Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
— Hi ho, says Trish, banging open the back door. I’ve brought some vino. Sorry I’ve been such a mooch.
— No problem, my friend! says Fiona, thinking to herself, it’s about time!
— Hey, this is pretty good stuff, she adds.
— Ripasso, says Trish. The guy at Vintages says it’s a star.
Fiona moves aside the newspapers on the kitchen table, puts down a plate of figs agrodolce* and they sit down and make a toast to the coming of fall. Fiona wonders how she should start. There’s no good way she decides.
— Thanks so much for coming over, Trish. I wanted to talk to you, but not over the phone. I hope you won’t take this the wrong way. I’m not trying to interfere, I just care about you…Oh, gawd that sounds dumb.
— Not at all, Fee, what’s up?
— At Charles’s reading last night, well Luc and I were both shocked at that passage where he talked about beating up the woman.
Trish laughs, weakly it seems to Fee.
— Yeah, I know what you mean. The first time I heard it, I was shocked too, she says. I asked him about it and Charles says the idea came from the way his friend felt after a woman broke up with him — she told him she was a lesbian and his ego was all smashed up.
— That’s nasty! says Fiona. Still…Luc and I were talking about it and, this probably sounds paternalistic, but we’re worried that Charles might, you know, be violent toward you.
— Oh, he’d never hurt me! says Trish.
— There’s more, says Fiona. I went up to Charles after the reading and I told him I found it offensive. And Charles just shrugs and turns away from me. He didn’t say a word. It was like I wasn’t even there.
Trish takes a gulp of her wine.
— He didn’t say anything to me about that, she says. Don’t take it personally, Fee. He’s like that sometimes. And you’re not the only who was shocked. Francine and Lynne told me afterward that they would have dumped him as soon as they heard that passage.
— It’s misogynistic, Trish.
— It’s not real, she protests. It comes down to that old debate over what’s fiction and what’s fact. This is fiction. I think there’s artistic value in his work, value for the way it challenges us to think about what we believe. And it’s a metaphor too, for the damage we inflict on each other in relationships.
— Or it’s some sicko’s wet dream, says Fiona. That’s what it came across as. I know the difference between fact and fiction, but I also know that to ring true, the emotion has to be there. This was like hate literature, that’s what it would have been labelled elsewhere. But we all shrug in that Canadian way and mutter platitudes about freedom of speech.
— Hate literature? That’s a bit harsh, says Trish.
— Not really. Anne was telling me about a nurse friend of hers who just got back from Somalia. She was talking about infibulation. Have you heard of that?
— It’s this extreme female genital mutilation where they cut out the clitoris and the labia minor, then they sew together the labia major, leaving only a small slit for urine — and sex, which is extremely painful. And childbirth can be horrific. If they make a surgical incision, the baby just rips out all the scar tissue.
— Ewh! That’s horrible! says Trish.
— It’s the extreme result of men’s jealousy, of their insecurity and inability to trust women and their need to control us. I think that Charles is doing that to you, emotionally.
— No, he’s not! protests Trish.
— I don’t know, Trish. I’ve been listening to you talk about him for months about how he gives you the run-around, doesn’t trust you, questions you every time you go out, wants to know all about your past lovers. How he even withholds sex to punish you, for goodness sake.
— Just the once.
— I’ve dried your tears, says Fiona, losing patience. And I’ve tried to be a good friend to you, but you’ve said it yourself: the relationship isn’t healthy. And yeah, you’re right, he hasn’t hurt you physically, and maybe he’s not capable of it, but he sure as hell has pummelled you emotionally. Psychologically he knows how to press your buttons: insecurity, dependency.
— You’re mixing it all up! says Trish. Sure we have our problems — all couples do, especially at the beginning before they know each other well and they’re so passionately in love. I’ve hurt him too. We’re just sorting ourselves out.
— Oh, is that it? says Fee sarcastically. You’re so quick to dismiss what I say. How can you forget what he’s done to you? How he’s tried to control you? Look at the New York trip — all the hassle. And I mean he did “let” you go, but what does that say about you guys? I mean what right did he have to “let” you go? And he doesn’t trust you any more now than he did then. I know the sex is great, Trish, but it’s not everything.
— You’re jealous, that’s all, retorts Trish. You and Luc probably haven’t had a moment of passion in months, years. I don’t have to listen to this.
— Trish, this isn’t about Luc and me!
— I’m sorry, she mumbles. She goes to the back door and begins putting on her shoes, tears slipping down to the linoleum floor.
— Don’t leave, Trish. I didn’t mean to be so blunt, it’s just that he’s not good for you. You’re crying all the time and questioning yourself.
Trish sits down, crying in earnest now. Fiona hands her the tissue box and puts her arms around her. I’ve gone too far, she thinks. Making her cry. I should have been more gentle.
— You know I’ve tried to leave him, says Trish, you know that, but…
— You’ll find someone else. You’re beautiful, talented, creative, fun…Come on, you don’t have to put up with this shit.
But they both know she’s not ready to turf him, not yet.
½ pound dried figs, stemmed
1 cup red wine
2 strips orange zest
1. Place figs and zest in a stainless steel saucepan and cover with wine and water.
2. Cover, simmer on low heat until figs are soft — about 2 hours.
3. Remove from heat, let cool and transfer to a glass bowl with the liquid. Cover if serving later.
4. Serve at room temperature.
Thank you to Lucie Brien for this recipe.