SPLIT HOLLANDAISE • by Tara Brabazon

I still walk. Breathe. Eat.

I am a corpse in clothes. Want nothing. Numb.

Since my husband died, I just don’t want to be here. Here. Anywhere. I poke my emotional ash-heap of a self with sharpened sticks to confirm aliveness. I fail.

I continue to walk. Breathe. Eat.

Nothing.

I walk into one of those seriously crappy ‘family’ restaurants that only Australia can produce. You know the ones. They put the petit into bourgeois. The usual offerings are available. Caesar salad. Prawn cocktail. Their idea of edgy food is serving blue cheese.

We used to come here, my husband and I, to laugh at the state of food in Australia. To laugh at all the pseudo-upper class establishment tossers who think they are displaying taste while eating wilted iceberg lettuce drenched in shop-bought mayonnaise.

Now, it is personal torture to come here. Alone.  At least in my house, I can numb myself with morning television and meditations on the benefits of the Nutribullet.

Leaving the house and eating in public is a type of self-harm. A reminder of my aloneness. I hear the echo of my life, the silence where once there was happiness.

I step up those ridiculous stairs with the 1970s porno shag pile carpet. I pass through the fingerprinted fake paint gold doors and sit down. The creepy bastard waiter, with a limp and a bad haircut, looks at me with a contempt Republicans reserve for Jimmy Carter. He drops the menu onto the badly set table. The paper napkin flickers.

I order what I always order in dodgy restaurants that have not changed their menus since the 1970s: Eggs Benedict. It is one of my favourite meals. It is delicate. Crafted. But it is also a test for the chef. There are only a few ingredients. Any error is visible and obvious.

This test always made us laugh. He — the dead husband part of myself — hated mustard, so I always ordered a meal with mustard or hollandaise sauce when we went out. But the quality of a chef was revealed by their treatment of eggs.

“Is anyone joining you?”

My thoughts were disrupted by the creepy bastard with the bad haircut.

“No.”

Pause. Uncomfortable. The death ringing my eyes lacerates the air around me.

“What do you want?”

“Eggs Benedict.”

“For dinner?”

“Yep.”

“You want wine?”

“A glass of pinot grigio is fine.”

“The local one from Orange?”

“Fine.”

That was it. This was the only conversation I had experienced for two months. After his death, my mouth stopped working. I had forgotten how to punch out words into space. The cruelty was that the only person I had spoken to was this dismissive, nasty man. He did not know of my silence. But his words — his denial of humanity and life in another person who needed any kindness, any acknowledgement — confirmed my death. A word, a smile, would have made the difference.

The wine glass was placed on the table, badly. Its droplets streaked the globe. Tears of wine matched my eyes. I had little control any more. My eyes filled. Blink blink blink. They empty. Filled again.

I sucked back the wine.

The food arrived, the plate plonked with inelegance and disgust. A woman alone is an object of pity. Left on the shelf. I wanted to shout that I had felt love but had lost it. I would not recover. I was broken.

No words came to my lips. Instead, I sucked in a gulp of wine. I looked down.

The egg was not fluffy and poached. It was cremated.

The smoked salmon was old, bitter, wrinkled and off.

But it was the hollandaise that finally made me move my body away from the table and leave the restaurant, throwing a fifty dollar note on the table. The butter had separated. Yellow globules bubbled from the sauce. The hollandaise was split. The creamy, smooth sauce had been overcooked, the heat had destroyed it.

Split hollandaise. That is my future. A moment of perfection had passed. I am overcooked. I am split.


Tara Brabazon is the Dean of Graduate Research and the Professor of Cultural Studies at Flinders University in Australia. She is the author of 17 books, over 200 academic articles and book chapters and is a columnist for the Times Higher Education.


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