|A NEW DAWN, A NEW DAY, AND A NEW BEGINNING
By Chris Wilson
What’s God to do with pancakes, read on or go to holland, and you’ll soon see the reason why. A bitter sweet tale about love and acceptance within the community, and a huge dollop of goddies on the side
“Eli, we need to do something about Zoe. She needs to get a step closer to heaven, can you oblige?”
Eli Lenson, now aged 35, from Holland
, but now living in London, put the letter from her friend; a good friend soon to be living in Australia; on her old but much loved pine kitchen table. She looked over towards her kitchen cupboards, opened their doors, and began to make an inspection. Flour, eggs, vanilla pods, cinnamon sticks
, nutmegs, chocolate and aniseed powder. Vintage cherry brandy
and old Geneva
gin, they were all there, all her old friends and old faithfuls. All she needed now was cream, fresh blueberries and raspberries, and they could be freshly picked from her garden on the day. Her friend wanted Eli to give Zoe a step up to heaven did she, well that wouldn’t be a problem; not with such old friends by her side.
“Good food comes from a well filled cupboard!”Her mother had always drummed into her, “And if a good man or woman uses the brain the good Lord has given them, then such cupboards will always be full.”
A wise woman was her mother, despite her strict religious tendencies, but there was still one thing that had to be checked, and that was the weather forecast. It was the final piece of the jigsaw, which if not present would leave an unpleasant hole in her plan. She turned on her Kindle Tablet and checked the forecast carefully. Then she began to smile. Zoe would be round on Friday, it would be raining on Friday, raining very heavily, and that meant Zoe, who never carried an umbrella, would be soaked to the skin. Eli once more picked up the letter and looked up towards the ceiling
“You had better keep your promise, or no church on Sunday!”She whispered up to her intermittent Lord and Master. “Send down cats and dogs, or even stair rods, if you want to, or make her even swim!”
She tidied up the kitchen and then sat down at the table with a pen and a sheet of paper. Creating a step to heaven when you had well stocked cupboards was easy, but even then, there was still the need for a plan.
“What’s God got to do with pancakes Zoe? Get that gin inside you, warn yourself up by the fire, and then just wait and see!”
Soaked to the skin by a downpour, but by now dried off and dressed in a warm bright orange dressing gown, courtesy of host and longtime friend Eli. Zoe sipped her golden hued, rich, round, creamy, slightly malty and apple scented Old Geneva gin, closed her eyes and began to unwind. The week just gone should have been a good week, and it began well as it was her 25th birthday. Yet on the same night it had been her colleague’s hen night
, and looking back at the events after the party, that’s when things had gone wrong.
The Hen night had been brilliant ,and, liberally laced with alcohol, very exhilarating and amusing, but after the party even Zoe had to admit that burying herself in the priests once immaculate but now battered privet hedge was inexcusable. Her big John all action blow up male doll, which she held very close, too close, to her; was also unfortunate, and then throwing up on his lawn was downright rude. Even then she might have got away with it, as the priest was away at a conference, but not with her waking up his housekeeper Mrs Fergusson. Not with her standing, with her arms folded sternly , at the front door to the all too well lit presbytery hall.
A venomous witch, or was it something else, that Zoe had called her, upon the good lady’s remonstrations. A poisonous windbag, a puritanical dried up busybody, and a smug old biddy. It had been unwise to say so, and it was somewhat unpleasant to have such sentiments repeated to her when the priest, coming back early from his conference, had heard it all when he had stepped out of his car.
Good old Father Micheal, as Zoe had always thought of him, but now mean old beggar mike after his lecture on greed, sin, lust and gluttony, with Four Hail Mary’s and five our Fathers on the side. Life, she thought, upon considering Eli’s slightly curious statement and instructions, was a strange old bugger. Yet Eli was a generous, if at times, an enigmatic stern taskmaster, and even as Zoe was burying herself gratefully into the dressing gown, her nose caught the hot sweet smell of cinnamon. Zoe had always loved the smell of cinnamon, ever since she had first helped her grandmother make crisp sweet cinnamon cookies at Christmas. As a child she had marvelled at how such a dried up stick of powder could be so aromatic and wonderful, and she still recalled running her fingers around the inside of the near empty mixing bowl so as to extract the last of the dough.
