She hated her job. All day she read and reworked words that didn’t satisfy, words dry, tasteless, and underripe — words like rectifier and microprocessor and power semiconductor. Their heaviness left paste in her mouth.
After she had first taken this job, forgetting the words when she left the office had been easy. But after time, after swallowing and regurgitating them again and again, she found their aftertaste followed her to her own kitchen. As she cooked pasta, she thought pixels. When she baked cookies, she imagined microchips. It drove her to the point of emaciation and madness until one day, quite by accident, as she backed away in horror from her pot of integrated circuit soup, she upset the bookshelf and an ancient Betty Crocker cookbook fell open on the floor. She gazed down at a photograph of peach cobbler, picked up the book, read the recipe, and was transformed.
From that day on, she lived to read cookbooks. She browsed bookshop shelves on her way home from work, buying two or three volumes at each visit. She took them to work and read them first at lunch and on breaks, but then surreptitiously when her well-fed supervisor was occupied. She spent her precious mad money on Bobby Flay, Ina Garten, and Giada De Laurentiis. She vowed to bake her own bread and brew her own spirits — after she read all the proper instructions. The floors in her house were a maze of glossy books open to paella, Thai coconut salmon curry, black bean burgers, and monkey bread.
The words swirled in her head from morning to night and even in her dreams. At work, she inserted strings of them in the manuscripts she edited: eggplant parmesan popped up in technical papers on electronic materials packaging while quiches substituted for compilers.
She lost her job. She spent her days crawling on her carpet from one luscious text to another, relishing every recipe from pesto and foccacia to tabouleh and tzatziki.
She sold most of her belongings to pay rent; when the money was gone, she was evicted from her apartment. She packed the cookbooks into her car spent each day poring over them on park benches and each night parked behind a different restaurant in town, snatching discarded food and eating it as she read recipes by streetlight. Eventually, the food lost its appeal — she could not bear to swallow even one morsel of it, no matter how fresh from the diner’s table.
Her hunger grew and grew. She stole thin volumes on tapas and the 100 best pasta recipes, but she became weak and soon had too little energy for shoplifting. As she lay exhausted and starving in her car one evening, she knew that to continue to read she must eat — and so that night for dinner she consumed a whole roasted chicken, eight servings of green beans with dill sauce, an entire loaf of sunflower bread, and an Italian cream cake. For breakfast the next morning, she gorged on a sausage and potato frittata, apple-cinnamon strudel rolls, cheesy baked grits, and a frothy cappuccino.
She couldn’t stop. So many snacks to sneak, lunches to savor, dinners to linger over — and the desserts! All of it was heavenly, and the photographs, she found, were especially tasty. She was satiated and intoxicated. She lived in a stupor of recipes — never the same dish twice — until they were gone, and her hunger returned.
She hid herself well in the back of The Intimate Bookshop’s stockroom and waited until after midnight to emerge. In the dark, she instinctively found the cookbooks and at first only walked back and forth as she ran her hands over their smooth spines, whetting her appetite.
Her fingers paused only briefly on the Joy of Cooking before she took hold of it as if it were a meatball submarine. She thought of all the bookstores in the country and smiled as she tucked the corner of a particularly fine rendition of ratatouille into her mouth.
Banner Image: By Sushmita Fernandes [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons