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A Phoenix rises from a bottle held in someone's hand

A Recipe for Life, ©2024 by Arina Konstantinova

 

This variation on the elixir of life pairs the flavour of roasted roc with the medicinal potency of the philosopher’s stone. But buyer beware: this dish isn’t for everyone.

 


 

Lara props her father up in bed and tucks a napkin into his blue button-down.

“You have to eat, dad. If you don’t eat—”

Her father laughs, fractal wrinkles splitting from the creases around his eyes.

“I know, I know. If I don’t eat, I’ll die! But Lara, I’m dying anyway. Unless your mother’s recipes cure cancer now.”

Lara turns away, hiding her welling eyes as she walks back to the kitchen. Steadying herself, she ladles curried parsnip soup into a bowl, then tops it with a heaping dollop of crème fraiche. She lays the bowl on a tray and places it before her father.

“Here,” she says. “Just try it, dad. Please.”

Her father sniffs the soup appreciatively, then brings the spoon to his mouth. He manages one spoonful, then another, then tugs the napkin from his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “It tastes even better than your mother used to make. But I just can’t eat.”

At first, he blamed the chemo, which stole his sense of taste. Later, with the radiation, he was too nauseous to keep anything down. Now, he can only say that he isn’t interested in food any longer, and anyway is full after even the smallest morsel.

Lara scoops another spoonful of the amber soup and holds it to his mouth.

“Just one more, dad. Please.”

Her father leans forward. He breathes in the scent, redolent with earthy, autumnal aromas, fragrant with cardamom and star anise, but the steam tickles his dry throat into a fit of coughing. He holds his hands up and Lara leans back.

She turns away from her father, but her gaze falls upon her mother’s empty chair. She looks out the window at the leaves turning ochre in the cold sunshine so that he will not see the tears she is fighting back. He is pushing away the soup, pushing away Lara, pushing away, she thinks, his life.

“Oh, dad,” she says. “Oh, dad. What are we going to do?”

 


 

First, brine your phoenix in seawater seasoned with pennywort and asafoetida. If you have no phoenix to hand, see instructions below. Otherwise, proceed to the following step.

 


 

Lara learned to cook at her father’s knee and followed in his footsteps to become a chef. But these days, she stays home and cares for him. A few times a week, she manages a brief outing while the personal support workers bathe, shave, and dress him. But those hours off aren’t a rest. She isn’t catching up with girlfriends over brunch. She is running to the pharmacy, hurrying through the supermarket.

But outside she remembers a whole world is revolving, a season turning, misty mornings and the loamy smell of fallen leaves slick on pavement. She steps outside and remembers that once she was a little girl, laughing as her father flung her into a pile of leaves.

On Saturday, she ushers in the personal support worker and slips outside before her father wakes. She sips an espresso while picking up breakfast at their favourite patisserie. By the time she’s back, her father is sitting up in bed, looking about as good as he ever does these days. Lara sits beside him and shakes out two candied ginger pain au chocolat.

“Stephan has outdone himself today,” she says, luxuriating over the buttery flakes.

Her father tears a fragment and chews deliberately, as if struggling to remember how. He closes his eyes, straining to gulp down the pastry. When he finally opens them again, his face is composed in a facsimile of pleasure.

“Very good,” he says. “I’ll save the rest for later.”

Lara has heard this before. She’ll come back and find him sleeping, the stale remainder of the pastry lying like a corpse on the bedside table. Arguing won’t help, so she changes the subject instead.

“I couldn’t sleep last night so I stayed up and read. There’s this clinic in Mexico that does these infusions: vitamin C, mistletoe, things like that. There’s testimonials from patients with stage IV colon cancer, just like you. I was thinking—”

“Lara—”

“I could drive us. It’d be like the road trips we used to take with mom. Remember the Grand Canyon? We could leave—”

“Lara, we’ve been over this—”

“Tomorrow. We could leave tomorrow and be there Wednesday; Thursday at the latest.”

