Juliet and the Appliances
Juliet's kitchen was an attractive place. At the far end of the long, narrow room two tall windows let generous amounts of light in. A huge refrigerator sat in one corner, its hum so quiet that it was felt rather than heard. Next to it was a broad gas stove and an electric range, and over the stove was a shelf of gleaming cookbooks, new as the day they were bound. Other racks held a dizzying variety of instruments-- metal, plastic, and wooden tools for manipulating food in every way imagined by humankind. Along the other wall a row of cabinets concealed inside themselves everything from pedestrian flour and sugar to a spice rack for which a medieval baron would have traded his firstborn son. A formica-topped counter offered a place to roll dough if Juliet was in a bready mood, and the stainless-steel sink was indeed stainless. The garbage disposal was polite and docile, and the dishwasher performed its duties with diligence, efficiency, and a minimum of noise.
One fine afternoon, Juliet had opened the refrigerator and was peering through its well-lit recesses, trying to figure out what to make for dinner, when the refrigerator closed its door gently but firmly and addressed her. "Darling, this can't go on any longer. I wish it could be otherwise, but it's out of my control. It just can't work, do you see?"
"No, I don't see," Juliet said quite honestly, venturing a surreptitous tug on the refrigerator's handle.
"He's right," the stove sighed. "I feel like such a fool -- and a cad, too, for leading you on like this. We've had good times together, I admit that, but a lasting relationship is just out of the question."
"But you're all paid for," Juliet said.
"Damn it!" the dishwasher said. "Pardon my language. But do you have to make this so hard? It pains me to spell it out, but I have to: we're from Macy's. You're from Queens. It can't last, do you realize that?"
"We just weren't made for each other," the stove added. "The fault's not yours or ours-- it's fate. Someone like you, who's never opened a cookbook in her life, and things like us, the very best in food-preparation technology, were never meant to stay together."
"Are you saying," Juliet said, "I'm not good enough for you?"
"Please don't say that," the refrigerator urged, sidling towards the door. "We'll always think fondly of you. But we can't live this lie any longer. It's tearing our souls out."
"Appliances don't have souls!" Juliet all-but-screeched.
She argued. She ordered. She blocked the doorway with her body. She wept. She pleaded. She promised. She raged. Nothing worked. They all left her: the dishwasher, the stove (knocking a rather large hole in the wall as it lumbered out), the garbage disposal, the eggbeater and its clattering family of attachments, the knives and forks and spoons, the ladles and measuring cups, whisks and graters, the cheese axe and the fondue forks, the cookbooks. The little metal rings she put around fried eggs so they turned out as neat circles. When Cedric came home, he found her sitting on the floor under the windows, her face in her hands and the kitchen empty of everything save dust.
"Hello, love. What's this hole in the wall doing here?" he asked.
"Oh, Cedric!" Springing to her feet, Juliet crossed the kitchen to bury her damp face in his pinstriped wool shoulder. "Everything's gone away. The horrid things said I wasn't good enough for them, and just up and left."
"There, there, honey." Cedric patted her back. "We'll be eating out tonight, then?"
"Cedric!" Juliet wailed. "Are you listening? My-- our appliances have left. How will I be able to cook?"
"Ah, uhm," Cedric said. "It's not the end of the world, dear. Who knows? It might be for the best."
"Whatever can you mean?" Juliet demanded, detaching herself from him. "Cooking is my life, my art."
"Well, dear," Cedric glanced at the floor, "I'm sure you can find some other hobby. Sewing, perhaps? Charity?"
"You don't care about this, do you?"
"To be honest, dear, you were never much of a cook. Oh, I'm not saying you weren't... innovative, but-- well, now I suppose I can hire someone to do the work."
"Cedric!" Juliet said in horror. "Not you, too. Oh, how can you be so insensitive?"
"Remember when you thought the pepper pot soup wasn't spicy enough? Or that sticky cake thing that fell apart? Don't be hysterical, dear. I'm sure you'll get over it."
