The Day of Curried Fish
By: KJ Hannah Greenberg
Zindzi peeled, washed, and then diced four onions. She added them to a pan. Thereafter, she washed and diced three tomatoes and added those vegetables, too. As they stewed, she checked, washed, and diced generous handfuls of cilantro and parsley. Smiling, she reached into her refrigerator for her red curry paste and added a heaping tablespoon of it to her mix.
The woman smiled once more at the good smells wafted from her stove. The phone rang. She turned the flame to its lowest setting. Adding the fish would have to wait.
Many minutes later, she returned to her kitchen and sighed. The call had been from her agent, who had insisted that Zindzi participate in yet one more Internet interview about her new book.
That grandma next removed some salmon from a plastic container. When the large filets had arrived, she and her youngest son, a boy needing a shidduch, had cut the fish into portions and had frozen each of those lots. Over a period of months, she had fashioned stir-fries, wraps, and more from that oceanic flesh. That day, she would add a spicy meal to her repertoire.
Zindzi used a special cutting board to chop the fish. Because it was possibly bacteria-laden, fish, akin to poultry and red meat, had their own cutting boards.
It was nice to have an agent. It was nice to have publishers who sought her work. The woman had promised a short story collection to one such producer for the coming year and a poetry collection to another.
Sighing, she weighed that she was not brave enough to make sushi despite her love for it. Zindzi worried that even freezing fish flesh could leave behind nasty things that might pollute her family members’ stomachs. In fact, she had given away her sushi mat after tiring of rolling rice and seaweed with cucumbers, avocados, and carrots.
Satisfied with her knife’s results, Zindzi added the fish to the pan and then added a little more oil and a lot more water. She stirred, made sure that her flame was still low, cleaned her cutting board, and then left the kitchen.
In her office, tens of emails awaited her. One was from her undergraduate university. Another was from the school that had granted her a terminal degree. There was even a solicitation from the last university where she had taught. It was the season when academic institutions globally beseeched for handouts.
Sighing, she deleted all of those notices; she preferred to support a local soup kitchen. Her ribbon of degrees had done nothing to prevent her grandchildren from catching the flu or her neighbor from losing his job. All of the scholarly publications in the world could not shorten the gap between her heart and The Aibishter. Plus, she had yet to be completely unresentful when her grocery delivery was missing items or when her husband sang “Adon Olam” too fast for her to follow the words.
Zindzi reprimanded herself that her family was among the fortunate few who could save effort by getting food delivered. She was equally in a minority in terms of wives whose husbands praised G-d with enthusiasm. Gratitude would have to suffice where a lack of annoyance was still missing.
Exhaling, she paused to integrate that thought. After long moments, Zindzi returned to her emails. She thanked one Ezine for including an essay that she had written and reminded another that she needed confirmation on whether or not that publication was going to include a particular poem of hers – she needed to correct that poem’s bibliographic notion in her forthcoming poetry collection.
After hitting “send,” she once more sighed. Her students regarded her as prolific, but she knew herself to be merely a writer who created works one paragraph at a time. She also knew herself to be a safta whom sometimes burned fish.
Zindzi sniffed and ran out of her office. More than her impatience with the world’s imperfections failed to change.
After stirring and then adding additional water, she moved the pan to a burner with a smaller flame. She set that flame, too, on its lowest setting.
Zindzi’s son peeked out of his room, taking a break from entering code, to exclaim about the good smell that were filling the house. He asked if he could take a sample from the source of the aroma.
His once more beamish mother reminded him that there was still chard and lettuce to bodek as well as celery and cucumbers to dice. There would be salad with dinner. She then added that once the fish was fully cooked, he could have a taste.
The young man nodded in response and, before ducking back into his room, asked if the filets had bones or not. He did not like fish bones.
Back in her office, Zindzi again stared at her email queue. It now contained a missive from her married daughter and one from the oldest of her married sons. The first featured pictures of a new granddaughter. The latter was full of commentary about that son’s newest dog. There was a letter, as well, from a small, print magazine congratulating her on it acceptance of one of her narratives.
Sometime later, Zindzi returned to the kitchen. Her husband often teased her about her forgetting simmering food. He meant well.
She covered the fish and closed the flame beneath it. In forty minutes or so, the dish would be cool enough to place in the refrigerator.
Afterward, she made another pass on a story about a family that tried to resolve conflicts originating from cleaning their menorahs and from buying Chanukah candles. Among the characters, the oldest daughter had to remind the mom that long tapers were needed for Shabbot Chanukah. At least, mused the tale’s family matriarch, they needed no yahrzeit torches.
Zindzi sighed. Her father’s yahrzeit had just passed, again.
Zindzi’s agent called again. This time, she wanted to know why Zindzi wasn’t making better use of her social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were what sold books, that hired help scolded.
The woman inhaled. Her first book, published while she was still an undergraduate, had seemed like a miracle. Her second, which went into print shortly after she had finished graduate school, too, had looked as if it were a marvel, a mistake, or a miracle. That second book, alone, among all of her titles, had been a scholarly work.
There was supposed to have been another scholarly tome, but that project’s publisher had dropped the book a year after inviting Zindzi to create it. The grandmother remembered calling other academics to see if she was having a unique nightmare or whether broken contracts happened but were largely unreported.
To her dismay, it turned out that scholarly presses did not always honor their agreements. Decades later, upon recalling that truth, she anyway felt hurt, but not discarded, when similar contract terminations occasionally occurred with her trade books.
Zindzi heard her son bumble in the kitchen. She appreciated his willingness to assess the family’s greens — her eyesight had changed as she aged. Technically, she could wear her glasses and count her inspections as valid, but she felt more comfortable knowing that her family’s leaves were being examined by someone with naturally perfect vision.
Sure, her brother, a rising politician, had gloried in his accounts of his cook, his housekeeper, and his gardener, and had let others take on many of his household’s jobs, but Zindzi wasn’t sure that if she had more money that she’d let a nonfamily member evaluate her produce. Support staff, as her agent’s actions too often reminded her, could only be relied upon limitedly.
The writer returned to her story, got tired of making the characters within it reflect a specific hashkafa, and then opened the end matter section of her new fiction collection. She liked the MLA standard, but, weirdly, the press that had invited that book had asked her to use Oxford as her style guide.
Too soon there was a knock at her office door. Her son peeked in and asked if she wanted the vegetables diced regular or fine. Zindzi smiled and told him to choose. She asked her child to put the pan of fish and herbs into the refrigerator, too.
Hours later, she closed the file containing the end matter. While there was an app to convert MLA notations to Oxford ones, she preferred to make changes by hand as too often computer aides left punctuation and spelling mistakes in a manuscript. Mechanics mattered.
Looking out her window, Zindzi realized that she needed to daven Mincha. Her habit of leaving her prayers for the last minute ought to have been temporary, meaning, ought to have been an artifact left behind after her children had grown. At present, it was not.
Following her recitation of prayers, Zindzi returned to the kitchen, tested the salad, and boiled water for rice. Her husband would be home in two hours and would want to enjoy completed dinner preparations.
The phone rang, again. It was one of her unmarried daughters. That daughter’s roommate’s
cousin’s chavrusa was looking for a shidduch. That daughter’s roommate had suggested that daughter. That daughter, going forward, wanted her mom to look into the boy since he sounded promising.
Zindzi jotted down some of the details and then asked her dear girl to email the boy’s resumé to her. She also asked for the shadchan’s contact information.
That daughter replied that there was no shadchan, only a cousin of a roommate.
Once more, Zindzi sighed.
Just as she was finishing another pass on the story that she had earlier set aside, Zindzi heard her husband’s footsteps. He was plodding down their main hall into the kitchen. She heard him open the refrigerator. Dinner wasn’t on the schedule for another hour later; he probably wanted a snack.
Meanwhile, the woman had enough minutes left to email her agent and to begin to rework the preface of her story collection. Another knock on her door pulled her from the paragraphs she was composing that shared that she felt a need to include both flora and fauna in her tales.
Her husband tapped again.
To Zindzi, that man remained the dapper soul that she had married decades earlier. His pants were neatly cuffed and his shirt, despite it being the end of the day, remained tucked in. The little hair that he had left on his head was carefully combed.
That he sweated a bit was of no importance. Beneath the few drops of perspiration trickling down forehead, past his ethnic nose and thick glasses, was an enormous smile.
She gestured him into her office at the same time as she saved her file. She might as well set the table and serve dinner early.
Her partner bowed in a theatrical way and offered her the hand that he had been holding behind his back. Inside of his fist was a bunch of her favorite posies.
She gasped. It was days away from Shabbot.
A few warm kisses later, the couple went into the kitchen and set the table together. He took out dishes and cutlery. She found napkins and then set the covered fish pan to warm in the oven. Thereafter, she put the salad on the table and a bowl of the rice into the microwave.
The two talked while dinner reheated. They invited their son to join them.
Their son spoke about code with his father and then regaled both of his parents with some thoughts on a section of “Nezikin.”
His mother oohed and awed in all of the right places. His father asked relevant questions. His parents discussed the topic with him for more than half of an hour.
When blessings were completed, Zindzi cleared and cleaned the dishes. Her son helped put away the leftovers and then joined his father for Maariv.
After wiping the table and sweeping the floor, the woman returned, once more, to her keyboard. She was determined to create one more draft of the story. Contrariwise, her students protested whenever she lectured that a sound piece of writing often was the result of dozens of rewrites. They argued that it was adequate to plop words on pages and then to submit such assemblages. Unsurprisingly, such unformed work was never published.
On balance, those rare students, who heeded her and devoted the greater part of their writing time to rewrites, found their names in print. Some even advanced to full-time writing.
From her window, Zindzi could see clouds drift across the sky. It was a clear night.
Her son knocked on her office door to tell her that he and some of his friends were meeting for starlit basketball. Soon, it would be too rainy for evening games.
Later, her husband, too, knocked. Kissing her gently on her head as to not break her concentration too much, he reminded her that she had an interview, about her new book, in the morning, and that she did best with extra sleep.
The woman spoke affections in his direction. After her dear one closed her door, she returned to her file. She was a just smidge away from getting her narrator’s tone right.
Too many hours later, she, too, closed her office door. Quietly, she walked through their home, making sure that windows were shut, and interior lights were off. It would be up to her son to remember to bolt the front door when he returned.
Before she slipped under her blanket, Zindzi mused about her fish concoction, about the pleasant way in which she had communicated with her agent, about her unmarried daughter’s potential match, about her new grandbaby, about her husband’s surprise of flowers, and about her older son’s newest canine. Life was good.