Her Grandmother was dead now, but as the smell enveloped her, so did her memory of those long lost innocent days, and of cuddling her favourite teddy bear called Boris who, loyal, understanding, and all over soft and cuddly, never left her side.
She still had Boris, he still slept on her pillow, and sitting by the fire, it was as if she was holding him close by her side. He was now mute, tired, battered, and tear stained; and one ear was long since missing, but she still loved him,she still hugged him, and he still gave her so much unconditional love and affection in return
Looking through her crystal tumbler at the dancing flames in the fireplace Zoe felt the tension in her body to drain away from her. Friday night was going-round-to-Eli’s night. Eli was Dutch and therefore Fridays meant it would be a “Going Dutch “ night. It also meant being with someone who, deep down she wanted to be closer to, but that, if Eli could open up a little, was for another time, if such a time ever came about at all.
Tonight though, according to Eli, was going to be a little different, as tonight was all about pancakes. That meant flipped up frying pans tp Zoe. Spitting oil, pancakes on the floor with lots of swearing, and sweet and sour dollops of lemon and sugar. So why couldn’t she hear the rattle of the frying pan, why was there no was no noise from Eli, and where was the sharp note of freshly squeezed lemon. Yet there was still a lovely smell, a warn rich come –and –get- me smell, and as Zoe turned her well tuned nose toward the Eli’s kitchen, a rich scent of cherry brandy and forest fruits rushed into the room.
So many questions with so few answers. Yet, in her experience, answers were unimportant when wearing one of Eli’s dressing gowns, or eating the goodies that Eli always slid in front of her. Eli was such good friend that it didn’t matter that, underneath the dressing gown, Zoe was only wearing her underwear, so leaning back in the armchair that had been prepared for her, she allowed all of the weeks and strains and stresses to slide away from her. He once more closed her eyes ,and then she began to dream.
She was in a strange land, a windmill scattered land but, knowing Eli, that land had to be Holland, and drifting through sleepy canals and tulip fields it was weird that she felt so much at home. To dream or not to dream, to stay rooted in the ground or to fly to the heavens, and to chase a dream or just accept reality, she found herself saying to the tulips. It didn’t matter that they gave her no answer, or that the canal waters silently passed her by.
Zoe felt so safe when she was round at Eli’s. So safe and so secure, as there was no need to fly, and no need to chase her dreams. Such dreams came to her, when she was with Eli, as well as other more intimate private thoughts and fantasies. All she needed to do was to snuggle up in the dressing gown, and then and drift away, far away, into a happy calmer land. She vaguely remembered, such a land from her childhood, when she was very close to a girl named Susan. She wanted to get back there, albeit to be there with Eli and not Susan, but she was an adult, a busy adult now. Conformity and marriage, were the key to life, so many “good” people told her, but she wasn’t interested in such values or in such an institution. She yearned for those lands with a passion that was beyond her powers of description, but so often, they seemed to be intangible and so far away.
Yet was nearly there now; but who was snoring. In her land people never snored, but try as she might she couldn’t see the perpetrator, and she lazily wondered why. Then she stopped wondering completely. Let the snoring continue, she thought to herself, it couldn’t hurt anyone, and she was too warm and comfortable by the fireside to really give a damn. All she had to do was to lean back in the armchair, pull the dressing gown around her and then…
Eli leant against the door jam to the room, and looked at Eli who now sat gently snoring by the fire. She had been Zoe’s age once, yet had never enjoyed such freedom, and she knew that many people looked down at Zoe with a shake of the head and a frown. She was a little wild, and somewhat wayward; and she didn’t always act like a lady.Her fondness for alcohol, and subsequent head to toe drunkenness were much talked of within her local community, yet who would want to clip the wings of such a songbird, thought Eli, and who would really want to silence such a song.