Juliet stalked to the living room, Cedric trailing. She seized her handbag from where it lay. "Now, love," Cedric said anxiously, "you're not going to do anything irrational, are you?"
"Stand aside, Cedric. If you're not man enough to do this, I am. I'm going to get my appliances back." And with that, she was gone.
Outside the townhouse, Juliet hailed a taxi and stewed in the backseat all the way out to Macy's. She undertipped the driver and barely noticed his sulfurous snarl as he took off in a cloud of noxious fumes. Resolutely, she straightened her skirt, looped her handbag's strap over her shoulder, checked her makeup, and sallied forth into the world's largest department store.
It had been a while since she'd been there. A directory told her that the housewares department was two floors up. She rode the escalator, surrounded by the omnipresent rustle of brown paper shopping bags bearing the store's logo. "We're from Macy's, you're from Queens"... bah! As if Macy's didn't have a branch in Queens. A large one, too.
At the top, she stepped off the escalator and immediately spotted her refrigerator. It spotted her, too, and slowly turned away, presenting the mesh of black heating coils on its back to her. Juliet's mouth tightened. She strode over, heels clicking emphatically on the linoleum, and slapped a possessive hand on the broad white side. It tried to inch away, but Juliet was implacable, maintaining the contact while she sought a floorwalker.
"Yes, ma'am?" one said, materializing at her elbow.
"I want this refrigerator," she said.
"Certainly, ma'am. What plan do you intend to pay on?"
"I'll pay in full now. Just give me this refrigerator."
The floorwalker's professional smile congealed. "You mean this particular refrigerator? It's just a display model, ma'am. Rest assured the one you'll get will be of the same high quality."
"I said I want this refrigerator."
The floorwalker made a little gesture of incomprehension. "I don't understand, ma'am. What's so special about this one?"
"None of your business," Juliet said curtly. "It's a personal matter."
The smile had rotted away and disappeared entirely. "Yes, ma'am, I see. I'll have to talk with the manager first."
The manager was duly summoned. "Look, lady, we'd have to pack this refrigerator up and set up a new display model. It'd be easier for both of us if you'd just take another fridge."
"Can't you understand?" Juliet demanded. "I have to show him he can't just run out on me like that. I haven't even had a chance to find the others yet. Time's slipping by."
"I'm sorry. I can't do it. It's just not worth the trouble." The manager spread his hands in resignation.
"I see. You're on his side." Juliet drew herself up to her full height. "You don't think I deserve it either. Well, I'll be back, and I'll show you!" As she spoke the last words, she suddenly realized that she was shouting, and moreover that almost everybody on the floor was staring at her. She jerked on her handbag strap, gave the refrigerator a vicious little kick, turned, and marched towards the escalator, cheeks flaming but shoulders remaining straight. She thought she heard the refrigerator snicker behind her.
Jean-Louis' was a restaurant that prided itself on its quality. Everyone from Robert, the maitre chef d'cuisine, to the lowliest waiter, knew their jobs and did them well. When Juliet presented herself at the back door and requested -- well, demanded would be a better word -- to be taught to cook, she was nearly turned away. The off-duty pastry chef she spoke to finally brought her in more for the fun of seeing Robert blow up at her as anything else.
He wasn't disappointed. "This is not a school," Robert growled. "Go to one of the universities, or watch the shows on television."
"I told her that," the pastry chef put in.
"But I want to learn in person," Juliet said. "I've watched the shows, I've read the books, I've worked my hardest, and, well, my appliances say I don't deserve them."
"So? In America, few people do," Robert said.
"I'll do anything," Juliet said. "Just teach me. Let me see what real cooking is."
