To-do lists as interminable as the December night is long. Fifty emails a day. Dirty dishes piled up, a basket of clean but mangled laundry on the floor of my study. Marking hell.
My mother says, as she always does when I get to this point: You. Have. To. Throw. A. Party.
And so I do. A very tiny one. Four people, including me.
The morning of the dinner party finds me with no real plan of action. Not to mention massage and hair appointments taking huge bites out of the day. At the massage therapist’s office, I burst into tears for no good reason, except exhaustion.
By the time I get the hair salon, we’ll call it Haute Coiffure, I am red of eyes and grey of face. My colourist, we’ll call him Antoine, usually an aloof and intimidating sort, takes one look at me and raises an eyebrow. Antoine and I never dish, hardly even speak. We don’t really get each other. But I’ve been getting my hair cut at Haute Coiffure by his boyfriend – we’ll call him Timi – for twenty years. So Antoine and I treat each other with wary respect, like in-laws at a family gathering.
I tell Antoine about the by-now-dreaded dinner party. He frowns as he prepares his palette. And then he’s off and running. He gives me suggestions for easy starters and easier mains. He absolutely forbids me to make dessert. He narrates his recipe for stuffed squash as though it’s classical poetry. He lovingly describes an arugula-walnut-pomegranate salad he made recently. As he talks, his angular features soften and his eyes glow. This is a man for whom food is a language of the heart. I finally get a glimpse of the guy Timi has loved all these years.
As he’s putting the finishing touches on my hair Antoine says gently You. Can. Always. Do. Takeout. He tells me about an excellent sushi place that delivers.
I do finally make it to the supermarket. I buy all the ingredients for bastilla, a middle-eastern meat pie. I buy a pomegranate, too.
I cab it home with all my groceries and the cab driver asks me if I’m OK. I tell him about the impending dinner party and he declares that my best bet is a roast. He describes the dry rub he and his wife will make for a leg of lamb that evening. His voice is full of pleasure and anticipation.
My guests arrive, happy and excited to be fed. There is laughter, joking, flowers, delicious wine. I make a pomegranate-walnut salad. The bastilla is sweet and savoury, soft and crisp. I prepare no dessert but at the last minute fill martini glasses with ice cream, raspberries and Grand Marnier.
My mother was right. By the end of the evening the load I’d been carrying around has dissolved. There’s a happy debris of dishes and wine glasses, and a few pomegranate stains on the tablecloth.