“Lara!” he shouts or tries to. His weakened voice is little more than a stage whisper.

Lara falls silent, the part of her that is still her daddy’s little girl clamming up from the reprimand in his tone.

“I’m dying, Lara. And there’s nothing that can save me. Not surgery, not chemo, not radiation, not immunotherapy, and certainly not some new-age internet snake oil salesman. I’m dying, and you know what, Lara, it’s okay.”

This last word he breathes out like a benediction.

Tears fall onto Lara’s cheeks, and he reaches frail fingers to wipe them away.

“Oh, darling,” he whispers. “It’s okay. It’s okay. I’m ready. I’m ready to be with your mother. There’s no cure, but there will be life again.”

“But what if, dad? What if there is a cure, and we just haven’t found it yet? Isn’t it worth it to try? To try for me?”

Tears fall again, and she jerks back, swiping them away.

“You might be ready to go,” she sobs, “but I’m not ready to lose you.”

She leans her head into his shoulder and weeps. All she wants is the comfort of her father, a comfort that is slipping through her fingertips. Her father sighs. He reaches out his thin hand and rubs her neck.

“If I was meant to stay, my darling, you know I would. But it isn’t up to me anymore.”

His throat catches, and he coughs before resuming.

“The only choice I have is how to live my last days. And I’ve chosen to live them here in my own home, with you, not in some hospital seeking impossible miracles.”

He lifts her chin to look at him, then takes her hand.

“Everything I need is right here.”

Lara looks at his withered face. Beneath his thin, jaundiced skin, the bony prominences of his skull protrude like fossils. But in his eyes, she sees the man who’d check her childhood closet for monsters.

He squeezes her hand, and she squeezes back.

“Okay, dad,” she says, but she can’t bear to meet his sunken eyes any longer.

Lara looks down at their clasped hands and catches sight of her watch. She only has a couple more hours of respite booked with the personal support worker. She lets go of her father’s hand and stands up.

“Sorry, dad. Errands.”

Her father nods, easing back in bed.

“We’ll talk later,” he says. “And Lara …” From the doorway, she looks over her shoulder. “I love you, darling.”

Lara gulps down a sob, then finds her voice again.

“I love you too, dad. Now get some rest.”

 


 

To find a phoenix, conjure a fire at noonday and burn three handfuls each of mugwort, cedar, and juniper. Offer a pinprick of blood to the fire, then spin widdershins until your vision blurs. Thrust your bare hand into the flames. You need not grasp the phoenix’s talon; its talon will clasp your hand.

 


 

Lara weaves amidst the crowded market hall, plucking pears she’ll poach in port and serve with mascarpone and candied walnuts. Her father should like it; he taught her the recipe. She dawdles, taking in the cool, autumnal smell of the harvest, but as she walks, the question thrums in her mind, reverberating like a litany.

What if there is a cure?

What if I can save him?

What if?

What if?

What if?

The market usually bustles, but between steps Lara senses that strange synchronicity as a room of people stops speaking simultaneously. She looks around, and the world spins so suddenly that she staggers sideways.

When her head clears, she realizes she’s daydreamed into some part of the market she hadn’t known. The line of stalls is damp and shadowy. The dusty air smells of stale incense. It is so quiet that Lara imagines she could hear the scurry of a mouse, then laughs nervously as one darts between stalls. She looks around for directions, then spots a man outside a cigar shop, his face illuminated by the red-eyed glow of a cheroot.

“Excuse me,” Lara says. “Which way are the food halls?”

The man shakes his head and says something in a language Lara doesn’t recognize, then drops the cheroot, grinds it under his heel, and disappears into his stand. Lara checks her watch. Somehow it is already 11:30. In an hour, the personal support worker will be gone, and Lara’s father will be alone.

Lara looks up towards the high windows. Their light is wan and choleric, and the air smells of ozone. Outside, a storm must be brewing. Lara listens as her watch ticks time away. She imagines, absurdly, her father sitting within an hourglass as the sands slip out beneath him. She closes her eyes and pictures being anywhere else, but when she opens them, she’s more lost than ever.