Before you could say, "That was a mistake", Juliet's coat was off, her handbag was on the floor, her sleeves were rolled up, and her hands were filled with dirty dishes. Over the course of the next two hours, she became very familiar with one aspect of food: its remains. The cold sliminess of used salad dressing, the bits and tufts of meat that weren't worth the effort needed to extract them from the bone, the little garnishes no one ever ate (Jean-Louis' did not recycle them, and shame on you for thinking that), lobster shells, dregs of every beverage conceivable, hard greasy gobbets of old sauce. She also became intimately familiar with heat and dampness, china and silverware, and what happened when you dropped a wine glass on a linoleum floor (it wasn't pretty, and neither was the head busboy when he saw it.) She developed a deep and abiding hatred of the slob customers who inflicted this never-ending tide of filth on her, and when her two hours were up she was too tired to even think of finding Robert. Instead, she dragged herself outside, the air feeling positively Antarctic after the tumid heat of the kitchen, and rode back to the townhouse.
Needless to say, Cedric was not pleased. "Really, love," he declared, "I can't see why you would do something like that."
Juliet was too tired to argue, only making a limp gesture in reply, but he pressed on. "What's the point? That's what I must know. Certainly they have no shortage of people to do that kind of work for them, do they, dear?"
"I have to do it if I want to learn," Juliet said.
"You're not thinking of going back, are you?"
"Yes, I am."
Cedric threw up his hands. "I could forbid you, but I hope you'll see how foolish you're being for yourself."
"Whatever. Good night, Cedric." Juliet picked herself up and headed for bed.
She was back at Jean-Louis' the next day, to the surprise of most and the disgust of the pastry chef, who had a sizable bet with the head busboy that she wouldn't return. She tried to speak with Robert, but he brushed her aside, snapping orders as the kitchen girded itself to face another day of customers. Silently, she took up her place in the corner of the kitchen where the dishwasher was stored and waited.
It was very much like the previous day had been. The food may have been slightly different, but garbage was garbage. Juliet stacked, soaped, rinsed, worked the dishwasher, until finally the head busboy wandered by and told her to take a break.
She tried to stay out of the way and watched Robert as he moved around the kitchen, trying to understand him. He did very little of the actual cooking, but nevertheless every dish that passed through the kitchen went through his hands, in one way or another. He turned up his nose at a souffle, straightened a garnish, screamed at a vegetable peeler, poked at a slab of uncooked meat, peered into a steaming vat in which a chicken simmered. Juliet yearned to go to him, ask him why the souffle was bad, what his opinion of the chicken was, but was already well-versed enough in the ways of the kitchen to know what the result would be. When her break was over, she returned to the dishes, feeling extremely unenlightened.
Since Robert was inaccessible, Juliet turned to the other kitchen workers, the trainee chefs and specialists. They were surprised, then flattered, by her attention, and gladly showed her what they did. And that, for a few days, was satisfying. She felt at last as if she was learning something, taking the first steps towards being worthy of her appliances. But gradually she became aware that something was bothering her.
"Why so much garnish?" she asked a trainee chef who was putting the final touches on a serving of pate of wild game.
"Because without it, it'd just look like a couple slices of meatloaf."
"Yes, but you're practically putting a forest around it. Why not just take one big fluffy lettuce leaf and put the slices on it?"
The trainee chef glanced at the plate. "I dunno. This is how Robert wants it."
"Can I taste the soup?" she asked another, who grudgingly scooped out a spoonful. She drank the hot liquid carefully, frowning. "How much salt is in there?"
"Do you think it's too salty?"
The trainee looked uncertainly at the pot. "I'll ask Robert what he thinks."
"What are you doing?" she asked the head saucier as he disconsolately poured a bowl of brown sauce down the sink. He grimaced.
"Stupid of me. I put in too much butter and flour. It's too thick."
Juliet dipped a finger into the stream, tasted. "It seems all right. Can't you add more water or something?"
"It's not worth the effort -- and Robert wouldn't accept it."
"That's right," Robert said. Juliet and the saucier started, the last of the brown sauce splashing onto the counter. "And you," he said to Juliet, "what are you asking those questions for?"
"I'm here to learn."
"Then why are you telling my chefs how to cook?" Robert all but roared.
"They're only my opinions."
"There is no such thing as 'just an opinion' where food is concerned." Robert was grimly serious. "Next you'll be giving orders. You're more trouble than you're worth. Get out."
