06 Jun Dean Garlick
The housewarming party was in late February, long into the deep-freeze. People began arriving in the early evening, unbundling layers and leaving their snowy boots in the corrugated plastic shoe trays by the door. What space remained on the bed was piled with winter coats.
Everyone was supposed to bring something they’d never prepared before. Of course, no matter how you try to orchestrate a potluck, half the guests are going to bring hummus and pita. My contribution was a pineapple upside down cake that came out in moist chunks with rounds of batter-filled pineapple stuck to the bottom of the pan. This is the risk of attempting uncharted culinary destinations: getting lost in the Bermuda Triangle between recipe and reality.
Anson’s friends—mostly musicians and various other breeds of anarchobohemian—gathered around the couch, mumbling amongst themselves. Mine, a mix of co-workers and university friends, collected in the kitchen, talking about their jobs and comparing iPhone apps.
The food was laid out on the kitchen table between the two camps in an area much as I imagine the Korean Demilitarized Zone. On the North side, shiny vegan bean salads, curry chickpea tempeh burgers, a platter of miso-gravy poutine, and some actual home-fermented kimchee beside a large bowl of brown rice. On the South side, a three-cheese quiche, shrimps and dip, a slab of foie gras with Melba toast, and a plastic tray of raw vegetables with yogurt dip. As predicted, there were four varieties of hummus, and enough pita for three potlucks. Bottles of alcohol glistened like bowling pins on the countertop. Eventually, hunger drew a few courageous souls towards the offerings. Taking up their plates, they took a spoonful here, a sample there, and retreated back.
Wind blasted ice against the panes. The wine had begun to take effect and people started to mingle; they heaped their plates with food, making no apologies for grabbing for the same triangle of pita.
“Who made the tourtière? There’s something…gamey about it,” said Anson’s friend Lucy in an early onset smoker’s voice.
“We were supposed to cook something we’d never made before,” said Anson.
“What’s in it?” I asked.
Anson balanced a biteful of tourtière on his fork.
“Can you guess?” he asked, chewing with zeal.
“Rabbit?” said Lucy.
“Wild boar?” I asked.
“Still wrong,” he said, got up, and flipped over the album of gamelan field recordings that was skipping on the turntable.
“The person who guesses correctly wins a prize,” he said.
“So what do you do, Anson? Besides make mystery tourtière,” asked Claude.
“This and that.”
“Do you have a job?”
Anson took a heaping forkful of poutine into his mouth and grinned, chipmunk-
“Chloe tells me you’re a musician. Are you going to play something for us?” he asked.
“Mmmmm,” said Anson.
“Good idea, Claude. We should get some of these talented folks to entertain us,” I said.
Mykah danced over to me, flushed from her nose to her ears.
“I think this wine is going to my head. Did you have one of those brownies?
They’re delicious,” she said, wrapping her arms around me.
“I didn’t get a chance; they were all gone. Did you try some of my pineapple upside down cake?”
“You want to introduce me to Miguel?” she whispered into my ear.
“Sure. Miguel, this is my friend, Mykah.”
“I love your enchiladas. I could eat them all night,” she said.
“They’re my grandmother’s recipe. What did you make?”
“The sushi. First time ever.”
“I tried to make it once and the rolls came out all lumpy. Yours were perfect. Good job.”
“Go on,” she said, and slinked into the space beside him on the couch.
It was when I went to get some more ice that I realized what was in the tourtière.
“You didn’t,” I said, holding open the freezer door.
“It looks like Chloe has figured out the mystery tourtière ingredient!”
“So what’s in it, Chloe?” asked Lucy.
Everyone’s eyes were on me. There was no getting around it.
“Raccoon. It’s raccoon.”
“Are you serious?” said Mykah.
“Chloe wins the prize,” said Anson, planting a kiss on my cheek.
“You can eat those things?” said Claude.
“According to the Internet, yes,” said Anson.
That is when I remembered I’d been the only person not to eat Tobin’s dessert.
“What the hell did you put in those brownies?” I said, yanking him aside.
Tobin removed the violin from his chin.
“Well, I’ve made vegan chocolate banana nut pot brownies before, and vegan chocolate banana nut mushroom brownies before. But I’ve never made vegan chocolate banana nut mushroom and pot brownies.”
“I did,” he said, twirling impishly, joining in with the music again with renewed intensity.