 


 

While your phoenix brines, dig a hole and kindle a roaring fire. As the logs burn down to coals, add volcanic rocks or, failing that, the remains of a dry stone wall.

 


 

Lara walks back the way she came, or at least the way she thinks she came, but comes immediately to a stall she doesn’t recognize and realizes she is utterly lost. Then, amidst the darkened shops, she spots a single, distant light.

Lara hustles towards it. As her eyes adjust, she realizes the light comes from a stall stacked with dusty, leather-bound books. Outside, a man sits on a pallet of encyclopedias, a book beneath his bespectacled nose. With an idle hand he twirls the end of his grey beard, not looking up until Lara’s feet finally enter his field of view.

“Aha,” he says, smiling and closing his book. “What if, right? You called, and you came! How wonderful! Now, let’s just divine what you need. History, perhaps? The Lemurian Annals might suit. Or possibly something geographical? We have atlases of Mu and Hyperborea.”

He pauses, inspecting her. Spotting her groceries, he grins.

“Oh, I see,” he says. “I see! An herbarium could be just the ticket.”

He turns and rifles through a stack of books. Lara looks around in desperation, but there’s no one else in sight. She checks her watch. She’s running out of time.

The man’s finger pauses before a book, then withdraws. He looks over his shoulder at her.

“Oh,” he says. “No, I know. I know just what you need.”

He ushers Lara forward. She protests that she only needs directions, says that really, she must go, yet somehow, he draws her into the stall. He stops before a shelf, running his hand from spine to spine, mumbling.

“Aha!” he crows.

He pulls a dusty tome from the shelves and hands it to her like an offering.

“Here,” he says. “Here. This is what you need.”

Lara spins it around and reads the title:

Wild Roc au Vin.

 


 

Next, prepare the stuffing. This calls for bread, garlic, onions, herbs de Provence, and apples of the Hesperides. If you do not live in the Hesperides, simply approach any nearby apple tree. All trees everywhere are connected and, if you proffer a suitable offering and ask nicely, the tree will drop one perfect golden apple into your outstretched hand.

 


 

Lara doesn’t remember leaving the market. She certainly doesn’t remember paying the shopkeeper for the book she finds while unpacking the groceries on the kitchen counter.

She listens to the radio as murmurs leak beneath her father’s door. The personal support worker must be wrapping up. But then the door is opened by a tall, freckled man in a starched black shirt and white collar. He eases the door closed and offers a solemn smile.

“Hello, Lara,” he says. “It’s been a while.”

“Since my mother died, and I stormed out of her mass, you mean? Yes, it’s been three years, two months, and fifteen days. That’s a while, I guess. What are you doing here, Father Donovan?”

He tugs at his collar, perhaps finding it hard to breathe.

“Just calling on my flock.”

“And what was the purpose of this call?”

“That would be between your father and me.”

Lara scowls.

“You didn’t give him the last rites,” she says. “He isn’t dying.”

“Lara,” he says. “Could we sit? We haven’t talked, you and I.”

Lara’s nails dig into her palms.

“If your church had given my mother the miracle she prayed for, that I prayed for, maybe we’d have something to talk about. But it didn’t, and we don’t.”

Father Donovan bows his head, then looks up and meets her eyes.

“I know you’re grieving,” he says.

“Grieving?” Lara snaps. “Grieving?”

She balls her fists, struggling to contain herself, then realizes she can’t, not anymore.

“My father and I cared for mom, day and night, 'til the very end, right there in that room. She died, and two weeks later they found a mass the size of a tangerine on his colonoscopy. So just when do you think I’ve had time to grieve?”

Father Donovan opens his mouth, but Lara isn’t finished, not even close.

"I can’t even bear to think about her!” she hisses. “Do you understand me? Do you understand me!”

Father Donovan closes his eyes, then opens them again.