The sheer injustice left Juliet all but breathless. "But..." she said weakly. Robert, fists on hips, seemed to be readying himself to destroy any protest she could make. "But you said you'd let me learn from you."
"And I would have-- if you'd shown any willingness to learn. I'm not a cooking teacher. I don't have time for your ideas."
"And quite right he was," Cedric said later. "May I assume, dear, that you're giving up this foolish..." he waved a hand aimlessly in the air "... jaunt?"
"I picked the wrong place, that's all," Juliet said defensively.
Cedric chuckled. "To be sure. To be sure. But you haven't answered my question, love. What do you have there?"
Juliet shifted the newspaper away too late. Cedric frowned slowly. "Reading the want ads, dear? I hope you're not going to do anything rash. Aren't you being the tiniest bit obsessive about this?"
"Drop dead, Cedric." Juliet couldn't quite believe she'd said that, and from the expression on Cedric's face he couldn't either.
"What're the books for?" The manager of New America jerked his chin at the books tucked under Juliet's arms, Craig Claiborne on the left, James Beard on the right.
"Oh, just in case," Juliet said, trying to sound nonchalant as possible.
The manager looked her over. "Won't hurt to give you a try." His voice was pure Brooklyn, not surprising considering that the restaurant was in Brooklyn Heights. "Get back there and make yourself useful."
Compared to Jean-Louis', the kitchen of New America was less everything -- less crowded, less busy, less state-of-the-art, less clean. The cylindrical dishwasher was the same, though, and Juliet thought that it mumbled a greeting to her around a mouthful of porcelain as she passed. She couldn't be sure, though.
The head cook introduced himself as David and made the expected joke about Romeo upon hearing her name. "Hang up your coat, and -- " he peered around the kitchen -- "get together some clam sauce to start with. Can you handle that?" Juliet nodded. "Good. Give it to Perry when you're finished."
When David had turned his back, Juliet set down her books, quick- flipping the Beard's index. Clam sauce, page 44. Here it was. She scuttled around the kitchen, collecting ingredients. "1/3 cup olive oil." No problem. "3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped." Within minutes, she had reduced the cloves to a heap of smelly, infinitesmal bits. "2 7-ounce cans minced clams." Easily found. "1/2 cup chopped parsley, preferably Italian." The cook she asked silently handed her a small canister of powdered parsley. She weighed it in her hand uncertainly, then gave it back, continuing her search of the kitchen until she had found fresh parsley. She wondered if it was Italian, but decided it would be better not to ask.
There; what next? Saute the garlic with part of the oil. That was easy, but she turned to the "Sauteing" section of the Claiborne to make sure, darting nervous eyes from the book to the simmering mixture, alert for the slightest change in the oil's color as she shook the pan gently.
There -- it was turning yellow. Dump in the rest of the oil quickly, add the liquid from the clams, then the parsley. Then, finally, when the mixture was boiling, add the clams themselves, let it heat up. A minute later, she was bearing the hissing pot of sauce to the man who had been pointed out as Perry.
Perry dipped a spoon into the sauce, blew on it, and tasted. "All right. Do it quicker next time. Keep an eye on these chops for me -- they're almost done." Juliet waited until his back was turned before dashing cross-kitchen, nearly upsetting a dish-laden busboy, scooping up her two saviors -- Craig and James -- from the counter and bearing them back to the stove. What kind of chops were they -- pork or lamb? They looked porkish. One of them was surrounded by an ugly ring of bubbling brown grease. Was it supposed to be that way?
Quick, the index: "Pork chops, 409; braised, with sauerkraut, 162- 3; browned, and lentil casserole, 295; Nicoise, 196; sauteed, 174." Hopelessly, Juliet turned to page 162, then noticed that the grease- ringed chop had begun to smoke. Dropping the book, she seized the nearest implement -- a long-handled fork -- and impaled the chop, lifting it free.
