brings it to the kitchen table and pours another coffee.

Meat loaf sous vide,
Patrick types into the document labeled
Blog Recipe Ideas
and then drags his hands down his face. You're thirty-eight years old, he says. Thirty-eight and you write a blog. Isn't it time to grow up?

It's temporary, Patch. Until you find another job.

He clicks through to the webpage. Red Moose Barn. His blog has a concept.

Yeah, let's hear it for the big ideas, Paddyboy.

The posts he writes for Red Moose Barn work through the development of one dish at a time, the gradual invention of a restaurant menu, plate by plate. The blog is his test kitchen, his yays and his nays, a test kitchen for a nonexistent restaurant, the kind of place Patrick dreams of opening one day. Red Moose Barn, not a restaurant in the city but somewhere upstate among the apple orchards. Only he isn't trained, he knows cooking but he doesn't know restaurants, the business. So he writes fantasy menus on his fantasy blog. Creates fantasy dishes and cooks them for Hannah. Shoots them, eats them, posts them.

On his blog.

Blog
. God, the word sounds so ugly, a word that should be a slang term for one of the less glamorous bodily functions.

He glances over to see the time on the stove, his appointment with Dr. Rosenstock not until three this afternoon, five hours away. He has been seeing Dr. Rosenstock since the incident several weeks ago, although he's still not sure he sees the point.

You forgot how to breathe, Patch. Don't you think it's been good for you, finding someone to talk to?

Four weeks earlier, he and Hannah had been in the backseat of a taxi, on their way to meet friends for brunch, the driver with the radio on, a report about how America was in danger of suffering the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Pat
rick had sent his r
é
sum
é
to only three places right after losing his job, thinking perhaps he could be picky in his search for new work. Not one of those places had called him in for an interview. Not even a preliminary round.

 
… the Dow Jones has tumbled over a thousand points in less than two months, with experts warning this is just the beginning
 
…

He remembers trying to swallow in the back of the taxi. Nothing. And then he had tried to breathe in. Nothing. And then nothing had followed nothing, more nothing and more.

Patrick had felt so stupid, struggling for air while Hannah checked messages on her phone, unaware that her husband couldn't remember how to swallow, the world turning too fast beyond the taxicab windows. Breathing, one of the most basic human functions. How could anyone forget how to breathe?

And so a week later he started seeing Dr. Rosenstock, every Thursday afternoon at three. At first they spoke about his job, how he had been fired, and then they spoke about how he felt about losing his job, how he felt now.

A tightness in the chest.

That's where the feeling is, Patrick?

Yes.

Does the feeling have a color?

No.

Does the feeling have a shape?

He would have felt rude saying, Of course it fucking doesn't.

Now Patrick has started to wonder if he is the only person in the world whose feelings come in shapeless monochrome.

After a few weeks, the sessions had moved onto his childhood, which had been easy enough to speak about, right up until the point at which he neared the end of his twelfth year, August 18, six days short of his thirteenth birthday. That's when he had felt his breaths starting to shorten, an inability to swallow, and he couldn't get the words to come out.

Would you like to try writing it down for me, Patrick?

I don't know.

You don't ever have to show it to me. Not unless you want to.

*   *   *

HE OPENS IT ON HIS
computer, the page blank but for a title,
1982
. Every attempt to write about it has ended in deletion. A delete button cleanse, a delete button peel. He stares at the screen for a while trying to recall all of his colorless, shapeless feelings.

Nothing.

And so Patrick decides instead to describe the mountains, the pitch pines and blueberry bushes, the smooth water of the lake.

Sure, Paddyboy, start out with the stuff that really matters.

He looks away from his laptop angrily and now the only thing he can think about is the way Dr. Rosenstock's mostly bald head reflects the light from his reading lamp.

Patrick never knows how much he should say, how much to reveal in that room with its unruly ficus and glimpses of Central Park through the window. What if Dr. Rosenstock has a duty to report him to someone?

Not that Patrick is planning to kill anyone, not exactly. And probably everyone has thought about such things. To some degree, at least. No?

Although often Patrick wonders how much potential he has, because if you think about something often enough, when does going through with it become inevitable?

He looks back at his laptop and types a line.

And again he can picture his wife sitting across from him at the kitchen table, Hannah nodding approvingly. It's like I always say, Patch. Don't bury the lede.

He looks back down at his computer—

I remember the gunshots made a wet sort of sound,
phssh phssh phssh,
and each time he hit her she screamed.

The line shocks him. His wife is right, of course.

*   *   *

GLANCING ACROSS AT THE TIME,
Patrick sees it is nearly twelve o'clock, three hours to kill before his appointment with Dr. Rosenstock, and he tells himself not to but he knows that he
will. He can feel it in his shoulders, something dragging him up. Don Trevino has started to fill the empty hours of his life. Trevino is fast becoming another hobby.

Patrick closes his laptop and goes to find shoes.

Outside, the sidewalk is strewn with salt, little manufactured pellets like crumbs of polystyrene, but the promised snow hasn't yet fallen on the city. Patrick heads uptown and east, his route a boxy zigzag as he tries to avoid the red hands of the crosswalks, only getting caught at the curb a couple of times. He likes it when the lights fall kindly for him—recently things as small as this have become capable of almost making or breaking his days.

The traffic slides around him like blocks of a puzzle, pictures coming together and then dismantling again across the vast grid of midtown Manhattan.

As he walks, he thinks about the perfect abandoned barn he has conjured up in his imagination. He thinks about its restoration, helping out in overalls, tired limbs satisfied at the end of the day. And there it stands, finished, the words
RED MOOSE BARN
printed on a wooden sign that hangs by the road, the red silhouette of a moose beneath the words, the same symbol they will stamp onto menus, cards, brown paper napkins. Everything is finished, the barn freshly painted barn red with white sugar-frosting trims and white roof. Red Moose Barn, sixty, seventy miles north of the city, far enough that country food would feel right, close enough that city people would have weekend homes in the area. Country food made with modern techniques. Comfort made perfect.

Eventually they could turn the land around the barn into a vegetable garden. Golden zucchini blossoms, scarlet tomatoes, sweet green peas …

The voice inside interrupts him.
Enough already! This is nothing but a doll's house, Paddyboy. You're thirty-eight years old. Listen to me—you need a good job, not a goddam blog.

The air is arctic cold and Patrick's ears begin to burn. He puts on his watch cap as he reaches his destination, pulling it down all the way to his eyebrows.

Forty-Seventh Street, opposite the building in which he used to work, the building in which he was fired.

Let go, Patch.

He checks his watch, almost twelve thirty, so maybe he's missed him. Don Trevino fails to keep especially regular hours. Patrick stamps his feet to ward off the chill and holsters his hands deep in his pockets.

After thirty minutes of waiting, Patrick sees him through the glass, stepping out of the elevator, alone and sprightly, gray cashmere coat and Russian-style fur hat. Don Trevino's nose is a veinous red even before it has been slapped by the cold. He pushes through the barrier, nodding jovially to security, and marches out onto the street.

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