Iron Filing Soup

Restaurant in Town

My wife eats ruined pasta and it doesn’t matter.

Tonight it’s Capellini with tomato sauce and a towel flambé. Here’s the recipe: First, you’re gonna want to switch on the kettle. While it boils rattle a handful of pasta into a pan. Let the kettle do its work and pour in the boiling water. Turn on the gas and away you go. If you are at all like me then seconds later you’ll have water foaming all over the stove. Not any old water, water that has somehow turned into foam. Water that is ruining the surface.

Don’t panic.

Grab the dish towel from the rail and use it to swab the mess by the burner. See how it soaks up some of the slush before it starts smouldering in the heat? Good. Throw the towel into the pan before it gives you second degree burns. Stir it around with a spoon and then fish it out.

When you drain off the pasta you’ll see some nice black bits of crisp fabric croutons, like giant pepper. Add the sauce of your choice and reheat in a pan.

In today’s cooking segment, we’re talking Dysgeusia. If you know the word already, turn off the vee-tee and move on. You don’t need this.

I know, what? Right? Chances are you’re still here – most doctors don’t even know what it means. It’s one of those words you never hear in conversations, unless you hang out with me, and then it’s all I’ll talk about after a beer. My friends are tired of hearing about rats brains. They aren’t interested in the parabrachial nucleus of the pons. Psychobiology? Bullshit, they say. But it’s important. Don’t repeat my mistake.

In the country today, 81% of people blind rate themselves as above average. Not just in cooking but in everything. Does this make you wonder when, and how, the honest nineteen percent switch over to that understanding that they’re useless?

A friend of mine figures it out at high school during activities day. He is chubby, not suited to running, but it doesn’t matter; pulling his flabby cheeks over the finish gets his team a point.

It’s something. By the start of the race it’s late afternoon and everyone not competing sits up on the bank around the track. There are children, teachers, and parents cheering. My friend is so big that he is the only one we can make out clearly. He wears a vest that gives him breasts, shorts that look like they are trying to climb into his ass. He is the Great Wall of China to our daydreaming astronauts.

The gun goes off and it looks like birds scattering from a giant breadcrumb. My friend pumps his arms and stumbles forwards. The race leaves him behind. He can’t keep up. There’s whooping and cheering. It grows into a crescendo. The leaders cross the line. The noise simmers away as one by one all of the other runners come home.

My friend is anchored to the start and I don’t want to know him. There is silence, but for one dissenting voice. Down at the front a large woman stands behind the track cordon. You can tell she’s his mother even if you never got sweetcakes from her playing cars outside her house with her boy. She’s jumping up and down and shaking her arms from side to side. She’s yelling,

“Keep running Benny! That’s it! Run! Run!” Pause for breath. “Run ‘til your feet tread the line!”

This moment. These words. That’s it for him.

For my wife, it happens whenever people call her anorexic because she is skinny and they never see her eat.

For me, well here’s a tale: I used to print out recipes at the local Café Internet. This place is like a job outreach for failures: people order, “Cappuccino without the foam, oh and make it a small one,” because communicating the idea of espresso is too much. Signs advertise Netscape and coffee, two bucks an hour. Printin’: ten cents a sheet. But it’s a mission. To be precise, 81% of the time the inkjet will be out of paper. Communicating this to the owner’s wife in your slowest voice takes time. Eventually mom will send junior out to get more. He’ll run across the street and, if it’s raining, come back with a few soggy sheets that she’ll ram into the paper drawer. Your recipe for kidney steak pie comes back looking like it’s been in a puddle and she asks, “Is this good, yes?”

The only option is to go back and send it again. Run ’til your feet tread the line.

But you see all of this fuss was once worth it once upon a time. Now, things burn pretty in our kitchen. It’s all trial, error, and re-conviction.

When I first date my wife, I take her to as nice an eating joint as I can. She protests – “It’s money you can ill afford,” she says. She tells me she much prefers it when a man cooks for her.

And I’m thinking this is her way to invite herself into my house. I charm her by saying I am a messy but effective chef. Her smile when I put a plate down in front of her is all I need. I find something I am good at and my wife loves me forever more. We eat orange duck meringue. Fillet steak with spicy salsa rocks our world. When it comes to food we’re in the ninety-nine percentile: no microwave meals or takeaway chicken.

But there’s a problem. Soon I fall in love with eating out again, and she doesn’t want a threesome.

For our anniversary, I book a table at a beautiful place in the city. The kind that looks like a twilight forest inside with ferns and green, stained glass to make everyone more colourful. We sit at a cheap table near the toilet, but the food is sex. Not in my time searching all of the top recipe websites, inking a small woodland of ruined paper, have I ever tasted anything like it. Escargot…

Snails! Who’d think they would taste like that? Salmon fish-cake with Sorrel sauce? Keep running, my boy. All the things they don’t tell you how to cook online we eat: things like Lobster Thermidor. Haddock Fillet with Crab Tabbouleh. Plum Tomato and Basil Galette. Celeriac Remoulade. A rats parabrachial nucleus, probably. Soon I find a recipe online that’s something like what we’ve ordered: Escallop of Veal Holstein. I do it at home with beef and it’s terrible. It tastes like ass, yet my wife says it tastes exactly the same. It’s sweet of her, but soon I can’t afford the printing costs to try anything else. I stop cooking at home. Everything is going on our new mistress.

All at once, the waiter asks how our meal is. I take another bite of my Chicken Caesar and suddenly it is metallic, as if my lip is bleeding and my tongue’s darting in and out of the rusty blood. All I taste is cardboard. The croutons could be bits of scab. I chew and chew but the food won’t go. I can’t swallow and this waiter is staring at me waiting for an answer.

This is where the word comes in, dysgeusia. My wife and I are in a new restaurant with gilded mirrors and a fountain in the middle. A hundred reflections of my confusion reflect around.

She says it slowly, one more time, enunciating the syllables, “I have dys-ge-u-sia. I’ve had it since I was a child.” My shoulders swallow up my neck then let it out again. “It makes everything tastes like metal.” Everything. Even the Belgian Endive Salad with Pommery Mustard Dressing? Scotch Woodcock? Gratin of Butternut Squash?

Yes.

Tears are cling-film wrapped onto her eyes. She says, “please don’t waste any more money on me.” And there it is. My culinary talent, it’s gone as quickly as a pan spills over. That’s why I don’t care: Old metal mouth will eat anything. This is my moment, every night. The time when I realise that I am below average. A nobody. Plopping my fat legs down one in front of the mother. Breathing hard and working. I think about pouring too much salt into her food sometimes. But she’s all I have to lose.

more by JAKE CARTER-THOMAS

Jake Carter-Thomas’s latest novel – Nineveh Fades, or, The Bomb Shelter

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