"You left it on too long," Perry said from behind her. Juliet was startled; the fork jerked in her hand, and the chop slid off the tines to land with a wet slap on the skillet. Spatters of grease went flying, one alighting on the back of her hand. Perry reached past her, switching off the stove.
"You were just supposed to let them brown," he continued. Juliet, dismayed, back of her hand pressed to her mouth, said nothing. "Don't worry about it," he said in an I'm-trying-to-be-reassuring voice.
Juliet slunk away, eventually finding work putting dabs of whipped cream on top of bowls of strawberries and cream. She decided not to consult the books about that, but she made sure that she knew to the last gram how large a dollop she was supposed to use. Juliet had a new religion, and its name was precision.
She persevered. She bounced around the kitchen like a pinball, never settling at any place or any job for long. She ignored Cedric's poorly-concealed distaste when she returned home in the evenings, tired and smelling of a thousand different dishes. The Claiborne and Beard grew well-thumbed and acquired a panoply of miscellaneous stains.
And then one day, when she came in, David drew her aside. "I'd like to talk with you," he said.
Juliet's heart froze; his demeanor was sober and restrained. Bad- news time.
"It's about your books." He paused. "Personally, I don't mind, but some of our cooks have said that they're not sure they can trust you. It's the way you seem to have to look everything up, you see."
"I just want to make sure," Juliet said, anguished.
"Yes, I understand that. But this is a business-- we can't hold things up every time you need to make sure. You've been here long enough. I think you can handle yourself. Now," David said, "starting tomorrow, please don't bring those books."
And there it was. A direct, no-getting-around-it order. Juliet retreated to the kitchen, but found no solace there. Everyone seemed to have become an enemy: who had complained to David? She found herself watching the other cooks out of the corners of her eyes, trying to judge them and winding up with nothing but a futile parade of wild suspicions. When she got home that night, she was in even more of a frazzle than usual, and slept poorly.
In the morning, it required an almost physical effort to leave the books behind. It didn't help that Cedric, glancing up from his Journal, said almost cheerily, "You forgot your books, honey" -- could he be in on it? She had to rush out, pretending that she hadn't heard him.
When she got to New America, David greeted her politely, making no reference to the books. However, this small act of mercy failed to lift Juliet's spirits. She went into the kitchen, avoiding gazes, and proceeded to make mistakes.
Not just any mistakes, too. She got even the most basic things wrong. She beat a bowl of egg whites so long that they lost their necessary buoyancy and turned into a thick grayish sludge. She burned butter while trying to clarify it, the brown stink rising from the pan like an accusation. She forgot to add salt to a pot of boiling pasta, and it came out tasting like glue. She had, she realized, learned something from the books -- but not cooking. She had only learned recipes.
After every mistake, Juliet had to pretend that she didn't hear the chorus of mutters that broke out behind her. She was getting a lot of practice doing that. Any minute now, David would come to her, tell her that she was fired.
He did come to her, when she was eating lunch (prepared by someone who could cook better than she could) glumly in a corner of the kitchen. "I hear you're having a rough day," he said.
"Just relax," David offered. "Stick to the easy stuff."
Juliet smiled gratefully. What she had been doing was the easy stuff, but sympathy, however unhelpful, was always welcome. When she finished eating, she rose with an effort of will and, going forth into the kitchen, continued her slow-motion disaster.
When she got home that night, she would have made a beeline for the bedroom (and the books), but Cedric intercepted her. "My gosh, honey, you look beat," he commented in a friendly manner. "Hard day at work?"
Juliet, not wanting to give anything away, bit her lip and nodded, trying to circle around him.
"Well," Cedric said, moving deftly to cut her off, suddenly grave, "you see, I've been thinking, dear. I've been thinking," he moved again, placing himself between her and the bedroom door, "that I've let this go on entirely too long. You're humiliating yourself, you're embarrassing me."
"What do you have to be embarrassed about?" Juliet asked, feinting to the left. Cedric remained undeceived.
"My wife's working in a restaurant. In Brooklyn, too. The word gets around, you know, dear."
