All Things Worthless Left Behind
By Em Faerman
Think about the word tenderloin.
As Heidegger writes: it is language that reveals the nature of a thing and though man acts as though he were the shaper and master of language, language remains the master.
Take for instance, Bauen, from Old English and High German meaning “building” but also “dwell” as in: to remain, to stay in a place. But also: to cherish and protect, to preserve and care for, to till the soil and cultivate the vine. Thus, building in the sense of nurturing, not constructing.
Here, dwelling in the kitchen, creation has a set order, a specific goal. The gathering and acquiring of ingredients, the following of a proven method, the enjoyment of results, the permission to make a mess, clean up, start over. The end apparent by the hands’ no longer tasking, the mind most often weary.
Now reduce the marinade to a glaze, simmering until there is nearly nothing left. Ruminate on how cumin smells of pencil shavings and root vegetables taste of the earth itself (from dust to dust, etcetera, etcetera). How onions manage to sprout despite their own rotting, bulbous bellies. How beets will stain our insides crimson. Recall it was your first roommate who taught you to add the aromatics first when starting a broth or soup and interrogate Mother next time as to the methods of her mashed potatoes. Yours always starchy with a terrifying sheen. She a women who could never manage to avoid over-cooking rice.
Renting, the oven takes its time warming, has trouble keeping a steady temperature. Baking and toasting requiring careful attention to avoid burns (how the wounds would worsen, festering long before they healed). Results best when working within a theme. For example: should mushrooms be in season, begin with a hearty barley soup. Follow this with an herb-crusted salmon with a side of mushroom and spinach orzo. Perhaps some shredded Brussel sprouts. But no, this recall he does not prefer. A fact only revealed on the third instance of serving. Instead roast a young bird, eight pounds will likely suffice; include a side of roasted potatoes and asparagus. Drizzle with the juicy drippings. Watch as he sucks the bones clean. Follow with a rustic galette (apple, streusel topping). Serve hot to help the ice cream melt and smother.
Renting, the oven is not owned.
Nor the stove.
Nor the sink.
All that can be claimed is the outcome.
On Friday mornings, wake at five to start the bread. Flip on the oven’s pilot light as a guide in the darkness.
Flour, water, salt, yeast.
Mix and knead.
Fold the dough onto itself at quarter till six. The sun will be rising outside the kitchen window.
Put up the coffee.
Fold the dough again at quarter after, again at quarter till. Repeat every half hour for a total of no more than six folds. This is what creates texture, crumb.
Let the dough rest until nine o’clock, then it’s ready for proofing. Egg wash and stud the loaves with seeds (or steel cut oats and honey should it be preferred), let rise in the icebox until five-fifteen that evening, then score an X on top with an un-serrated blade. Do not apply pressure. Bake at 475 degrees Fahrenheit, second rack. Be sure to place a vat of water beneath, the humidity resulting in a hard crusty shell (just as he likes it). Allow the bread a few moments to cool before it is served at six-thirty, ensuring easy slicing. The sun will be setting outside the kitchen window.
Or perhaps begin at eleven o’clock the evening prior. Folding, resting, proofing, rising, wash-and-studding, scoring, baking, cooling, slicing. Don’t put up coffee. Instead: a strong Bloody Mary with fine-grated horseradish mixed at dawn as the sun is rising outside the kitchen window, once the loaves are placed in the pre-warmed oven. On such occasions, lay beneath the high leather headboard, but only once he has left, headed to the office.
Traditionally, it is the male head of the household who will slice the freshly baked bread at the Friday evening meal—once the candles have been lit, once the wine has been blessed and shared, once the hands have been washed.
Only when all has been sanctified are the braided loaves uncovered, sliced and dipped in a generous dune of salt, in a symbol of hospitality, in evocation of Lot’s wife (how strange she is only known commonly as “Lot’s wife” not by her name, Ado or Ildith, Edith. Only named so in some Jewish traditions, but not in the Bible). Now the male head of the household will savor the first piece, then pass slices around the table for his gathered guests, his children, lastly his wife, she most often receiving only the heel.
Here the girl, not the male, stands next to the table. The knife held tight in her small, ringless hand.
When word goes around about losing the apartment, leave him. This decision will be followed by a gradual emptiness—the ground floor work-room sloping into the garden, a trait of the structure’s vintage allowing for the water to trickle should it flood. An upper level room used for sleeping, infiltrated by ants entering at the crack in the mullion’s caulking.
In the office the books are packed and labeled (history, fiction A to F, religion) neatly stacked four boxes high. The paperbacks and reference texts bagged in plastic trash-pail liners, the ribbon closures like bloody trails. Bagged to protect against impending weather, deterring Lepisma saccharina. Known commonly as silverfish, the name is derived from their light gray-blue color and fish-like movements. The Latin hints at their diet of polysaccharides found in clothing, coffee, sugar, plaster, book binder’s glue, paper. Though household goods, Lepisma saccharina can live a year without eating.
Recall, too, it is the season when black plaster-eating Diplopoda (from the Greek roots diplous and podos meaning “double” and “foot”) crowd the doorstep and cling to the stucco.