“I understand,” he says. “And that’s all the more reason—”

Lara shakes her head.

“I think you should leave.”

“Lara, please—”

She steps forward, her raised fist shaking.

“Take your bloody wine and crackers,” she rasps, “and get out.”

Father Donovan looks up, as if searching for something. When he looks down, his eyes are tranquil, a sea grown quiet. He nods.

“Of course,” he says. “Please call if you need me.”

He walks to the door and steps across the threshold.

“I’ll be praying for you,” he says. “For both of you.”

He closes the door, leaving Lara in the kitchen, her knuckles white, her eyes glassy. But her father calls and she stifles a sob.

“Coming, dad!”

 


 

When the rocks are hot, cover them with cornhusks. Place the brined and stuffed phoenix atop the husks and shroud it with jute. Bury everything and let cook.

 


 

Once her dad is sleeping, Lara pours herself a glass of wine, curls up in an armchair, and props the strange book open in her lap. She had tried to ignore it while cooking the pistachio pesto her father wouldn’t eat, but the book had simply waited, tugging at her attention.

Lara isn’t sure what the book is exactly. She doesn’t think it’s an herbarium, and it isn’t history or geography either, though it seems like maybe it’s all those things and more. She decides, in the end, that it’s some sort of cookbook. Except this cookbook employs impossible ingredients and bizarre instructions. Also, the recipe titles don’t describe the dish, but rather its purported effects; she flips past a syrup for squandered love, a roast for fertility, a stew for lost things.

She sips her wine, quirking an eyebrow at the improbable book, surely someone’s idea of a joke. But then she flips another page and her eyes alight on a title.

A Recipe for Life.

She reads the recipe, then puts down her glass, and reads it again

Her father groans. She tenses, waiting for him to either call out or drift off again. In a moment, his snores grumble under the bedroom door. She reads the recipe once more, then stands, and paces the room. It’s impossible. All of it’s impossible.

She eases open her father’s door and looks down at him. His chest rises, and even through the sheets she sees the sunken spaces between his ribs. He is fading away, ounce by ounce, calorie by calorie. And if nothing changes, one day soon there’ll be nothing left of him but her own weightless memories, her own immeasurable grief.

Lara watches as he takes a breath, then another.

“What if?” she whispers.

 


 

While the phoenix cooks, scour the seeds from one fruit of the dead. You may know this as a pomegranate. In a small saucepan, combine the seeds with one cup mead, the juice of a lime, and a thumb of ginger. Simmer and reduce.

 


 

When her father wakes, Lara is sitting at the foot of his bed wearing a fall jacket and hiking boots.

“Hello, dad,” she says, taking his hand.

After a moment, his eyes focus. His face is emaciated, his skin waxy, but his eyes sparkle at the sight of her.

“Lara,” he says, smiling.

“I’m going out,” she says. “Just for a bit. The personal support worker is in the kitchen.”

“Errands?” he asks.

“Something like that.”

“Stay,” he says. “Errands can wait.”

Looking at him, Lara doesn’t think the “errands” can wait very long at all. She doesn’t need an MD to see her father can’t go on much longer, not like this.

“I won’t be long. Just have a nap and I’ll be back before you know it.”

She kisses his forehead, then stands up and pads towards the door.

“Lara,” he says, “it’s going to be okay.”

Lara looks back and smiles tightly.

“Of course, dad. I’ll make sure of it.”

His head eases back into the pillow and his eyes close. She steals a final look at him, and then she closes the door.

 


 

Dig up the phoenix and let rest on a cedar carving board. Remove the stuffing. Carve, plate, and drizzle with pomegranate reduction. Serve with seasonal vegetables.

 


 

The instructions are vague, but Lara follows them as best she can. She doesn’t want to have anything to regret, later, if the recipe doesn’t work. Most of the common ingredients she already has, though a few she needs to run to the market for. She couldn’t fully believe it ‘til it actually worked, but even the apples are mostly a matter of asking nicely.

