The Blonde had gone on holiday with her two best friends which she’d apparently known from birth. She will spend hours a day on the phone to them, usually after she’s just come back from lunch with them, or shopping with, or Yoga-lates with them, leading me to wonder if there’s anything that ever happens in any of their lives that the other two don’t immediately know about. It’s as though they’re attempting to defy the Copenhagen interpretation all by themselves by ensuring that perfect information is transmitted to distinct locations simultaneously and instantaneously. But anyway, it had been Thursday afternoon, and I had been browsing on Amazon to see if there was anything humorous I could buy with my work’s credit card and have shipped to my editor’s desk, when the Blonde hobbled in clutching her hip. I looked up, and adopted an expression of concern.
“Are you alright, darling? Was the shopping too much?” I asked. I’ve learned how to add a rich timbre of sincerity to my voice through too many occasions of being accused of being sarcastic when saying such things.
“It was Yoga-lates, actually,” she said. I know only that it’s some kind of combination of Yoga and Pilates and that it was endorsed, for a while, by that political party who wanted to save the world by Yogic flying. “I collided with Jenna and we then both hit other things. It hurts, I don’t mind telling you that.”
Jenna, as I understood it, was the teacher of the class, though the Blonde often had acidic things to say about her which made me wonder why she attended the class at all. I harboured the suspicion that the Blonde only went because her best friends went, and one of them was determined to go because they had a crush on Jenna. I wondered if this collision would have caused ripples in the waters of friendship.
“We’re going to Monaco tomorrow,” said the Blonde. I shook my head.
“That’s rather short notice,” I said. “I’ve agreed to do the obits column this weekend, I’m not sure I can just mail it in from Monaco.”
“Not you,” said the Blonde witheringly, and I obligingly withered. “The girls and me, we’re going. Strictly a girly weekend of massages, spa treatments and general relaxation so I can get something done about this hip.”
I nodded, and decided it was best to keep quiet. I waved her off to her taxi the following morning, and then found an excuse to work from home that afternoon, so that I wouldn’t be around to blame when an elephant’s foot umbrella stand, autographed by the members of Fleetwood Mac, landed on my editor’s desk in the most flamboyant gift wrap I could request.
Saturday morning, left alone and looking at wonderfully blue skies and sunshine through the window, I decided to break out the barbecue and smoke something. There was a bag of charcoal left over from last summer, and it looked as though I’d remembered to clean the barbecue out before storing it this time, so all that I need was something for the smokiness, and something to absorb it. I did consider briefly trying to smoke the vodka but it seemed like it would better to drink it instead (later; at this time of the morning I’m strictly coffee and cigarettes until the bacon rolls have arrived). There was a bag of snails in the fridge, but I thought that they’d just taste of smoke (I have yet to find anything snails naturally taste of other than rubber), so that left the Blonde’s birthday cake.
Her birthday was two weeks ago, but due to a mix up between bakers the cake had only arrived Wednesday of this week. She’d looked at it, ooh-ed a little over the exquisite icing, and then reminded me she was on a strict diet until she was happy with the way she looked in her bathing costume. The cake had been sitting in the fridge ever since, so I figured it would be acceptable to smoke it and see how vanilla cream cake worked with a smokey infusion.
Find something to generate the smoke was tougher; there were no bags of applewood-chips or hickory-chips left over, and when I checked the garden the trees all looked to be tougher than me. There were nettles, but nettle-smoke didn’t sound that tasty. Checking the kitchen I thought I was going to have to try smoking with seven-grain flour for a while, and then I found a box of single-estate tea that the Blonde’s mother had given up at Christmas as part of a hamper. Perfect!
The barbecue was a cinch to set up for smoking, so the tea-leaves went into a little foil tray that sat directly on the coals, and the cake sat on the grill. I closed the lid, and waited.
About twenty minutes later I heard an odd sloughing sound and eyed the barbecue with suspicion. When, a few minutes later still, smoke started leaking out from it I opened it up to check on the cake.
The icing had melted and slid off the cake onto the coals and over the tea-leaves, where it then caramelised and started burning, hence the black, acrid smoke that was now billowing out (the fresh air providing new oxygen to the coals). I scooped the cake off the grill and slammed the lid back down. I let the barbecue cool down and then take it to the tip and replace it: there’s no way I was trying to clean burnt caramel off the wretched thing. The cake, sooty and smelling of tar, went back in the fridge. The Blonde wasn’t back until Monday; I had time to find someone to recover it with icing, and since she wasn’t going to eat it anyway, she’d never know.