An Enlightening Quiche
An heirloom quiche recipe and baking rivalry turn up the heat in a Rhode Island mill town rife with secrets and scandals! Misconceptions, misdeeds, and maliciousness wreak havoc on those caught in the crossfire of a tragedy.
From An Enlightening Quiche: Chapter 10 in Entirety
Augusta: “I wish you’d find a good man to settle down with by the time your next one comes around!” The crux of Oncle Emil’s “flirty in your thirties; finished at forty” pronouncement at last year’s milestone birthday fête hit my psyche with the displacement of an earthquake’s aftershock when the forty-first made landfall. Settling down with any one of the misfits I found myself attracted to, while shunning decent enough men like Ray Provost, a ticking time bomb by profession, unsettled those who positioned themselves along the periphery of a gladiatorial arena, helpless to shield me from deep wounds self-inflicted by engaging in morally destructive behavior. Hooking up is one thing. Falling in love with any of the riffraff
I bedded, a dim prospect aligned with descending the rungs of a ladder into an abysmal abyss. Stuck in a holding pattern, I didn’t want to fall in love only to have my heart broken into irretrievable pieces.
Before the spectacle of the upcoming candle blowout took place, during one and the same period of grace leading up to Thanksgiving, a stranger’s downward climb precipitated even more disgraceful conduct which eventually put me in the bad graces of those detrimentally affected by my actions. On my own collision course with destiny, hitting Blackstone’s rock bottom seemed the only way I could ever gain enough insight to navigate through dire straits and orient my moral compass toward beau chemins.
According to the National Weather Service, November’s average temperature of 49.6 degrees in the Northeast tied us 2nd place with the topaz months of 1927 and 1948. A lucky break for Marc who got off to a late start lining up estimates for a roof replacement, then deciding to abandon his systematic search midway through the alphabetical list of prospects in favor of hiring the A team comprised of a scruffy, hungry-for-work, two-man band of brothers who billed themselves as “Above the Rest Roofies.” A price quote and handyman pitch in laymen terms convinced Marc a Tremont roof over our heads would keep us dry for many years to come.
Undistracted and undaunted by my serial yawns of boredom induced from having reached a saturation point on the subject of roofs, Marc continued his monologue despite my detachment. “Ignorance or lack of proper workmanship eventually causes the gravel to be moved or removed from the tarpaper, exposing the roof to the elements so that over time water gets in. I’ve been assured they’re going to use a tarpaper variant where gravel is applied to the hot tar during the manufacturing process, forming a permanent layer to give the roof ongoing protection. Not bad, eh?”
“Oui oui.” I muttered Beauchemins’ equivalent of “uh huh.” My lack of enthusiasm merited one of Marc’s noogies to my head before he left the office to oversee printing and binding operations.
Ouais! Yeah! Our banner November ranked second amongst the warmest in recorded history, going as far back to the late 1800s when the first roof insulated the newly constructed building known as American Voyager Luggage. Forwarding fast to Brulé Bookbinding, a few roofs later, I’ll relate straightaway how atmospheric conditions struck at the heart of matters due to a gift horse of 68-degree, sunny weather on a Thursday which reigned in holy terror.
Marc hadn’t bargained for the two-man band of brothers blaring hard rock from a boom box up on the roo-oo-oof, a trouble-proof paradise where their cares may have drifted into space, while the rumble of guitar riffs menaced those who occupied the world below— namely moi! Most days Marc took refuge inside the belly of the mill, preferring the steady onslaught of noise produced by cacophonous machinery for hours on end. Or, he’d barricade himself within the vault of the restoration room, a sanctified humidor for a cloistered bunch who restored and rebound rare books.
A glutton for auditory punishment, I managed to overcome my struggle against friction and opened the oversized office window halfway to take advantage of the afternoon’s unseasonal balminess. As a consequence of fulcrum’s folly, several attempts to schedule new work orders proved futile while mentally battling a barrage of riffs from “Smoke on the Water.” Daaah daaah daaah …!
Amazingly, a piercing cry of agony could be heard above Deep Purple’s smoke screen, alarming one of the bros to kill the deafening decibels. A salvo of expletives rife with obscenities ripped through the air, zooming in one ear and out the other, kicking off a visual with potential to set my loins on fire if executed in slow motion. Timing may be everything, but so is tempo when it comes to priming one’s libido for ribald, raunchy sex! Strange, what a woman’s desire can influence her to fantasize through envisioning a wicked game of trailing an ice cube from sternum to steel-panel abs on a select male!