Even so she still needed a branch upon which she might rest and settle, and she still needed, occasional shelter from life’s uglier storms. That is where people like Eli came in. They offered protection, as their feet, by fate or circumstance, always stayed locked into the ground. There shouldn’t be too much protection though, as Eli knew just how stifling, and how painful that could be.
Born and bred in the town of Urk in Northern Holland, she knew all about respectability, tradition, and the power of the Church in Holland, and its puritanical resistance to change. A Dyck by name, and a dyke by nature, that is how some ignorant guys cruelly referred to her, and it hurt her far more than she was prepared to show. Urk, outside of fish, fishing boats, nets and fishermen; was all about social conformity, religion, social etiquette and Traditional Dutch Conservatism. Such homophobic attitudes and comments robbed her of acceptance within the community, but it gave her and others like her, a strong sense of identity, and, no-one would ever enslave her mind.
Even its symbols of the town were, to a young ambitious Eli, a sign of such restrictions. What of the statue the the woman who always looked out to sea for her sons and her husband? Was she really looking and longing for them, or was she more looking out towards the skyline for freedom. A freedom which she would never enjoy, as her feet, encased in stone, would always stay rooted over the centuries to come.
Then there was the flag. A pretty flag with a silvery haddock amidst an eternally blue sea, but with two red bands on either side. For Eli such lines were like the nets thrown out from the trawlers. They were strong nets, well maintained nets, yet heaven help any fish that yearned for freedom, while desperately trapped inside.
So even though she loved her parents, she was glad to leave the town and neighborhood, but even now, 15 years onwards, she could never let herself go like Zoe, and she wondered whether she would ever emulate her song.
Zoe moved slightly in Eli’s old armchair, and her dressing gown began to open. Eli smiled once more, and moved over quietly, if a little reluctantly, to adjust the dressing gown, but Zoe, just being Zoe, just gave her a sleepy yet happy grunt in return.
Where was she, with her slim but lovely body, thought Eli? In what land had she found herself, and who was with her in her dreams. In her mind Eli saw Zoe wandering through her homeland with a huge bag full of poffertjes, pannacooken, and syrup waffles, and Eli wanted to be with her, but not in Urk. Not in her hometown, and not in her old home where she had felt so much frustration and loneliness, and had lost so many of her dreams.
“Dream on my Little Nederlander. When you wake up I serve you your pannekoeken, yet I wonder what you might give me in return.”
“Wake up my little Dutch song bird, it’s Pannekoeken time! Open your mouth wide, but don’t open your eyes!”
Waking up slowly, and torn between Eli and the dreams that had been haunting her, Zoe only half registered Eli’s soft yet inquiring voice as it sidled into her ear. She cast a brief sleepy eye towards Eli, who now, attractively backlit by the fire, stood smiling down at her. For a brief moment Zoe hesitated, in remembrance of a once, and only once, served treat of raw onion and herring, but there was a strange smell in the air that was positively alluring. She closed her eyes as instructed, and opened her mouth in anticipation of goodies to come.
“ There’s a good girl, now close your mouth please, and enjoy!”
Zoe closed her mouth, and slowly bit on a piece of pancake that now lay cradled on her tongue .
It was wonderful, and an intense burst of flavour exploded on her tongue. Sweet vanilla danced a Paso Doble with slightly sharp blueberries. Hot Cinnamon waltzed gracefully with rich sweet old cherry brandy, and both couples glided over a dance floor of aniseed sugar icing, chocolate sauce, and smooth cool, Cornish cream, vanilla flavoured, ice cream. Zoe opened her eyes and looked up towards Eli who stood smiling back at her. In each hand she a plate, and on each plate an enormous pancake heaped with all the goodies she had tasted before. Zoe grinned mischievously and raised her hand in the air.
“Please Miss, I’m hungry, may I have some more!”
