lundi, juillet 05, 2004

Yellow Onion, White Onion

I once knew a man, slight in stature but no less handsome, with salt and pepper hair and clear green eyes. He was rich, charming, cultured and Italian. He lived in an ultra modern house high up on a hill on a corner. He knew many people - all the ones one should know for social and political climbing - and many more one would be better off never having met. He threw large, lavish parties in his steel and glass house that was filled with thick, heavy art and philosophy books in different languages. His walls were covered with all the collections one should have - Liechstenstein, Warhol, and Matisse, among many others. He had a weakness for black and white photography, especially by a woman who was fond of photographing her own children in the nude - an echo of his weakness for much younger women than himself.

I met him at a cocktail party, one of those soirees you get invited to and go because you'd always wanted to see the inside of houses in that area. We had seen each other many times since, mostly at parties, where he would be sure to bestow a compliment on me in passing, like a priest flicking holy water on his way down the aisle.

One evening he invited me over to dinner at his house, and we sat talking on his impeccably white Le Corbusier sofa under the Liechstenstein. At some point in the conversation, he had exclaimed,

"You are so surprising! You don't have any of the same preoccupations of other rich women I know."

I burst out laughing and asked what had ever given him the idea that I was rich. I silently mused at how little he knew me.

Months later, he invited me and some friends to his house for a late dinner of pasta, a special dish he wanted to prepare for us to continue the impromptu spirit of the evening. I was meeting the rest of the group at his place, and on my way there, he called to ask if I would pick up an onion for the special dish.

"It must be a white onion," he insisted, "the mushrooms would not be able to stand up to the yellow ones."

I was mildly annoyed since I was almost there, but most especially because he had changed his mind about where and what to eat several times over the course of the evening before finally settling on cooking at home. Just as I as I had parked my car and was about to run in to the store, my friend Oksana called. A stunning East European with long straight black hair as thick as her accent, she was calling to see if I was already there. I mentioned I was about to go in to the store to buy an onion.

"He asked me to buy an onion, too," she said. "But I am going to be late, so if he needs it for the dish..."

"Did yours have to be white?" I asked sarcastically.


"Don't you think it's strange he asked us both to buy an onion?" I said.

"I think we need to talk," she said.

When I arrived, I proffered him the onion at the door as I kissed his cheeks on either side in greeting.

"Oh, you needn't have," he said, taking the bag from me absent mindedly and gesturing towards the kitchen with it, "Julia brought one earlier."

Biting my tongue to not say something impertinent, I went inside to find the other members of the group gathered in the spacious steel appliance-filled kitchen, most of them standing around awkwardly in their socks in expectation. Julia, a very young Asian who was in town visiting, had a slightly dreamy smile on her face that couldn't help looking ever so slightly triumphant. Apparently her shockingly yellow onion had already been chosen to be part of the special dish. I watched with detached amusement as he stiffly dashed around the kitchen, wiping every surface and rearranging things on the countertops to be perfectly lined up.

Up to that point, I had thought him cultured and sophisticated, but as he continued to obsess without ever offering those of us who had arrived post-onion a drink or a seat, I thought to myself that I may have been brought up with modest means, but I certainly was taught how to receive guests.

Finally, I broke the stalemate by offering to open the bottle of wine I had brought and serve it to the group. This meant looking in the drawers for the wine opener, something I sensed I shouldn't do without asking which one.

He nudged me out of the way and opened the drawer behind me, which was at least three feet in length and held the most organized, entensive collection of flatware I had ever seen.

"Now that's a bigger drawer than I expected it to be," I mused. The girl next to me laughed.

He turned to me and looked at me askance, "Why is it that you say things in a way that make me think it's not what you mean?" he said.

I had no idea what to say. I had really only expressed surprise at the size of the drawer. What could he possibly think I could have meant? Did he think it was a comment on his height? Surely not on the size of his member in proportion? In that moment I realized to my utter astonishment that I unsettled him.

To be continued...

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