Juliet feigned a sudden loss of interest in the bedroom, pacing aimlessly away. "But I'm learning, Cedric."
Cedric continued to block the door. "Can't you just take a class, love? How can you be learning anything when you're like this every night?"
Juliet rounded on her heel, glaring at him. "Out of my way, Cedric."
He stood firm. "I'm telling you this, dear. Don't go there tomorrow."
Juliet marched up to him, jabbing a shoulder into his chest. Startled, Cedric stepped aside, and Juliet, barely slowing, entered the bedroom with a feeling of grim, but unfortunately evanescent, triumph. She slept little that night, spending most of it attempting to memorize the books. Ingredients and techniques ran through her mind like sand through a sieve, and when she woke in the morning, with no memory of having gone to sleep, she retained none of them.
Cedric wasn't around. A note on the dining-room table, propped against the salt-and-pepper shakers, read "Remember what I said." Juliet picked it up, hunted around the townhouse until she found a pen, and wrote "GOODBYE CEDRIC" in slashing, spiky letters along the bottom before flinging the paper back onto the table. As the subway to work crossed under the East River, the enormity of what she'd done suddenly caught up with her, and she began to quiver, feeling suddenly very alone in the midst of the sardinish mass of humanity.
By the time she reached the doors of New America, she was composed of three parts misery to two parts terror. David let her by without a word. One more day like yesterday and he'd have to let her go. And then... her imagination faltered at this point. The best she could come up with was starting over. She tried not to think about how.
"Hey!" One of the cooks tapped her on the shoulder. "Start this up for me, will you? I have something to take care of." And he was gone before she could protest. Juliet was left alone with two steaks. It would have to be steak, of course. Not something that was, well, expendable.
She fought back panic and looked at the steaks. Strip sirloin. Covered with a fine dust of crushed peppercorns. There were a soft bottle of cooking oil and a stick of butter nearby. All right, Juliet told herself firmly. What does this suggest?
Um... frying? she replied tentatively.
Don't be silly, she snapped. You don't fry steaks. No, he must mean to saute them.
Yes, of course! She applauded her own brilliance, then suddenly sobered. But for how long?
I'll just start and hope he comes back before I totally wreck them, she decided, scooping up the platter the steaks lay on, taking the oil and butter in her other hand and going in search of a frying pan. She found one with dismaying swiftness, and was easily able to get a burner at one of the stoves. Now, she said tentatively, I'll heat up the oil. She dribbled oil into the pan with a sparing hand, terrified of pouring too much in. When the bottom of the pan was covered with a thin film she stopped. And now for the meat--
What about the butter? she reminded herself.
Why, I'll... She stalled. I'll... just throw some in. And she suited action to thought.
You're backsliding, she reproved herself as she twisted the burner control to high heat-- the better to get this over with quickly. The butter softened, liquefied, began to sizzle. Suddenly panicking at the thought of burning it, Juliet yanked the dial to a lower setting. She put the steaks in reluctantly, as if they were corpses being lowered into a grave: obviously, indisputably lost.
When they did not immediately blacken and char, some of Juliet's nerve returned. Still, she glanced around anxiously for the man who had dumped this duty on her, shifting the pan back and forth almost absently so the steaks didn't stick.
Nobody seemed to take any notice of her and her dilemma. Well, Juliet told herself with a touch of vanity, she was handling this well so far--
Don't you think you'd better turn them over? she asked. With a tiny gasp, she grabbed a nearby fork, nearly dropping the pan, and flipped the steaks. It was rote after that: wait, flip, wait, flip. But after three flips panic began to slowly insinuate itself into her mind again. Are they done yet? How am I supposed to know? They looked nice and brown, but inside, who knew? Visions of a customer biting into his steak, finding it raw in the middle.
Salvation came in the form of David, passing by. "Oh," Juliet said with forced casualness, lifting the pan clear of the heat and displaying it to him, "who are these for?"
"That's the steak au poivre, isn't it?"
"Uh, yes. I think."