Luckily, no one seemed to take the vegan chocolate banana nut brownie-surprise too badly. Even my co-worker Phyllis, known around the bank as the Princess of Protocol, was embracing her newfound state of mind, making cosmic conversation at the kitchen table. I mixed myself a vodka with a cap of cranberry and joined the discussion. If I couldn’t be on their level, I could at least get tipsy.
“So, like, the universe is expanding, that’s why we’re expanding right?” said Phyllis.
“That’s an interesting point, but I think that might just be the mushrooms,” said my armchair-physicist accountant friend Lauren.
“It is possible to be in two places at the same time though,” she said, transfixed by the translucent legs trailing down a glass of red wine.
“Yeah, but you’d have to be a gluon or a muon, or something getting shot through a particle accelerator, wouldn’t you?” said Chuck, chewing on his beard like a rabbit with a piece of lettuce.
“In this dimension, yes. But if you consider that there are an infinite number of universes with an infinite number of permutations, there must be at least the remotest possibility of crossing over from one nearly identical universe to another.”
“So you could be, like, masturbating in one room, and playing a game of chess with your grandma in another at the exact same moment?” said Chuck.
“Wouldn’t that affect your concentration?” asked Phyllis.
“I doubt the two selves would even be aware of one another,” said Lauren.
“So what happens when you meet yourself?” I couldn’t help but ask.
“The whole universe could collapse. Or it might just be really fucking weird,” said Lauren.
“Hey Chloe, what would you do if you ran into yourself walking down the street?” asked Lucy.
“I probably wouldn’t even notice. I mean, who expects to meet themselves?”
“I see what you mean,” said Lauren. “We’re not used to seeing ourselves as we actually appear—the mirror is a reverse image. It would probably be more like hearing your own voice: we’d sense something familiar, but immediately reject the resemblance out of self-loathing.”
“I’d get myself loaded on tequila and take advantage of myself,” said Chuck.
“I think I like this guy,” said Lucy, lighting another smoke.
By my third crantini, I felt like a strip of kelp swaying to unseen waves. The music had decayed into random honks and squeals but no one seemed to notice.
“Oh my God. Oh my God,” said Claude’s girlfriend Jeanette, green-faced, rushing for the bathroom.
“What’s the big deal? People eat all kinds of animals. I ate rat on a trip to Laos,” said Tobin.
“Where did you get it?” asked Lucy.
“I saw it get hit one night on Clark Street.”
“And you decided to take it home and make tourtière out of it?” said Claude.
“No. I wanted to taxidermy it in a tweed coat, a monocle and a pipe, but all the taxidermy books were out of the library.”
“Come on, Claude. We’re leaving,” said Jeanette.
“The meat was fresh. It went right from the street into the freezer,” said Anson.
“Well, I think it’s tasty,” said Tobin, finishing off the last piece with gusto.
“Are there any more revelations anyone wants to fess up to?” I asked.
“It wouldn’t be a surprise then, would it?” said Tobin.
“What the hell does that mean?” asked Lucy, but Tobin only dabbed the pastry crumbs from the corners of his mouth with a napkin.
After Jeanette and Claude’s hasty departure, the music began. Anson played drones on the accordion while Miguel filled the empty space with intricate finger picking and Tobin layered textures of violin over-top. I flitted around the party, refilling people’s glasses, making small talk, laughing at the appropriate moments. Anson had set up his hookah—another one of his street-side finds—for guests to puff on, and a sweet, apple-flavoured haze drifted throughout the loft. The atmosphere shifted as the evening progressed. Laughter erupted for no apparent reason, people stopped what they were saying in mid-sentence to stare at their hands for prolonged periods of time.
“Does anyone feel a little…weird?” asked Mykah.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It’s like there’s a feather tickling my brain. And things look kind of funny.”
“I totally know what you mean,” said my co-worker Phyllis, bursting into a fit of giggles.
“I might be a little drunk, but no brain-tickling going on,” I said.
People began to dance. Some swayed with partners in a sort of deranged jitterbug, others shimmied on their own. Anson’s friend John became fixated on the hand-crossing knee illusion to the enraptured enjoyment of a small audience. Lucy lit the wrong end of her smoke, twice, before I turned it around for her. The music began to spiral into a frenzy of gypsy flourishes; the dancers tried to keep up, spilling wine on each other and laughing hysterically.
“What’s going on here?” I asked Mykah.
“I don’t know, but I’m totally fucked up,” she said, lost in the pattern of her shirt, her eyes wide, black saucers.