Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dinner Talk

Rebecca’s hands tightened into fists and she furiously shook her head, trying to dispel the obsessive thoughts that assailed her daily. She didn’t know that studying for “Jeopardy” would be such a challenge. She had memorized hundreds of facts that were crammed in her head like a box of crayons with every color under the rainbow. Black forest, red velvet, white wine, blue cheese, hash browns. STOP IT! Unable to sleep more than a few hours a night, she was exhausted. This had been going on for weeks; Rebecca wasn’t used to getting such little sleep. Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett, Maid Marian, Sheriff of Nottingham. KNOCK IT OFF! Offend, runoff, official, offshoot, trade off. NO!

Her friends Zoe and Marla had joined her for dinner to celebrate her being chosen a contestant, and tomorrow Rebecca would be flying to Hollywood. Her greatest fear was that she’d look like a complete idiot. Buffoon, dolt, laughingstock, moron, lunatic. NOT AGAIN! What was she trying to prove, anyway?

Rebecca wiped her hands across her apron as she turned to the pot that was now boiling over. When she was putting the hot pan in the sink, she noticed a movement in the reflection of the window. She turned quickly, but Zoe and Marla were still sitting motionless, right where she’d left them. Rebecca didn’t want them to know how nervous she was about the show, or about the voices. At first, her rambling thoughts only happened when the room was quiet. But now it was getting worse and she had trouble controlling it. She took a deep breath, and with a forced smile, carried the bowl of steaming pasta to the dining room.

“Penne pasta and marinara sauce!” said Marla. “Beck, you’ve outdone yourself this time.”

“I adore your cooking, Cheri. This delightful repast reminds me of a funny story. Have I told it before? I don’t think so. Or have I? No, I’m fairly certain I haven’t. Anyway, when Roger and I were in Paris last summer, we dined at this quaint out-of-the way bistro…”

Rebecca didn’t hear the rest. Her thoughts carried her away into another category. What is the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Champs-Elysees?

“…and can you believe it? The waiter forgot the wine!” Zoe finished her story with a dramatic shriek of laughter.

What is Bordeaux, Champagne, Alsace, Burgundy, Roussillon?

Marla chuckled politely for Zoe’s benefit and then glanced in Rebecca’s direction, “Are you okay, Beck? You look a little flushed.”

“I’m fine. Too much wine I guess. How’s the salad?”

“Wonderful,” said Marla.

“Divine,” said Zoe.

“Good. I wanted tonight to be special.”

“You’re not nervous about the show, are you?” asked Marla.

“No, not all.”

Zoe sipped her Chablis and said, “You have nothing to be afraid of, my dear. You’ll reign supreme!”

Who is King Louis, Queen Elizabeth, Tzar Nicholas, Ferdinand, Isabella?

“In fact, Beck, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were one of the all-time winners!”

“Well, I don’t know about that…” said Rebecca.

“Don’t be so modest,” said Marla. “You’ve told us how it’s always been your dream and how you’ve never had the courage until now. We know you’re ready for this. Don’t worry.”

Rebecca nodded and a faint smile played at the edge of her lips. She didn’t deserve such devoted friends. Marla and Zoe were right. She would be just fine.

“Marla, darling, what exhibits are on display at the gallery this season? I’m dying to see something new,” asked Zoe.

What is renew, Newport, newlywed, New Delhi, newsworthy?

“Well,” said Marla, “in December we’re showing works by an artist from New Orleans by the name of Jim Stone.”

What is amethyst, topaz, emerald, zircon, sapphire?

“Never heard of him. What has he done?” asked Zoe.

“He’s a sculptor. Specializes in Old West motifs,” Marla replied.

Who is Buffalo Bill, Crazy Horse, Wyatt Earp, Annie Oakley, Geronimo?

Zoe sniffed in disdain. “Old West? I didn’t know there were cowboys in New Orleans.”

“You’d be surprised, Zoe. New Orleans is quite the Renaissance city.”

Who is Da Vinci, Copernicus, Botticelli, Cervantes, Monteverdi?

Marla continued, “It’s not all about Cajun cuisine and Jazz, you know.”

What is gumbo, jambalaya, ragtime, bebop, swing? STOP IT! Rebecca stood up abruptly.

“Is everyone ready for coffee and dessert?”

“Absolutely,” said Zoe.

“Do you need some help?” asked Marla.

More than you know, thought Rebecca. “No, I can handle it. Just make yourselves comfortable in the living room. I’ll be right back.”

In the kitchen, Rebecca sliced three generous portions of German chocolate cake. Eins, zwei, drei, vier, funf. Suddenly her hands started shaking uncontrollably. Just slight tremors at first, but quickly turning into sharp, jerky movements. She dropped the knife. As it clattered to the floor, she bit her knuckles in fear. What’s wrong with me?

“Beck? Are you okay in there?”

“Just dropped the knife. I’m okay.” Monet, soufflé, Bombay. The room was spinning around and around like a carousel and Rebecca was getting dizzy…fizzy…tizzy. Her head hurt and the voices grew more persistent. Jupiter…hickory smoked…For Whom the Bell Tolls…

Rebecca screamed, dropped to the floor and crawled into a corner of the kitchen. Marla and Zoe ran in and found her there in a fetal position, clawing at her hair and moaning in agony. Bermuda Triangle …peregrine falcon…Margaret Thatcher….NO! Sardines…quantum mechanics…Prohibition…HELP ME! Centigrade…Dow Jones…Frosty the Snowman…MAKE IT STOP?

As Marla dialed 911, Zoe reached down and stroked Rebecca’s cheek, speaking words of solace. “Don’t worry, Cheri. We know you’re a tiny bit anxious about your appearance on the show and that you’re terribly afraid of looking like a fool, but you’ll be fine. Just fine.”

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