Rhythmic fluctuations of high voltage ping-ponging throughout my brain created a rapid-fire pulsation whenever I mobilized the memory of a midday descent from a rooftop as a slow tango, in stark contrast to the slapstick antics of a beau jester frenetically fleeing his assailant and hell-bent on making a beeline for temporary asylum in my office. Forever committing his magnum force to memory, I’ll begin with the first tantalizing increment of a roofer’s rush to the ground along the rungs of a stabilizing, extension ladder.
His boots, worn and rugged as the man who slipped inside them. Those leather work boots portended a toughened and wizened individual who blazed the less-traveled roads in life, slogging through mud and trampling over brushwood, incurring abrasive scrapes and scratches, yet emerging a formidable survivor for having endured and overcome setbacks along a precarious journey.
Thighs tightly squeezed inside the loincloth of washed-out denim jeans emphasized lean musculature chiseled from daily exertion on limbs attached to a man who manually labored and belabored on a rooftop dawn to dusk. Licensed, reliable, and you betchya— affordable, after shooting himself in the foot by undercutting prices to get a leg up on competitors all vying for their place in the sun. Then, paying through the roof for general liability insurance in order to improve his rating in procuring work for a client base who wouldn’t consider job bids otherwise. Sky-high thighs couldn’t afford to be riddled with arthritis or sustain injury on the job if the man connected to them intended to support a family and supply its daily bread. What about health insurance? At skyscraping prices, not likely, unless covered under a spouse’s plan, depending on costs for deductibles or co-pays. Amen.
Furthering along the rungway, the full monty slide progressed to a fit n’ trim torso which no tool belt could disguise. Since roofing demands physical strength to lift and lug heavy materials, the muscles along his equatorial region were terra firma, imploring me to speculate if I could bounce a quarter off of his solar plexus as well as his gluteus maximus. Curiosity in conjunction with lacking the psychological acumen to delay gratification creates a lethal combination where I’m concerned.
Eye movement proceeded up, up, and away from the flyway to the byway of biceps on sinewy upper arms sun-bronzed and bulging from the tightness of his grip on the side rails of the ladder as he shimmied closer to ground level. This cat on a hot tin roof sheathed inside a frayed, faded T-shirt stained with perspiration harbored no fat! Lean and agile, though far from fragile, and nimble without a quibble, this roofer achieved peak performance with every mount. Double entendre, intended! Seducing and inducing me to believe the counterpoise necessary for navigating slope transferred an ability to shoulder responsibility in juggling the onslaught of lemons life hurled at him.
Having progressed this far along my voyeuristic excursion of roofer madness, the cumulative effect from each salacious revelation built a sexual tension which would either downgrade to a fizzle or escalate to a frenzy, hinging upon my reaction the first time ever I saw his face for determining whether the sun rose or froze in his eyes. Turn-on or turn-off? That is the salient, silent, theatrical question posed by two people who find themselves thrust together on a make-do stage paired inside a theater of the round, oblong, square, oval, or heart-shaped for that matter.
The locale of such meetings proves incidental and inconsequential as does an inspection of each facial feature, separate and apart from its composite effect, better discerned by a holistic approach when scaling the topographical canvas of configurative physiognomy. Circumstances behind the downslide decreed and decried the parameters of our face-off when the eagle landed on turf in front of my window, panting in sheer terror and barely managing to issue a disarming call to armament.
“Call 911! I’ve been stung by a yellow jacket! Could lose consciousness under ten minutes from … allergic reac …”
A surge of adrenalin ramped up my retreat from the window, inciting a mad dash to the fridge for Blanche’s EpiPen. Frantic pounding on the outside door initiated an abrupt turnaround where I practically fell flat on my face from the disorientation of spinning my heels to unlock and open it. A race against time staged a comedy of errors fueled by trauma on the other side of the heavy metal conduit to safety. Both of us dispensing with formal introductions, I grabbed him by the arm and led him to my desk chair where shoving him onto the seat nearly caused an overturn.