The phoenix, however, is a different story.

It is easy enough to light a fire, easy enough to burn three handfuls of mugwort, cedar, and juniper. A pinprick of blood is a little thing, and spinning in circles until her vision blurs? Well, she hasn’t done that since she was a girl, but it comes back easily enough.

When she plunges her hand into the flames, she expects the fire to feel inexplicably cool. It doesn’t. It feels just as hot as all the kitchen flames she’s ever burnt her hands on. Writhing, she grasps frantically, searching for the bird. Through the flickering fire, she sees that somehow her skin is unburned. Yet still the pain swells, swells so terribly that she cannot help imagining the fat of her hand rendering, the bones disarticulating in the fire. She reaches desperately, but cannot find the talon, and cannot bear the flames much longer.

An infinite weight compresses her shoulders, the weight of her failure. She doesn’t know how she could hold out for even a moment longer. But then she remembers the recipe, remembers that the phoenix will clasp her hand, and something inside her lets go, and allows her hand to rest, unmoving, in the flames.

It takes a fraction of a second, a fraction that feels like an age of the earth, but then there is a talon in her hand, small digits curled like the fingers of a child around her thumb. And though the pain remains excruciating, she draws her hand back ever so gently. She cannot afford to lose the bird now.

She pulls the phoenix from the fire and is surprised, first of all, that her hand is whole, unscarred from the flames. And then she looks at the phoenix and is surprised all over again.

In myth, the phoenix is a bird of flame, resplendent in reds, yellows, and oranges. A force of nature. This bird is a sooty grey, ashen, and pale. It’s bald in places where its lank plumage has fallen out. And whatever spark once kindled in its eyes is little more than a cooling ember now.

Yet, it is a phoenix. She knew as soon as its talon grasped her hand. And only now does it occur to her that the recipe has left something out. Something terrible.

She must kill this creature.

Lara is no stranger to killing her food. Her own father taught her to wring the neck of a chicken when she was no more than ten years old. But this is no chicken. It is a withered being, a husk of whatever it once was, but underneath she can feel its majesty.

Fresh tears blur her vision. With sudden, unspeakable sadness, she realizes that she can never kill it, not for her father, not for anything.

But the phoenix grasps her finger in its talon, and its warm eyes meet hers. She sees in their flickering depths the joys and sorrows of a lifetime, can feel the long-vanished power of its youth as it banked on a thermal high above a dusty desert. She can feel, too, the sadness that grips its weakened frame, the humiliation of this most unnatural state.

The phoenix lets go of Lara’s finger and lays its head in her palms. She knows what it wants, can see it in its eyes, but she rebels against it, horrified by its acceptance. It releases one talon and sets it against her leg—an old friend saying goodbye. She looks into its calm eyes, and then she closes her own.

In the end, it is not so different from a chicken after all.

After that, the rest is easy. It’s only cooking, after all. She brines the bird and makes the stuffing, digs the pit and stokes the flames. She sets the phoenix in the pit with a sort of reverence. It isn’t in the recipe, but she places its heart amidst the rocks before burying it all to cook. Somehow it feels like the right thing to do.

As Lara cooks in the backyard, she pops in and out of the house to check on her father. The personal support worker says he’s been asking for her, but she only ever finds him sleeping.

When she judges the phoenix to be cooked, she unburies the bird. Try as she may, she cannot find the heart. Where it lay there is only a small ovoid rock, glowing amidst the coals.

Preparing the meal by the kitchen window, she catches a flash of light outside and thinks for an instant that the fire must have gotten out of hand. But when she looks there’s nothing, just a trail of smoke, corkscrewing exuberantly into the sky.

Lara finishes the recipe and plates it. The smell conjures memories of childhood turkeys, only spicier. The apple’s sweetness rises above the stuffing’s herbaceous steam. The pomegranate sauce is as red as fresh arterial blood. Lara’s mouth waters. Her stomach growls. She feels a hunger stronger than any she’s ever known. She wants this. Or perhaps, she thinks, it wants her. And yet her fork pauses above the bird. She cannot bring herself to eat it.

She hears her father wake, grabs the plated meal, and walks to his door. She is shocked anew at the sight of him, frailer even than he looked that morning, his temples sunken, his cheeks hollow. Somehow, he manages a smile.

“Lara,” he says.

She props him up.

“Dad, I’ve brought dinner.”

“I can tell,” he says. “Smells divine! But I can’t place it. I feel as if I know it, knew it once as a boy perhaps, but I’ve forgotten now. It was so long ago.”

She sets it in front of him and he bends down, inhaling the heady aroma.

“Gorgeous presentation,” he says, “but what is it?”

Lara laughs as the weight she’s carried lifts from her shoulders.

“You won’t believe it. God, I’m not sure I believe it.”

“Lara, language.”

“Sorry. It’s just, it’s a cure, dad. It’s a cure for everything. Anyway, don’t ask what’s in it, just eat.”

Her father puts down his fork.

“Lara, we’ve been over this.”

She raises her hands, placating.

“I know, dad, I know. But this is different. It really works. Please, just try a little.”

“I’m not hungry,” he says, looking out the window.

Dad!”

He doesn’t respond, but Lara can’t contain herself.

“Dad, if you don’t eat this, you’re going to die. Do you understand? You’re going to die. And I don’t know how to live without you. The grief will kill me. I still can’t even think about mom; it just hurts so much. And if you’re gone, who will I talk to? I won’t have anyone. So please, dad, please just eat it, just a forkful.”

Her father looks at her, solemn but tender. And then at last, he speaks.

“You don’t know how to live without me because you’ve never had to."

He pauses, collecting breath.

“You’re right. The grief will never leave you. But you can’t run from it, Lara. You can’t run from your mother’s death, not anymore, and you can’t run from this either. You can only face it and learn to live with it. And you will learn, because you’ll have to.”

“Dad!”

Tears fall from her eyes. He waits until she calms again.

“Lara,” he says. “I need to tell you something. I’ve told you before, but I don’t think you’ve heard me. Are you ready to listen? Are you ready to listen, now?”

Lara blinks away a tear. She nods.

“You haven’t been able to face this, but I’m ready to die, Lara. I’m ready. I’ve lived a good life. And I’ve loved every moment, even these last months, here with you. But there’s a season for everything. It’s autumn now, and it’s my time. My time to be with your mother again. And one day—many years from now, I hope—we’ll be together again too.”

She looks at him, really looks at him. His eyes are as still as deep pools, as clear as crystal, as weary as a weathered phoenix. In his eyes she sees that she’ll never change his mind, and the grief she’s fled floods her all at once.

“Oh, dad,” she says, crawling into bed beside him, burying her head in his shoulder. “Oh, dad.”

He wraps his withered arms around her. Through his wizened chest, she can hear the faint beating of his heart.

“I love you, darling,” he says, kissing her forehead and rocking her, slowly, to sleep.

“Remember that,” he whispers, “Even in your grief. Remember.”

It is the last thing he ever says.

 


 

Evaporate two thimblefuls of tears (yours) on a sunny windowsill. Set residual salt aside. Conserve one lock of the deceased’s hair. Mix with pine needles and burn, preserving the ash.

Make a simple bone broth; chicken is traditional but beef, or even lamb will do. Season with whichever herbs and spices feel right. Stir in ash and salt, then serve the tonic for grief in your most cherished mug.

 


 

With a pack of tissues and judicious application of waterproof mascara, Lara makes it through the funeral mass, though only just. It rains the entire walk home from the cemetery, which suits her fine. Her tears mingle with the cold autumn rain, which slicks her hair and chills her fingers and leaves her numb heart nothing to beat but bitter blood.