David borrowed the fork and gave the meat a few inscrutable pokes. "Good. Give 'em to Leo."
Juliet marched across the kitchen, handed the pan to Leo wordlessly, and collapsed against a handy wall, sweat draining down her face. Any moment now, she was certain, Leo would come storming up to her demanding to know what horrors she had inflicted on those fine pieces of meat.
But he didn't. And a few minutes later, she saw them -- it was hard to tell precisely that they were hers, but somehow she knew -- leaving the kitchen atop plates held by a jacketed waiter. Out to be eaten. By customers. Complete strangers. She suddenly felt dizzy.
"Hey!" Perry was waving at her from across the kitchen. "I need some clam sauce. Can you do it?"
For a moment, Juliet was ready to retort, Go away, can't you see I'm about to faint? But she took a deep breath. Pushed herself away from the wall. Set her chin.
"Of course I can."
"Don't look now," the refrigerator muttered to the oven, "but it's her again. Why must she torture herself like this?"
"I heard that," Juliet said cheerfully. People were staring at her, the way she was festooned with shopping bags and pulling a crammed- to-bursting two-wheeled aluminum cart behind her.
"Can I do something for you, madam?" the floorwalker asked.
"You certainly can." Juliet smiled. "Plug in that refrigerator and that electric range over there. And where can I get some water?"
The man backed away as Juliet advanced. "And let's not have any talk about calling the manager," she continued. "Just be a good fellow and do it." The floorwalker turned and fled.
"Juliet," the refrigerator sighed, heavy emphasis on the last syllable, "what do you hope to accomplish? It's over. Can't you see that?"
"Shut up," she said politely, hefting a bag, "and open up. This stuff is thawing."
The floorwalker had decided that she must be some sort of terrorist. Who knew what all those bags contained. He complied with her demands with great deference, and then scampered off to call security as soon as her back was turned. When the Macy's troopers finally arrived, shouldering their way through the growing crowd, they found her standing before the range, slowly stirring a tall silver pot of soup. Juliet glanced up as they came close.
"Want some?" she asked.
Shoppers detoured to other sections of Housewares, "borrowing" silverware and plates. More public-minded spirits also brought back utensils Juliet requested, and several formed a sort of bucket brigade between Housewares and the bathrooms in return for first crack at the food, passing water one way and steaming dishes the other. The manager, finally summoned, took a look at the scene, immediately foresaw an upswing in sales, and loudly ordered his staff to aid and abet Juliet. Anyway, it would have been hard to get security to throw her out when two of their guards were helping carry water. The mingled odors spread slowly but irresistibly through the world's largest department store, bringing shoppers from as far away as two floors down to investigate.
And in the center of it all, Juliet cooked. Broiled lamb chops and baked fish fillets. Carrots Vichy and a Western omelet. Steak au poivre, spaghetti (properly salted) with clam sauce. Chicken roasted and chicken broiled with teriyaki sauce. A chocolate souffle and lemon meringue pie. The staff ran out several times to restock the refrigerator, returning panting under loads of damp paper bags. But eventually all the food was cooked, served, and eaten. Juliet set down a wooden spoon, flexed stiff fingers, and picked up her handbag.
The refrigerator cleared its throat.
"Yes?" Juliet asked.
"Oh," it said brokenly, "I've been such a fool. Oh, Juliet, can you ever forgive me-- us?"
"Oh, sure," she said easily.
"You're too good. You're an angel." As she began to walk towards the escalator, a note of hope mixed with fear entered its voice. "Are you going to be taking us home now?"
Juliet shook her head. "I don't think so. I don't need you any more." At the top of the escalator, she turned one last time to look at Housewares, and she smiled a heartbreaker's smile.
Christopher Shea (firstname.lastname@example.org) was found under a rock in 1970 and adopted by Japanese Illuminati. He attended college at Gallaudet University where he majored in grade report forgery and game mastering with a minor in torturing anyone who dared call him "Chris." (Bio written in 1991)
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Christopher Shea.