The fire is crackling, spitting. I stand, glazed by hours of hard sun and smoke. N is next to me, prepping the next wave of shrimp. We perform a wordless ballet, with meat and salt, sauce and oil. The knife is always returned to the right of the cutting board. The tongs, in the center of the table. Everything is in its right place.
I stare into the fire, after a careful flip of polenta. A year ago, this was the week when E came back from her mother's house with a new fear in her eyes. Her mother had sold all of E's clothing and toys. She had nothing there but a bare shelf. There were threats that E would be taken to Finland, and never see me again. Furniture was sold, and the car. The roots were being cut, and E returned with tears, her whole body shaking. She sat next to me, resting one hand on my arm at all times as I worked. In the end, the threats slowly evaporated. Why, I do not know. Maybe the idea was just to scare us, to remind us how flimsy our lives are. Maybe it will still happen. Anything is possible. E still has nothing there.
The flames lick the tails, and I flip them. There are hot spots on this mangal, and I am learning them. To cook over burning coals and open flame takes a certain intuition. There are early mistakes, scorched reminders. But if you listen to them, the flavors can be coaxed - smoke and char, sweetness and tenderness.
I watch E playing, her long hair flouncing as she laughs.
The day will unfold with waves of spice and meat, of lemongrass and ginger, lime, chili and garlic. I will collapse into a chair, drink cold wine and stare up at the sky. People will shout, telling me the chicken is burning. I will jump up, make an adjustment. The insects come out, as N slaps at her arms in anticipation. I tell her she is the sweetest, and this is why they bite her the most.
I am spent. The meat devoured, bellies are swollen, shining in the darkness as the coals turn white.