“Do they turn into butterflies?” was once inquired of him.
“No. Only more millipedes,” he said dismayed.
They curl up in death and fear as if pillbug, turning to gray powder underfoot.
In the upper level room, across from the window with the cracked caulk in the mullion, stood the Wurlitzer upright with a dead E flat and a rosary of flowers etched beneath the ragged, untuned keys. Built in 1947, purchased used the year the oak was felled. Purchased too in better condition, so memory claims. Though this is known to not be true. Now, arrange the hands around Middle C and turn an ear to listen. Let the eyes close and allow the fingers to search for a way.
Once upon a time there was this place off Fifth (in the city of course). Once upon a time there was a young girl. Sometimes, once upon a time, Thelonious would be seated at the piano. On such occasions: slip in, sit at a good table, smile pretty, get served good (free) beer, wonder how it is that Times Square feels like nothing more than a big room full of men searching for The One to make a homestead of their wilderness. Turn an ear and listen: Monk cogitates abstraction, huge foot delicately beating, head turned to one side too, eyes closed, fingers knowing the way but still asking, listening, entering. Or is it the piano entering Monk, just as it is now entering you?
You: the submissive thing, not the subject of the action. You a thing belonging to the suburbs now. Times Square not as cozy as it once was and Monk not known for playing a Wurlitzer.
Notice how the hands have not moved from their arrangement around Middle C, the fingers ignorant to the way. Turn the head to one side. Listen.
Smile pretty. Say goodbye.
When packing resumes, wrap the china and glassware in old newspaper, catching up on neglected world events (the World Cup and Wars, a recent plane crash), delighting in the Times Sunday Book Review’s securing of dessert plates.
In the sideboard, a past’s-worth of gifts: the carving set from Tiffany’s, the Wesco breadbox, a Circulon stockpot. The intentions of each adamantly clear. Just as sometimes sex is simply an expression of anger or a struggle for power and dominance, cooking offers the means by which the female of the species is allowed entrance to the male’s body. A slivered fingernail in the salad, a stray hair baked into the bread—all of which is consumed regardless, every last crumb. Second helpings indicating both parties’ satisfaction.
Then the footsteps on the rotten wooden stairs—they are coming!
(The movers, of course.)
When leaving for the last time, locking in the key, be sure to have gathered all that is not his. The bed’s high leather headboard the last thing to leave.
Listen to the language, Heidegger continues, and hear three things: (1) Building is really dwelling, (2) Dwelling is a manner in which man inhibits the earth, (3) Building-as-dwelling is the cultivation of growing things and the erection of structures. Thus, dwelling is not derived from building, but rather building is inspired by the potential to dwell.
The Old Saxon wuon and the Gothic wunian describe bauen more completely: to be in peace, brought to peace, remain in peace. Peace being derived from Friedei, free–das frye; Frye meaning preserved from harm or danger, safeguarded. To free, looking closely, means to spare. Thus, to dwell, means to remain at peace within the free, where all is safeguarded in its nature.
Now comes the task of putting the pieces where they go, the empty spaces summoning, longing to be filled.
Start at the outer edges. Scrub the front door, inside and out, remembering to wear latex gloves to protect against the bleach-based cleanser. Then sweep the front walk and re-lay the door mat.
Do not think: Is life disrupted by this, or is this life? This gathering, this disbursement.
When arriving, confirm the key turns fully in the lock with a smooth click. Then clear the entry for easier ingress for the home is entered on a split-level landing. After which: hang the spice racks in the kitchen.
Do not think about the word tenderloin.
Think instead: blood pudding.
Till and even the earth in the small back yard revealing red and yellow worms. After supper, watch at the window as birds swoop down for an easy meal, a cruelty both necessary and delicious. Having neglected to wear gloves, the dirt seeps beneath fingernails, lingering in the cuticles. Sandy, unrich soil in which nothing worthy will bloom (though Epsom salt is said to make an ideal fertilizer).
Once the rain has passed, soak the fresh-turned dirt in Glyphosate, ensuring no weeds will grow. Roll out the cloth and cut along the length with a rusted blade, hold the strips in place with thin metal stakes. They penetrate the soft earth with the easy swing of a rubber mallet striking at the curved place where the two prongs meet. Gardening, recently documented, has been attributed to possessing a therapeutic effect. Perhaps because to be successful, you must first cut off the dead.
Afterward, clean the muddy tracks just as Mother would have: one part vinegar, two parts water. Followed by the linens in a similar solution to which is added a cup of baking soda (for whitening). Diligently wash away the scent of him from the pillows’ cases, the sheets wilting like lettuce as the basin fills. Though outside the laundry room window the sun is setting, the bread has not been made.
Tomorrow arrange the furniture and forget that things were once another way.
Tomorrow burn the high leather headboard.
Surely Mother would approve.
Em Faerman studied English Literature and Philosophy at Florida Atlantic University while dabbling a bit in scribbling. She currently works as an engineering technician in Southeast Florida.
“All Things Worthless Left Behind” originally appeared in print in The Wrong Quarterly in January of 2016.