Black Forest gateau…..part 2.
The prawn cocktail comes in 3 identical glass bowls, scraps of prawn and a delicate soft pink dressing. The girl wonders if she can get away without eating the green bits, they look suspiciously like grass or weeds, perhaps they are decorative, not really meant to be eaten at all. She looks to her parents for guidance. Her mother has dipped the very end of her spoon into the sauce and the spoon is suspended between bowl and mouth, almost as if she has forgotten that she is actually eating.
Her father has finished his first glass of wine and is staring into the empty glass.
There is another pause and then when the weight of the silence becomes too much, the girl knows she must say something, do anything to rescue this evening. She starts to talk about school, describing the new french teacher, who is actually french and wears a different cardigan and matching tiny scarf every day.
Her parents pull themselves together, smile over her head and her mother slips the spoon into her mouth, chews carefully and nods
” so tasty, I wonder what they put into the sauce?”
Her Father refills both wine glasses and smiles, suddenly becoming completely himself again and her mother raises her glass
” we need to drink a toast, we need to wish your dad a happy birthday” and they do, wine glasses chinking against the thicker, more robust tumbler still half full of Pepsi.
The steaks when they arrive are huge, almost completely filling the plates, chips and peas pushed into the small remaining spaces. Her fathers’ garlic mushrooms are served separately, smelling not just of Sunday breakfasts, eggs, bacon, tomatoes, fried bread, but something extra, something unfamiliar, something foreign.
Her mother wrinkles up her nose, pushes the bowl away, will not try even one tiny mushroom, says how much she hates the smell of garlic, reminds him to clean his teeth the moment he gets home.
But the child is curious, begs her father for a taste and with that bite, that first taste of olive oil and garlic and some herb, her fate is sealed. She has tasted the foreign, the lightly exotic…and liked it.
The chips are different to home ones, thinner, crispier, they cry out to be eaten by fingers, but when she risks it, her mothers’ stare stops her hand before it reaches her mouth.
” you have a knife and a fork, use it, you don’t need to eat like a wild animal”
Even at 9 years old, the child knows that this is exaggeration, begins to suspect that there are foods that need to be eaten with fingers, begins to suspect that some foods may even need to be eaten with a degree of wildness, a hunger that can be openly expressed, but, she is a good child, a dutiful daughter and mumbles an apology and then carefully, deliberately harpoons each single chip onto her fork before eating them. They do not taste as good.
Her mother eats carefully, bite, put down cutlery, dab mouth, but her father has become expansive, even daring in his eating. He pours the garlic mushrooms over his steak and then, pulls a piece of the French stick from the bread basket and uses it to mop up the remaining garlic butter while refilling only his own wine glass.
The parents begin to talk, something about the garden, then a plan to replace a shelf in the sitting room, the child half listens, but bored, begins to look around the at the other diners and realises that they are all like her family.
Neat, tidy, voices slightly hushed, careful table manners and at least half a dozen other almost bored children, some rocking back on their chairs,one boy, quietly and very neatly, lifting chips from his younger sisters’ plate.
The girl turns back to her own plate, remembers her fathers’ ruling about empty plates and with a sense of duty eats up all her peas, which are disappointingly exactly the same as the ones they have at home.
Her father finishes his plate, wipes his hands, removes the faint glisten of olive oil and smiles, the smile of a man satisfied. He widens his smile to include his wife and daughter and rubs his hands together
” So who fancies a bit of cake ?”
This is what the child has been waiting for, longing for, Black Forest gateau with extra cream.
It comes in huge white bowls, each wedge of cake floating in a lake of slightly fluffy white cream, with a scoop of fresh cherries balanced somewhere between the cake and the cream and as the waiters walk towards the table, the girl stands up. Her mother looks up and the girl smiles,a wide, confident happy smile and begins to sing
” happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear Daddy,
Happy birthday to you”
And as she sings, the other diners, noticing the child, her Laura Ashley summer dress, neat blue sandals and her voice, wavering with the strain of carrying this song all by herself.
They smile too and slowly, one, two, three voices at a time, they join in the singing, until, by the end of the final chorus, everyone is singing happy birthday to her father, even her mother and then, the waiters place her cake, her Black Forest gateau ( with extra cream) in front of her and she dips her spoon in and yes, it tastes exactly as good as she thought it would and for the first time in her life, but no the last, she begins to understand the power of food and wine and even Pepsi served with ice and a slice of lemon.