I rushed back to the fridge, and while rummaging its interior for the elusive pen, he rolled up to me, inches from my derriere, primed for a confrontation undoubtedly ripe with derisive accusations as to what I was doing on my hands and knees when I should be phoning in a medical emergency. Voila! Concealed behind Charlemagne’s yogurt army. Forearmed, I stood up and towered over a cornered rat. Before he could vent aggression, I took high aim and jabbed the EpiPen into his outer thigh with all my might to make sure I penetrated denim’s tough hide and made contact with flesh.
A split second of bewilderment gave me the chance to step back out of harm’s way, fearful he’d slug me in retaliation for the pain I’d inflicted, then top it off by adding insult to injury. Shock mutated into agony verbalized as a savage groan while he grasped the shiverme-timbers, wooden side arms to buck up.
Rooted in fear from a precarious predicament of raising the hackles on a surly beast, I braced myself for the seething rage about to spew. Cued by the grotesque transfiguration of lips contorted into a snarl, and teeth clenched for conveying vehemence, I fortified my psyche to withstand any unscripted insult he might add to my injurious jab. “You’re deranged and oughta be locked up in a psycho ward! I’ll be lucky if I can walk outta here!”
He couldn’t. He stood, but complained of feeling faint and collapsed onto the seat’s unforgiving surface I never had the prescience to soften with a chair pad.
Dizziness! Blanche’s one-time tutorial, more of a fire-and-brimstone homily before a congregation on coffee break, prophesied the deadly sins of bee stings. One of them, lightheadedness, or a sharp drop in blood pressure. Another, a red rash spreading beyond the sting site, his easily discernible as a tumescent lump on the side of his neck, and most definitely red-flagged. Two symptoms too many!
Severe allergic reactions aside, Blanche instilled the fear of God in her flock when she impressed upon us the thirty-second margin for removing the stinger to prevent any more bee venom from entering the bloodstream, and further cautioned first responders not to pull out that sucker. Scraping it with a stiff-edged object, or fingernail if need be, would inhibit releasing more toxins into the skin. Time and tide wait for no man. Seconds had trespassed into minutes since he sounded his own alarm. Coûte que coûte, as in hook or by crook, I had to make it snappy. Que ça saute!
Ransacking the top drawer of my desk and spilling much of its contents onto the floor during the search, I made a split-second judgment call for Bic to do the trick and pried the pen cap loose with my teeth. The element of surprise attack no longer a viable option, I banked on power of persuasion to convince the crumpled mass slumped forward in a heap of my target objective to approach his jugular with a cap clip. Offering no resistance, he wearily nodded his consent.
Frazzled but belatedly pressed to depress the 911 phone pistons as a last resort after an expenditure of energy void of coordination, I bit my lower lip in trepidation, pondering whether his family might initiate a civil action suit by filing a wrongful death claim stemming from my negligence to engage an emergency service tout de suite.
I never completed the push button triad, prevented from doing so when Tremont no. 2 burst into the office, facilitated by my overt neglect to lock the door behind me when I admitted Tremont no. 1. The stockier, more clean-shaven half of the brotherhood, who unceremoniously introduced himself as Ashe, suspiciously eyed the phone receiver in my hand, and voiced his irritability by insinuating I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.
“Hang it up!” Startled, I dropped the receiver which dangled by its cord over the desk, emitting an off-hook quad frequency demanding an urgent smack down on the cradle. “My brother doesn’t know you saved my life by nearly stabbing me to death! I’m Gabe, by the way.”
Analogous to calling a truce on a bloody battlefield, he proffered a handshake. Brief as the interlude may have been for me to reciprocate an introduction, the warmth and might of his clutch felt like the laying on of hands to incite a primeval, Pentecostal uprising deep from within. Sing Gabe’s praises to the skies! Long, lean fingers coveted my hand in a grasp sending telepathic shock waves via my cutaneous receptors. Bare-handed bandying put a hold on flesh rough to the touch on its posterior surface and smoothly callused on the palm.
The second tier of ripples emanating from this out-of-body experience intensified from a bemused grin overlaid during the shake. In the aftermath, the eyes had it! Heavy-lidded browns exercised their optimal, optical power of illusion to undress their subject in effigy by leaving nothing unaddressed. The last vestiges of reserve and resolve dissolved under his scrutiny, affecting my voice to falter in a falsetto, audibly foreign to my own ears, dubbed as an unnaturally, high-pitched wail of a banshee. “Your hide was saved today on account of an employee prone to severe allergic reactions from bee stings keeps her spare EpiPen in the fridge.”