Back at home, she wants only to forget this horrible day ever happened, to simply sleep and wake up from this devastating dream. She craves oblivion, hungers for release. Her eyes fall across her father’s liquor cabinet, and for a moment she can almost taste the bitter sulfite stupor of her father’s homemade chianti. But she shakes her head and looks away. As miserable as she is, to drink now would be the first mile of a long road she doesn’t wish to travel.

She looks across to the kitchen and spots the book. There had been something in there. A tonic for grief, she thought it was called, and she finds it easily enough. The instructions are somewhat more straightforward than the recipe for life, and if nothing else, cooking always calms her nerves.

Lara isn’t so concerned about perfect adherence to the recipe this time; the stakes are considerably lower now. She burns a bit of his hair she’d saved along with some pine needles from the tree out back. She doesn’t bother to evaporate her tears; she weeps plenty into the broth as she’s cooking.

Lara isn’t sure what spices to pair with the chicken, but scents the cumin in the spice rack, and is flooded by memory. She sees her father, dancing in the kitchen, stirring a pot of tortilla soup, then lifting the ladle up and belting out his best Elvis, which was never very good. She represses a giggle, then a tear, and then she grabs the cumin along with some chiles and paprika.

After a few minutes, the whole house smells fragrant and earthy. The steam from the pot rises in dense clouds, clearing her sinuses, still stuffy from crying. When the broth is done, she ladles it into a volcano mug her family brought back from a long-lost trip to Maui.

Lara curls up on the couch and lets the steam rise under her nose. It smells sublime, distinct and familiar all at once. The old floorboards creak behind her, but when she looks over her shoulder, she sees only her parents’ empty chairs. She looks down at the mug again, hesitates for just a second, then takes a sip.

She doesn’t expect to feel anything; in fact, she expects to feel nothing, expects the tonic to numb her completely. Instead, with a single sip, a memory surfaces. She lies on the couch, on this same couch, a feverish little girl shivering under a blanket. But then her mother and father are beside her, clutching a bowl of chicken soup that warms her inside out. They hold her and kiss her sweaty brow and she knows, somehow, that everything will be okay.

But then she is back on the couch, alone again. She wrinkles her nose and puts down the mug. That isn’t what she wanted, isn’t what she needs, and suddenly her anger flares again. She seizes the book from the coffee table and flips it open to the recipe. She skims it again, then pauses to read the footnotes.

 


 

Readers drawn to this recipe typically come seeking nepenthe, some simple potion to forget their sorrow. But no elixir can wholly deaden grief; grief’s only true tonic is time, and even that is but a partial balm.

This tonic takes a different tack. Its fusion of flavours, unique to each mourner, conjures for the drinker their fondest memories of the deceased. Those we’ve loved and lost live in our past, a place we may visit only in dream, or in memory. In memory we find them, and with their memory, we may find a way to go on.

 


 

Lara reads the recipe twice more. She looks down at the mug, still steaming on the geode-slice coaster on the coffee-table. She can smell a million memories in the steam wafting towards her. A million painful memories. A million beautiful ones too.

With a shaking hand she lifts the mug and cradles it between her palms. She takes a deep breath and lets it out. And then she takes another sip.

 

[Editor’s Note: Publication of the art for this story was made possible by a gift from K.C. Mead-Brewer during our annual Kickstarter.]


Editor: Aigner Loren Wilson

First Reader: Hebe Stanton

Copy Editors: Copy Editing Department

Accessibility: Accessibility Editors



Chris is a palliative care physician by day and a writer by night. He is a dad (cat and human), by his back-of-the-napkin calculations, approximately 32 hours a day. His short fiction has appeared in Galaxy’s EdgeZooscape, and Stupefying Stories. Find him on Bluesky at chrisblake.bsky.social.
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15 Jul 2024

I inherited the molting, which my mother will deny; she’ll insist it’s a thing only women do, each heartbreak withering from the body like a petal.
a sand trail ever fungible, called to reconcile the syrupy baubles—resplendent pineapple geodes
Who chose who spoke? Who silenced the sparrow?
Friday: The Book of Witches edited by Jonathan Strahan 
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