by Nin Andrews
On the island where I grew up, the cooks were the most revered members of society, admired alongside the priests, the painters, the architects of the governor’s mansion. Cooking, it was said, was a rare form of magic, transmitted from angels to women on earth. That is why my mother, a chef in her own right, was so renowned. My mother baked a special pastry in those days that she sold from a kiosk on the plaza in the middle of the town each day at noon. In the early mornings she woke before dawn and rolled out the dough made from rice flour mixed with wine. Her long black hair pulled back in a bun, her bare arms waving like wings, she swooped around the kitchen like a crazed bird, mixing and rolling the thin dough, brushing it with almond oil and a paste of nuts, fig syrup, and lychees—a white translucent fruit that tastes of music and summer rain. Sometimes, if the mood struck her, my mother would add a touch of cinnamon and a little something else. It was that something else everyone loved. No one knew what it was or why. (Only I, her son, was allowed to spy on her and see what it was, but to this day, I won’t tell a soul.) My mother would only say that everything has an essence without a name, that that is our special additive, our gift to life. But there were rumors that her pastries were enchanted. For certain men, it was said, her pastries would inspire such desire, that with each bite, they would feel greater and greater greed. Before these men could stop themselves, they would be down on their knees, weeping and begging for more. More! Please, please, more! they cried. You could hear their voices above the noisy crowds in the town like the moans of lonesome hounds. Some men had to be stopped from competing with the pigeons that pecked at the crumbs on the city streets. Others had to be taken away by police. Still others accused my mother of crimes, insisting she was a witch and part of the female conspiracy whose sole purpose was to keep the men hungry, desperate, deprived. But my mother said some men are just born with too much greed. They can never be satisfied. It is the curse of the male species. She was too busy to notice me then, crawling beneath her counter, licking the crumbs from the floor and my sticky fingers and knees. If I didn’t lick quickly enough, tiny yellow bees would swarm around me, nestling into the crevices of my skin, dancing their tiny feet up and down as if to an invisible beat before stinging me again and again.