Wine & Spirits

KITCHEN CHRONICLES: Jacen’s HIV fall-out PLUS comforting chickpea soup

Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald — novelist, award-winning journalist, and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.

Nothing positive

The blue table top is covered with neat stacks of VISA slips and bills that Fiona is adding and organizing by category: food, drug store, clothes, eating out…. Luc is poised over his laptop, entering the numbers as Fiona calls them out: hydro $152.73; phone $102.34…. It’s their monthly accounting; they both hate it, but Luc insists that they have to keep on top of things. They recognize that this is his way of controlling his anxiety over having a mortgage, over debt.

There is a tap at the back door and they look at each other.

— I’m not expecting anyone, says Fiona.

Luc gets up and opens the door.

— Jacen! he says. Good to see you. Come in, come in. It’s a frosty one tonight.

Fiona’s first impulse is to leave the two guys alone, but then she remembers that Jacen is HIV positive and she feels a wave of compassion — and gratitude that her family is well. She stands up and gives him a hug.

Kitchen-Chronicles— Jacen, it’s so good to see you, she says. Soup’s* almost ready if you’re hungry.

— No thanks, he mutters.

— How are you doing? she asks. Here let me take your coat.

— I guess you know, he says, shrugging off his boiled-wool jacket. I’m not so bad, all things considered. I’ve started on my meds so there’s a little nausea, diarrhea, the usual, but not as bad as it could be. It’s the head trip. I’m sorry for barging in like this, but I’m really upset. I just ran into the guy who infected me.

Jacen sits down. Luc raises his eyebrow at Fiona.

— It turns out he knew he was positive. He knew and he’d decided not to tell his partners. Thought if he used a condom he didn’t need to. And I guess, technically…. But then he took it off. He says he didn’t. He says it broke, but I don’t think so. And even if it did, he should have told me. The prick. Oh sorry. Is Gavin around?

— He’s gone to see a movie, says Fee. Don’t worry.

— Are you going to press charges or anything, asks Luc. I mean isn’t there some law against.

Jacen shakes his head.

— A friend of mine went to court — well, not really my friend, a friend of a friend. Anyway, it ended up costing him about six grand in time off work and fees. And the case was dropped — not enough evidence. He said, she said. I mean he said, he said. Really, to get someone, you need more than one example. They have to be serial spreaders.

— But shouldn’t you at least try? asks Luc. I mean you wouldn’t want someone else to go through this, would you? And if the guy’s out there, practising unsafe sex…

— Yeah, I know, I know. I have thought about it. I mean he might infect someone else. He says he’s on HAART, which reduces the chances by a lot. If he is on it.

— What does public health say? asks Fiona.

— They’ll get in touch with him, tell him that he should disclose before sex, but he probably won’t and there’s nothing they can do about it.

— Unless they get more complaints.

Kitchen-Chronicles— Exactly. And if they do, and if they come back to me and want me to testify or whatever, well, I’ll decide then. Right now, I’ve got other fish to fry, as my dear papa would say.

— What’s up? asks Luc.

— I’m worried about work. I won’t be able to stay in emerg. I love it there — the pace, the action.

— Because you’re HIV positive? Isn’t that discrimination?

— Not really, says Luc, shrugging. It’s a question of the type of work. People are bleeding and it gets really invasive. And sometimes people get violent. It’s just too unpredictable. I mean something could happen. They’re just trying to be safe. It’s for my sake too. I mean I’d hate to infect someone. The problem for me is that I find most of the other work — the counselling and all that — really kind of dull.

— What if you worked in an HIV clinic? asks Fiona.

— I thought of that, but it’s too depressing. I’d be seeing into my future every day.

— Of course, I never thought of that, says Fiona.

— I’m looking around. Meanwhile, I’m stuck at the front desk in emerg, but they want me out of there ASAP. Ils voudraient que je foute le camp!**

— As if you didn’t have enough changes in your life, says Luc. Is there anything we can do?

— Not really, the union’s helping me. I’ll be okay. I just need to talk, a sympathetic ear. It’s like you say, Luc, too many changes all at once. And I’m on my own. Although the union’s being great; they’ll help me find a new position.

He pauses.

— Thank God I’ve got you guys.

— Anytime, my friend, says Luc.

— Take some soup home with you, says Fiona.

*Comforting chickpea soup

2 garlic cloves, put through a press
½ onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ jalapeno pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
19-ounce can of diced tomatoes
19-ounce can of chick peas with liquid
2 cups of vegetable broth (make your own or use bouillon cubes)
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup shell or little elbow pasta

1. Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and stir onion is translucent.
2. Stir in jalapeno pepper, Worcestershire and tomatoes. Mix well.
3. Add beans and broth and lots of pepper.
4. Twenty minutes before serving, add pasta. Cook until tender (20 minutes or so).
5. Serve with green salad, cheese of your choice and baguette. A complete meal.

Derived from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas (Vintage Books, 1972).

**Means they would like me to disappear as soon as possible.