Eli just grinned
“For you my little Dutch child, anything; but no more talking now, pannekoeken, real pannekoeken, must never be eaten cold!”
Thank God Eli was just Eli, Zoe thought to herself, for though Eli was always calm and in control of her emotions, she was one of those people that, always made you feel warm, secure, and welcome. Safe in a world where she could rest, and where no-one would threaten or make demand of her, Zoe enjoyed every moment of that wonderful peace and tranquillity. It was so good to just be with Eli, and to look into the flames of the sweetly scented apple wood fire. A fresh glass of golden gin by their side, there was no need for music or any conversation and there was no sound in the room, except for the happy hiss and whispering from fire and the slow steady beat from Eli’s old Dutch clock on the wall .
They ate in silence, and lost in a land from which neither wanted to return, they gazed at the dancing yet shadowy world around them,undulating and belly dancing apple wood flames. The flickering flames sung to them, the sweet smell of apple sap engulfed them, and the wonderful flavours of the hot over-filled pannekoeken spun wildly on both of their tongues.
Then Zoe began to laugh. Quietly at first then, half choking on a bit of pancake. Then her laughter rang out in exultation, while a trail of chocolate and blueberry oozed and slithered, freely down onto her chin.
Zoe saw that Eli was looking at her as if she were a lunatic, but, in the split second before the laughter, Zoe was back in the confessional. She was looking down at Father Micheal and Mrs Flaherty, who, on opposite sides of the screen, both held fruit filled pancakes, just like their own. Chocolate sauce covered Father Joseph robes, a dollop of cream remorselessly slid over his double chin, and leaning back in his chair he ecstatically blessed the sweet smelling air with a blueberry coated crucifix.
While he swung his crucifix Mrs Flaherty burbled and gurgled her way through an endless round of Hail Mary’s and our Fathers. Pancake, cream, and cherry brandy spattered the confessional grate before her, whilst on her hat, perpetually worn in memory of her long deceased husband, a large blob of ice cream slowly melted and flopped onto it’s greasy and threadbare rim.
Finally on top of the confessional sat the the three demons of lust, greed, and gluttony. Mammon, Beelzebub, and Asmodeus
. Demons by name and demons by nature they were all drunk and full of irreligious merrymaking. They were all playing cadenza’s on a fiddle, they were all singing loudly, and they all held an empty bottle of vintage cherry brandy between their thighs.
Controlling her laughter Zoe told Eli what she’d seen, and they both fell about crying with laughter, unable to carry on eating until, somehow, they had managed to calm down. They were sitting as warm as toast with God in his parlour. Their sins had been forgiven, they were eating pannekoeken, and all was right with the world.
Zoe swung her blueberries and chocolaty fork high in the air as if she were blessing the holy sacrament.
“I bless our pancakes in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost! Bless us father, for we have sinned!”
Then she raised her glass, and gleefully looked up towards the ceiling.
“ You can hand out as many Hail Mary’s and Our Fathers as you want to, you vindictive old beggar, but, if I ever catch you eating my pancake, I’ll do the whole damn thing over and over again!”
Eli studied Zoe carefully, the dressing gown once more slightly open, and she allowed herself another glance, and a smile.
They had been good friends for a long time now, and like two threads in a weave, which only partially finished, still needed more color and strength before completion. A new thread had woven itself into their tapestry. It was a vibrant thread, a joyous thread; and a thread that, if carried through to completion, would only grow stronger and brighter as their friendship grew over the years.
It was weird to hear herself laughing, and unnerving, but after so many years without such laughter it also felt wonderful. The shape and final colours of the tapestry were as yet unknown to both of them, and if either of them wanted to carry their relationship further they would have to work things out and tread carefully, but she still raised her glass in anticipation of, what she hoped, would be more exciting times to come.
“I too, raise a glass to the Father, but also to heavenly indulgences! May we forever be allowed to sin!”
Zoe, grinned, took a slurp of gin, held high a large chunk of chocolate covered pannekoeken, and, sending a warm and tender glance towards Eli, happily sang out
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