Ashe grabbed one of those paisley honker hankies the size of a bandanna from his back pocket and wiped sweat off his brow, conceding relief his kid brother wasn’t a gonner from fumbling with his own EpiPen and dropping it on the weed-infested ground, nowhere to be found. He helped his brother up on his feet, resolute in driving him posthaste to Landmark Emergency in Woonsocket for follow up medical care in case the dosage wasn’t enough to reverse his allergic reaction. “Second close call, hey, bro? Maybe now you’ll consider those
Woozy from a prolapsed adrenalin rush, I collapsed onto the swivel chair’s hard- knocked surface to recuperate and gather my wits before collecting desk debris scattered in every direction. A blade named Gabe tarried a fleeting moment by the open door, the gleam in his brooding browns once again ascertaining the pull of our animal magnetism. “Tell that lady I owe her one.”
Mon Dieu! Ephemeral traces of Gabe Tremont lingered after he disappeared from view. The seat radiated his body heat. The signature muskiness of his perspiration hovered as an aphrodisiacal cloud nine committed to my olfactory memory. Intoxicated by his pheromones, I closed my eyes to siphon his image in the residue of energy he’d left behind, envisioning his shaggy locks heavily dispersed with gray. His face shadowed in stubble, chiseled lean, browbeaten to a leathery tan by the relentless assault of the elements; lines permanently etched from having passed the focal point of fifty—my judgment call. His visage, a passageway to reach his soul, entreated me to stroke his cheek and trail my index finger along his lips to silence them in readiness for a kiss.
The sexual tension which certainly would have erupted in erotic spasms subsided out of sheer necessity for me to take leave of my senses and leap from my chair to find Blanche, hereby rendered defenseless against a venomous mortal enemy without her antidote.
By the time twilight’s dark shadows encroached, Jacasseuse pollinated the air with gossip about her heroic action as a silent benefactor. The prattle even permeated the sheltered restoration room by ricochet. Bridgie Doyenne, who ran into Blanche on her way back from squatting over the lone porcelain throne inside the tight quarters of our unisex lavatory, smoked Marc out of hiding in the restoration room. Eager for the scoop from a primary source, he hurried back to our office where he discovered me crawling on all fours gathering debris strewn helter-skelter.
Poor choice of words perhaps, but, stooping to my level, he crawled alongside me, shoulder to shoulder, helping to reclaim sundries while ingesting the perilous facts. Peering into his eyes, magnified by the lenses of tortoise shell rims, the placidity of those ocean blues induced me to buckle under and surrender tears which gave way to convulsive sobs. He put his arms around me, lending a shoulder to cushion my distress. When the tide ebbed, he dried my tears with his handkerchief, and led me to my chair where I collapsed like a ragdoll.
At Marc’s insistence, I sipped a glass of orange juice he’d poured. Too weak to refuse his
ultimatum, I let him drive me home.
Faster than a yellow jacket’s flight in search of another poor sap, news of the rescue had spread throughout Beauchemins by the time Marc deposited me curbside in front of the Marchands’ abode. Dragging my hindquarters up the porch stairs in an altered state, Yolande opened her door, stifling a gasp at my expense. She thwarted my hasty retreat to crash by redirecting me to have dinner with her and Norm, then admonishing me to get to bed soon afterward. “Sacre bleu de Tabarnak! Some reaction you had!”
Uncaged Review: This was a hard book for me to really get into and enjoy. Although the book is really well written with engaging characters and storyline, the word play, the puns, and the descriptions were very distracting for me and disrupted the flow of the story. The Canadian-French connection in the book is a bit lost on me – so that is a connection I never made. This is also written in the first person narrative and switches between the main characters – which worked fine, but within those narratives, it almost felt like it would switch to second person for a paragraph or so. Intelligent writing? Yes. But for me, it was like a roast that was left in the oven just a few minutes too long. But once you get used to the writing style, you’ll find an original and engaging story that leaps over its own hurdles.
With all that said, if you can get beyond those aspects, you’ll find a very original storyline with strong women and life in this small town. Between saving the local mill and the quiche bake-off, you will find friendship, betrayal and skeletons in closets with mysteries you are eager to solve. Reviewed by Cyrene
4 1/2 Stars