At Dreamer’s Garden, Joshua and Lucinda tended the fire at their new grille. The other children watched as they worked. The wood burned down to coals. The air above the old metal gate rippled with heat. Joshua dipped his hand into the water bucket and flicked a few drops onto grill’s surface. The drops sizzled and vanished into whiffs of steam.
“Neat,” said Ollie and Rollie at the same time.
“I don’t want any of you to get too close,” Lucinda admonished.
“Listen to her. Last thing we need is a bunch of little blisters on your tiny hands,” Joshua said.
He walked over to where the vegetables from the garden were laid out. His new knives lay beside them.
“And don’t play with these either. You don’t know how to use them.”
“Do you know how to use them?” Dina asked.
There wasn’t any impertinence in her question, just honest curiosity.
It gave Joshua a moment of doubt. He’d never held a cutting instrument of any kind before save a pair of scissors. Now two blades lay before him, sharp and deadly.
“Yes,” he answered with as much confidence as he could muster.
“How?” came Dina’s next question.
Joshua had thought about that during the entire sleepless night. He could only think of one thing.
The old man and his gift. But I can’t tell them. They’ll think I’m crazy.
He told her, “I’m not sure.”
It wasn’t a lie. He really didn’t know, he merely suspected.
Joshua lifted his knife. It felt balanced and easy in his hand, as if he’d used one his entire life. But still his doubt lingered.
What if I’m wrong? What if all this is somehow all luck and coincidence? Maybe, if I try to use this knife I’ll chop off my own fingers.
He looked down at the vegetables laid out on a clean plank of wood. He wanted to dive in and test his new knife and his equally new skill. He wanted to see that he wasn’t deluded. But that strange knowledge stopped him. Peeling and cutting the vegetables should wait until he was ready to cook. That meant he had to wait for Heathcliff to return with the last few ingredients.
Sure enough as the day turned to late afternoon, Heathcliff strode back with his reed pole. A satchel swung from his hand.
“I believe this is what you were looking for,” he said triumphantly.
Joshua opened the bag and pulled out the flour, salt and olive oil. He tasted each.
“At least I didn’t poison us this time, huh?” Heathcliff whispered to him.
Joshua slapped his friend on the back and laughed. Heathcliff joined the others to watch. Now all the ingredients were in place.
Now is the time.
Joshua checked his board one last time. He had his new knives, the wooden spoons and dowel, carrots, potatoes, onions, garlic, peas, tomatoes, the small sack of flour, a jar of salt, a bottle of yellow olive oil, a bucket of water, pots and pans, and several rags. He lifted the knife one more time. He took a few breaths and then he went to work.
He grabbed a carrot and peeled the rough skin. The sharp blade zipped through the orange flesh and took off the skin in a few strokes. In moments he had a pile of peeled orange colored sticks beside him. Then he took each one, held it in place with his left hand, and brought the knife down with his right. Lucinda let out a gasp as a dozen sharp whacks came down in a blur. But she had no time to protest, in moments every carrot was chopped into identical sized pieces. Joshua kept his fingers bent inward with the side of the blade touching his fore knuckles. That way he could slice and chop without ever looking down and his fingers would remain safe. He threw the carrots into a pot on the grill with a splash of water, a splash of oil and a sprinkle of salt.
He filled two more pots with water. To one he added the potatoes and some salt. To other he added just salt and put both over the fire.
While the pots heated, he pressed a head of garlic with both his hands. The head came apart into individual cloves. He took four cloves and whacked them with the side of his knife to release them from their skins. He minced the garlic along with some of the onions and put them in a fourth pot with olive oil.
He shifted his focus to the grill. He wrapped his hands in rags to protect them from the heat. He stirred the carrots and the onions and garlic. The potatoes boiled. As soon as they turned soft, Joshua dumped out the pot into the pot with the holes in it. The water escaped through the bottom and left behind the potatoes. Back on the grill, the onions and garlic turned a golden brown and gave off a rich sweet smell. He dumped the potatoes and golden onions and garlic into a clean pot and mashed them together with a spoon.
He took some flour and water and worked it to form a dough. Joshua took little balls of dough and rolled them each into a tiny thin disk with the wooden dowel. He placed a spoonful of potato in the center then folded and sealed the dough into little potato stuffed packets. He threw the ravioli into the now bubbling water and stirred them a few moments before he drained them in the perforated pot.
He checked the carrots. They were covered in a light thick glaze made from their own juice. He took them off the fire. He heated two more pots. In one he quickly cooked the tomatoes with the peas and a bit of salt. In the other tossed the potato stuffed dumplings with some oil to barely crisp the outsides.
Then he served. He mounded the stuffed dumplings in the center with the tomatoes and peas to one side and the glazed carrots on the other.
Joshua sat back and wiped his brow. He sweated and breathed hard. He looked back at his makeshift kitchen then again at the food on the makeshift plates.
He laughed out loud.
He’d done a hundred tasks for the very first time, and he did them all perfectly. He’d given no thought before to what he would make, yet the second he started he knew exactly what to do and in what order.
He looked back on his kitchen. The biggest surprise was how spotless it was after all he’d done. He’d cleaned as he went. The vegetable scraps lay collected in a pot.
For stock, he thought. There’s another weird idea that just popped in there. I‘m sure I never heard of stock before today.
He looked back at the food and saw no one ate.
The others were gathered around the plates and stared at them. Then they stared at him.
Joshua suddenly felt strange and bizarre, as if he’d suddenly sprouted a second head on his body.
Just then they heard a familiar voice.
“Hello!” called Sophie.
She appeared in the alley.
“I thought I’d visit and see how you were doing. Oh, are you eating dinner?”
“I made an extra plate,” Joshua said numbly.
The others kept silent and didn’t touch their plates. Joshua felt like he should say something to them.
Don’t worry. It’s all right. Eat. Please. I’m still me.
Sophie sat down and ate.
“Oh,” she said.
And then a little bit later she added, “My.”
That got everyone else started and they ate. They chewed slowly and savored each bite. The dumplings had a slight crispiness on the outside but inside they were soft and creamy and full of rich onion and garlic. The carrots were as sweet as honey candy. The tomatoes and peas with just a little bit of salt burst in the mouth and tasted like Summer itself.
The others, except for Sophie, would quickly glance at Joshua between bites.
They said nothing.
They tried to find the words. Something strange had happened to their friend. They didn’t understand what had happened and if it was good or bad. They didn’t know what it would lead to. So they didn’t know what to say.
Everyone kept silent until Sophie finished plate and declared, “That was delicious.”
Heathcliff doubled over with laughter. The twins joined him. Lucinda’s face broke in a wide smile.
Sophie looked around and thought something hilarious had occurred behind her. She shrugged and noted the new grill and kitchen.
“Quite a few changes around here. You’ve all been busy,” Sophie said.
“Yes,” said Joshua.
“Things have changed here.”