by Lindsey Danis
Saturday mornings I bake rustic fruit tarts, blood-red with cherries and skin-on nectarines from an organic fruit farm in the East Bay. Coffee is free, but I’ve got to make it, which I do as the ovens heat up and the sky lightens. A pop of pink heralds a new day. I pause to drink it in, to savor quiet.
The market hall fills up slowly, then all at once. The shop jams with bodies needing a coffee and pastry – so many they shout over the din. The bathroom line snakes around the corner to the right. I put my head down and work through the rush until the tempo shifts. Lunchtime: I get a break. A single chicken taco from the Mexican taqueria does double duty.
The market offers ripe strawberries nine months a year. There are jujubes and muscadet grapes out front, cherimoyas and guavas facing the bay, and by the statue of Gandhi, which is adorned with a marigold garland, stone fruit picked at ripeness and bursting in my mouth. Each week is a new wonderland.
Post-shift, I nap on a park bench with my knives tucked under me. To passing tourists I look homeless and dirty, chef pants covered in powdered sugar, but there’s nowhere else to go.
Gulls caw overhead. The waves knock against the ferry dock and infuse my dreams with the motion of work.
It’s not rest I’m after so much as stillness.
With ten minutes to go before my second shift, I leave for the close-textured maze of downtown San Francisco with a swing in my step. I thread through the streets toward work, toward you, buoyed on the aliveness of being young and queer and single and doing exactly what I want to be doing with my life (except I am not writing) when the breeze shifts as I buy another coffee, carrying with it your orange blossom water. Carrying you to me.
This is the last day I think of you and smile.
Remind me, is it a brown butter cake or a buckwheat cake? Or does it have brown butter and buckwheat? The cake is served with a rich citrus marmalade and ice cream – fat cuts sweet – but only the orange blossom water lingers. Or as a friend calls it, orange blossom flower water. I can’t decide if he is too wordy or captures the sense memory precisely.
The air brings you to me. Brings us to me. When us is a team, when us is something I am a part of, when I still speak, the way you will accuse me, in first-person plural, which in your accounting becomes ego-driven, as in how dare I assume to define an us and claim for myself a central part?
I am nothing but a cook: replaceable.
Orange blossom flower water. Orange buckwheat brown butter. My life, drifting down to me on the breeze.
Except you pack your things on a Sunday not long after. My friend tells me you clear out before they can fire you.
It’s hard to sketch a timeline when every day is sixty degrees. What alternates is sun vs. fog, what you see vs. what you feel, who gets to go and who gets to stay, then what is said and what’s swallowed.
Us eclipses me.
Maybe a month after you are let go, I am let go, but that’s far off on this sunny afternoon when I am making my way to you,
when I believe you have something to teach me,
when I am willing to call you chef.