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Cooking Lessons
Nancy Scott Campbell

June 2009

Cooking Lesson I

It oozed grease, grease that spilled onto a wood floor and crawled up hungry walls. Yellow grease that had turned brown with dust over the years. Everything within reach was a sticky gooey mess. The hard by air was so thick, I could hardly get near that part of the kitchen. Though I'm genetically at odds with kitchens, this stove in particular gave me the creeps.

Midnight after a bout of sex with The Stud, I would fight my way out of bed and wander downstairs beyond touch of his sweat, his snore. Well, I never got past the bottom step because there from the kitchen I could see a hammering bile glow: the heartbeat of a monster, the high-pitched whine of torment. My marriage, only months old, was up for grabs. The Stud refused to buy a new stove.

Summer light soon withered. The honeymoon of barbeque, cold soup, chilled salads was fast coming to an end. The sweat and snore kept right on, even as snow began to fall. And straight past my whining, food preparation moved indoors. I did learn to light burners without singing body hair. I managed the grease fires.

Instead of a new oven, one day The Stud brought home a pot roast with a cookbook. Well, it was one of those small pamphlets the Cattlemen's Association thinks won't offend vegans, animals or Oprah. Evidently it offended the oven, because it wouldn't light for two solid hours. We ate at eleven.

Over time I learned to stick spoons in banana bread and serve baked potato - al dente. And after our bed bouts, I finally managed to bypass the kitchen to do midnight hikes, snow or no. This hour seemed to calm me from the evening's fiasco at the stove and ready me for the next day's writing. The last hike - full moon down by the creek, through the woods over the ridge and back to the cabin - was met by paramedics who had The Stud on a stretcher. He looked awful, not the man I married for sure. They called it a suicide attempt, but I know it was the oven…passing gas.

Cooking Lesson I

I began the molding project when The Stud bought a new stove like maybe he expected meals.

I heard the forest cry as I sanded, stained, and varnished the molding. The forest moaned when I made miter cuts to match our kitchen of a thousand corners. Now, I realize the woods don't forget. They suffer phantom pain.

I hoped this molding project would delay meals for more than three months. Evasion made me proud, even happy. Between breaks writing, I also mudded the ceiling, painted, lined shelves and shuffled around wedding presents. This was preferable to boiling baking and burning. Another plus, I spent more time writing than ever before. I was fixing to hire a cook and spin off that gruesome job with publication of TheGreatAmericanNovel. The Stud was working fast on the track to power and not a fuss-ass about our cabin, our kitchen, our meals. In fact, he would call when leaving the office. I'd run down to the village and voilá another take-out dinner. Right through winter snow, we ate at a small table overlooking a despondent forest.

One spring day of torrential rains, I swept downstairs to the coffee pot and found the last mounted molding not anywhere near the ceiling but on the plank floor. It was shaped a lot like Rheumatoid Arthritis: gnarled and knotted.

I replaced the piece. Finished just in time for another candle lit meal of take-out. Next morning same thing, only this time two pieces were down. I could nearly see the deformities grow. I felt their pain bodies. That night I met The Stud for dinner in town and again each evening for the next three weeks.

Rain continued. Finally so did my molding project. I switched to that pressed substitute so dense I had to buy a nail gun and generator. The forest perked up. And when I received a book deal, the rains stopped. Molding stuck. I interviewed cooks.

Where was the old twisted molding? And why wasn't it on the to burn pile where I had tossed it? Why did I find it months later, deep in a calm cedar glen unstained, uncut, varnish gone. It had somehow melded and was branching fronds. At its base, a bronze plaque read, the past is improbable, the present infinite. Best cooking lesson yet.

Nancy Scott Campbell, a Physical Therapist, has published technical articles in professional journals. Previously, she taught English as a Second Language. She is a poet and has published in anthologies as well as periodicals. Her interests include body surfing, snow shoeing, hiking and just sitting around.

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