I woke up craving an omelette, maybe filled with some leftover antipasti from our dinner party. E was still sleeping, one leg propped against the wall, violet eyelids just beginning to open. I started the little espresso pot, and swirled sweet butter into the pan. I cracked the first egg into a stray water glass, the yolk tall and yellow as a school bus. The cat came in and sat on the kitchen table, pressing her feet into the tablecloth littered with stray grains of sugar and tea leaves. The second egg made a dull thud against the edge of the glass, and I saw it was hard boiled. I stood for a moment, watching tiny bits of water sizzle around the base of the tiny coffee maker. Vika the nanny must have cooked it and then put it back in the carton, I realized. It was typical of her to do this. I pulled another egg from the carton and twirled it on the table with a great flourish. It wobbled dramatically, and fell to the floor. The cat jumped down to sniff its remains. I twirled another, and it spun in place. I put it back in the carton. That was all of the eggs.
In Russia, there are ten eggs to a carton and I am always banking on the two phantom extra ones - that full dozen I thought I had bought if I was in the US.
So, I made a one-egg omelette. I filled it with leftover fennel that had been roasted in duck fat, with sauted chanterelles and a few slivers of roasted pepper. It satisfied me. It filled me. I washed it down with coffee and then E wandered into the kitchen, her hair a sort of sparrow's nest, her eyes giant and sad. Holding her arms out, she just wanted me to hold her, to carry her around for a minute.
"What is that!" She shouted, noticing the egg on the floor.
"Not a hard boiled egg." I said.
"Ni krutyau." She said, laughing at me. "Not hard booooyulllled."
I put her down, and found some Ikea napkins to clean things up.
"I thought krutoi means something is cool." I said.
E was reaching for a cereal bowl, and froze for a moment - deep in thought.
"It means both." She said, and made a face to herself.
That night I asked N about this word вкрутую and she confirmed, it means a very cool person, or even an object like a car or watch is "hard-boiled". There is even an expression, something like "only an egg can be more hard boiled than that guy".
I fell asleep thinking about eggs and how men cannot make them. Fragile, almost perfect. Eggs bind things together. Eggs can be separated, whisked into a foam, carefully transformed into sweet ribbons of sabayon. And yes, hard boiled.
As I drifted off, with the windows open to the sudden cool air I thought of the women in my life. Little E, growing and prancing around, dancing one moment, sobbing the next. E drawing pictures at the kitchen table long into the night. E making worlds from Legos and singing. E who refuses to leave the house still, and just wants to be surrounded by her things. And N with her sunburned shoulders and new bracelets. N with her laughter, with her smile. N who just came back and how we held each other, chins on shoulders, necks and arms, whispering tiny funny things. Once again familiar, more than a voice on the phone. Once again, surprising me in my office at the end of the day with small gifts, and maybe I close the curtains and turn off the lights. Once again, the voice of wisdom and simplicity. N, the calm in the storm. N, who still needs to be told she is beautiful. N, who missed me as much as I missed her. N, who is fragile. N, who is tough like her mother.
They had sat together in the kitchen a few days ago, N translating my English, her mother sitting and nodding, tasting little corners of things, smiling to herself as I cooked. I made fresh ricotta from whole milk and a little lemon juice that we ate on fresh bread, with that cold antipasti. I was the only one drinking wine. I made a fresh pappardelle with just egg whites and a ragu of duck. It was far too much, but I was so happy to cook for N's mother that I could not resist. We had found a curious way to communicate during the months since I met N - by sending small helpings of leftovers that N shuttled between us. A piece of fresh flatbread filled with fresh tarragon from her one day, some of that spiced blueberry cake from me the next.
But now she sits here, with half-glasses and a black sweater. She watches E, running to show us a new drawing, describing the girls on the metro she has illustrated. She watches N, sitting next to me, polishing off a whole bowl of the pasta. The counter is a mess of dirty pans. The sky grows dark. The room smells of basil and that fresh ricotta. I will forget I put those egg yolks in the fridge. I will forget everything, because tonight I cooked for people I care about. The Italians say "I chop onions to feel alive", and that is exactly how I survive. The world may be a chaotic mess. Tomorrow I may get terrible news, but tonight we have dessert still in the freezer, a red grapefruit sorbet spiked with cloves and Russian honey. It will taste sweet on our lips, as we tilt our heads back and drain the bottoms of our cups.