Thursday, April 25, 2013
A Small Fiction continues
A Flinty Resolve. That wouldn’t have been a bad name for Gloria’s tea shoppe. It was her, at least one aspect. Gloria was, as I suppose we all hope to be, greater than the sum of her parts. And her parts were many.
A childhood friend of Gloria’s once told that her mother had learned to make baklava from their neighbor, Mrs. Dalgarian. The test, said Mrs. D., was to have dough thin enough to read the newspaper through and would determine the perfection by doing just that. The friend’s mother being the contrarian that she was, chose to use the Sunday funnies rather than a page of news articles. Mrs. D. assumed it was a cultural thing, this insistence on doing it some other way than the teacher said, not knowing that her pupil would have taken another path no matter what the instructions. She did, however, the friend reported, learn to make very acceptably authentic-tasting baklava, a skill that served her well the rest of her life. Gloria was like that, a perfectionist about her pastry but how could she be anything else? In the first place, it was one of her passions and, secondly, it had a pleasing margin of profit as a shop specialty. The shortbread crust on the tarts, layers and layers of puff pastry on the creme horns and turnovers and her bar cookies? Nearly scandal-producing in their rich variations. The most abstemious patron would think little or nothing of ordering a “wee” plate of six different varieties, then using a moistened fingertip to press up the crumbs. There was more licking going on at Gloria’s than most people would be comfortable knowing about.
Raspberry Rhapsody, Toffee-Coffee Sandwich, Don’t Blink Meringue-topped Cherry Squares, Floodgates Brown Sugar Fudge Insinuations. The names went on and on, some downright bizarre, some usefully descriptive, all well-known to and unashamedly asked for by regulars. If one of the regular customers tried to point to a treat by way of ordering, rather than saying the full and sometimes silly name out loud, Gloria feigned a hearing problem. She beamed with approval when a first-timer read the name from the card at the end of the tray, standing there smartly in its careful Copperplate hand (Gloria’s, of course) as though introducing thrice-removed royalty at the Viscount’s ball. When she heard them spoken as she intended, Gloria could taste not only the finished treat as it rested on the bisque-colored enamel tray; she could taste each ingredient as it had been added to the mix. Her palate was a genius at compartmentalization.
Billington’s Cove, the finely arched eyebrow of pebbly shore that lay just south of Greater West Elba, faced slightly more south than west and thus was graced with warmer currents which often appeared as gemstone bright aqua ribbons in the clear green water. Those more tropical eddies delivered the fish bonanza which meant money in the bank for Cove-ites going back six or more generations. It was not considered an “industry,” it had not been modernized with processing plants and the like. It was catch:sell. Catch:cook. Catch:share. Fish were currency in the Cove and surrounding communities. Fish could be traded - and had been - for just about anything. A fish-based economy could lead to taking them up, one at a time, as a means of self-defense or pungent aggression. Gloria permitted time to study herself in the gold-leaf-framed ornamental mirror that reflected head and torso and smile as she chose or recalled a finned and meaty fellow who accentuated the pinkish-red of her abundant hair or contrasted handsomely with the hue of her frock.