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.
— But why can’t I get a tattoo? asks Gavin, pausing in the midst of painting the kitchen baseboard, paintbrush poised in his hand. Justin’s going to get one. Just a small one, a dagger on his bicep. All the kids are.
— Luc smiles at his son’s persistence. Gavin’s too young to get a tattoo, but he’s got chutzpah.
— I hardly think all the kids are getting them, he tells his son. Legal age is what, sixteen? When you can sign for yourself and pay for it, be my guest.
— But at a reputable clean place, adds Fiona, ever the mom. And let me check the design. Please! Lasering them off is really expensive — and it hurts.
— So does getting the tat, says Gavin. Bragging rights.
— Hey buddy, says Luc, you gonna finish that trim any time soon? I’m nearly good to go on that wall.
— He’s doing a really great job at painting, Fiona thinks. Better than I could ever do. And there are so many walls … It’s a good thing he’s decided to get involved in the house, she concedes. I could never do all this alone.
— I know what, says Fiona, how about a temporary tattoo.
— Those are lame, says Gavin. Happy faces and hearts. They’re for babies.
— Hey, good idea, says Luc, winking at Fiona. On your chest.
— I’ve got my markers right here: three colours even, says Fiona.
— Grab him, says Luc.
— Noooo, says Gavin, laughing and backing out of the kitchen. You guys stay away from me!
Luc nabs him at the door, and despite the difference in height, gets him to the floor. I won’t be able to do this much longer, he thinks.
— You pin him and I’ll draw, says Fiona.
— No fair, two against one, shouts Gavin.
— And who ever said life was fair? asks Luc.
Fiona begins drawing on Gavin’s chest as he squirms and giggles.
She can’t help but notice the odd darker hair on his chest, especially around his nipples. No, she thinks, not already. She remembers bathing his smooth, flawless body when he was a baby. It all happens in a blink, she thinks. She finishes the drawing with the flourish.
— There! she says.
— Okay, go have a look, says Luc, releasing him.
Gavin thumps up the stairs.
— Cool, he shouts down. How long will it last?
— Considering how often you shower, months, says Luc.
Fiona looks at him, grinning, and they both burst out laughing. Gavin comes back into the room and picks up his paint brush and starts in on the baseboard again.
— The house is going to look so great when we’re finished painting, says Fiona. We could have the Queen over for tea.
— Oh, is Grandma coming to visit? Gavin asks his mother.
— Maybe at Christmas, says Fiona. Queen, that’s a good one.
There is a pause as all three get on with it: Luc rolling on paint, Gavin and Fiona intent on the foot-deep baseboard and door and window trim.
Even after all these years, the question gives her pause, but she launches into her pat answer.
— He left, says Fiona. I was seventeen. He just told us one day that he was going and within a week he was gone. To Vancouver. And we were still in Renfrew then, so I only saw him in the summer after that. And every other Christmas.
— That’s harsh, says Gavin.
— Yeah, it was hard. For everyone. Of course it would have been harder if there had been another woman, but that wasn’t why he left. At least that’s not what he said. Though he did hook up with Lorelei kinda fast. Anyway, he never really gave us, your Uncle Neil and I, any reason.
— What about Grandma?
— I don’t know what he told her, but it was super hard on her. That’s why she moved back to Halifax, to be with her relatives and old friends. I mean she had lots of friends in Renfrew, but it wasn’t the same after Dad left.
— But you stayed?
— Well, by the time she made up her mind to sell up, I’d left home for university. Then I was with your dad.
— Where did you guys meet anyway? Gavin asks turning to his dad.
Fiona and Luc glance at each other across the room. She smiles.
— Gosh, that was a long time ago, she says. Portage du Fort was across the Ottawa River from Renfrew, and we all used to go swimming in the summer at Norway Bay on the Quebec side of the river.
— So, you met at the beach?
— Yeah, says Fiona. This one day I was there with this girl from school. Janet. She was new and I didn’t know her very well, but I wanted to be nice. She was really pretty….
— Stacked, interjects Luc, winking at Gavin.
— Luc! Anyway she definitely out-shone me in the bathing suit department. So all the guys were coming over and saying Hi, or flexing as they walked by. All that testosterone stuff, and she’s basically surrounded by guys. Then your dad comes by and starts talking to me. That’s the first time we met. I was seventeen.
— So you started going out? asks Gavin.
— No, not then. He was like twenty-one. I think he just felt sorry for me. The next year, I moved to Ottawa to go to Carleton and your Dad was working at the radio station there — station manager at CKCU.
— Radio station? That’s so cool, says Gavin.
— It was the best job ever, says Luc, so creative and great people. All volunteers — except me — but they were all so keen. We had so many laughs and controversies. I loved it. On the downside, the pay was crap and they’d never heard of benefits.
— Anyway, there we were, these two Valley kids. I was in my last year of university — I guess I would have been twenty-one — and so we started hanging out.
— That’s not very romantic, says Gavin.
— I have left out a few details, says Fiona, grinning. I don’t think you want the nitty gritty.
— I’ll just finish up this trim, says Gavin.
— Anyone want lunch? asks Luc. I made tomato soup* this morning.
*Best-ever tomato soup
1½ pounds tomatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon each pepper and paprika
4 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon flour
2 tablespoons soft butter
3 tablespoons rich cream (18% or 35%)
Sherry to taste (usually 2 tablespoons)
- Peel tomatoes by immersing in boiling water for 20 to 30 seconds. Put in colander under running cold water and slip skins off.
- Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium saucepan, add onions and tomatoes, stirring frequently. Cook over medium heat until sizzling (10 minutes or so).
- Add seasonings and broth. Boil gently for 15 minutes, uncovered.
- Blend soft butter and flour to a paste and stir into soup until dissolved. Simmer over low heat for 5 minutes.
- Add cream and sherry. Taste for seasoning. Serve.
Can be frozen after step 4. Thaw, heat, add cream and sherry.