clare_dragonfly: Prentiss from Criminal Minds grimacing, text: well, this sucks (CM: Prentiss: this sucks)
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Title: Great-Uncle Morrie's Cookbook
World: other
Word count: 2,364
Rating: G
Prompt: [community profile] origfic_bingo, kitchen disaster; [community profile] tic_tac_woe, Wishes go awry/spells rebound
Notes: As soon as I started putting my two bingo cards together, I knew I had to combine these two prompts!


It all started when Joy decided to experiment with making her soup spicier.

The problem was that her son hated spicy food. Joy, her husband, and their daughter would all happily eat food that seared their mouths, but Alexander would throw the soup bowl across the room if his food were spicy enough to please his father—and he was much too old to be throwing food. Punishment hadn’t helped.

So Joy had resorted to making her food relatively bland, enough that everyone was willing to eat it, even if they weren’t always thrilled.

But she was tired of it, and she craved the fire. So she’d looked into ways to make her son’s share of the food palatable to him while the rest of the family ate spices that melded with the rest of their dish, and that had led her to the attic.

So maybe it really all started when she found Great-Uncle Morrie’s cookbook.

Her great-uncle had been a strange man, who never married or had children, and Joy hadn’t really known him that well, even in the last ten years of his life during which her father had cared for his uncle, doing his grocery shopping and driving him to appointments. But it seemed that of all Morrie’s grandnieces and grandnephews, Joy was the only one who liked to cook, so a year before he died, he’d given her the cookbook.

He’d whispered some warning as he handed it over, told her to use it well and carefully, but as she knelt in the attic with the box open and the cookbook on top, she didn’t remember the warning at all.

Instead, she started to try Great-Uncle Morrie’s recipes.

They were Great-Uncle Morrie’s, without a doubt; someone at some point had printed these recipes and bound them into a book, but no publishing company had had any hand in it, and the pages were written and scribbled on in Great-Uncle Morrie’s inimitable handwriting. He’d actually used a fountain pen.

Joy had started small with a biscuit recipe that had been an immediate favorite with her whole family. She branched out into quick breads and cakes, then a pasta bake, then something like a curry, without the spice, of course, for Alexander. They were all hits.

Then she tried the curry with the spice, following a mysterious scribbled note in the margin, “geshan to taste.”

She’d visited three shops looking for “geshan,” but none of them, not even the one where she’d found the most unusual spices for the curry, had ever heard of such a spice. So Joy went back to Great-Uncle Morrie’s cookbook to see if there was another word for it.

In the back of the book, she found a glossary. And under “geshan” was written, not a definition, but instructions:

Walk around the pot three times widdershins. Speak the word three times for each circuit. Then sing it high and clear. For a multitude of tastes in one pot.

It made Joy feel a bit ridiculous, but the instructions did seem to be exactly what she’d been looking for. She wasn’t sure what word was meant, but she hoped it was “geshan.” So one afternoon when her family was out, she followed the instructions for making the curry, then moved the pot carefully to a trivet on the floor. She walked around it three times counterclockwise, saying “geshan” three times each, and then tilting her head to sing the word toward the ceiling.

Now she felt really ridiculous.

But when her family got home, she served them the curry and held her breath. Alexander didn’t throw his bowl across the room. He didn’t even complain. In fact, everyone in the family—including Joy herself—ate the curry happily and wished for more.

But Joy still wanted soup.

Great-Uncle Morrie had three soup recipes, but none of them were spicy, or sounded like they would be good spicy. Now that Joy knew the secret, however, she was emboldened. She took down her favorite cookbook, found her favorite spicy soup recipe—the one she’d made in college when she was dating Nate—and went to town.

She’d still been embarrassed to tell anyone about the magic spell (because it had to be that, right?), so she’d waited until her family was all watching TV in another room. They couldn’t hear her. She performed geshan around the pot, put it back on the stove, and tasted the soup.

Delicious.

She called her family, but they couldn’t hear her, so she went into the family room. They were all staring at the TV. “Dinner’s ready,” she said.

“Mom, something weird is going on,” her daughter Rebecca said.

“Well, you still have to eat,” she said. “Come on, your soup will get cold.”

Her husband stood up and turned off the TV, but he was frowning. “This really is strange, Joy.” Instead of going straight to the kitchen, he went to the family room and pulled back the curtain. “Yeah, see, it’s really happening. Look out there.”

Joy looked. At first she thought it was snowing—which was odd, but not impossible, given that it was mid-March. But as she watched, she realized that the flakes falling from the sky were more gray than white, and they were falling faster and thicker.

“When did this start?” she asked, something curling in her gut.

“Just a few minutes ago, the news said.”

“Is it a volcano? Do we need to evacuate?”

“It’s happening all over,” he said calmly. “There isn’t anywhere to evacuate to.”

She looked up at him, now fearful, but he was still staring out at the ash.

“Mom!” Alexander called from the kitchen. “You said it was dinner time. I’m hungry!”

“Right,” Joy said. She went into the kitchen and served the soup into four big bowls. She called her husband and he came in from the dining room so they could all sit and eat the soup together.

It was perfect. Joy closed her eyes for a moment to savor the spicy, perfect flavor, the strangeness outside forgotten for the moment. This was just what she’d been craving for weeks.

Alexander yelped. Joy opened her eyes to reprimand Rebecca for harassing her brother, but he was pushing his bowl away from him, soup sloshing over the side and the spoon clattering to the table. “Yuck! This is way too spicy!”

“I don’t like it either,” Rebecca complained.

“It’s just like the curry,” Joy said. “You loved that.”

Alexander shook his head. “There wasn’t anything spicy in that!”

Joy turned to Nate. He was eating the soup steadily, but he looked pained. “I have to say, it’s a lot spicier than you usually make, sweetheart.”

Joy frowned. “I thought it was great.” She took another bite. It still seemed perfect, but as she went through spoonful after spoonful, the fire grew. Maybe she had made it a little too spicy.

She sighed and pushed back from the table. “I’m sorry, kids. I guess I was a little heavy-handed. Do you want peanut butter and jelly?”

“Yeah,” Alexander said. Rebecca just nodded.

Joy made three peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, then sat back down to eat her soup. She still loved the flavor, but each bite actually hurt now. Maybe she would have to dilute it and freeze it for her own lunches.

It baffled her, though. Why hadn’t geshan worked this time?

“It’s scary out there,” Alexander complained when he’d finished his sandwich.

“It’s still coming,” Rebecca said.

Joy looked out the window. The ash was still coming down, darker and darker now. Everything outside was covered in a layer of dark gray. The grass looked stark and bright poking up through it.

She looked at Nate. “Should we put the news back on?”

Without answering, he shoved the last bite of his sandwich into his mouth and got up. They followed him into the family room, where he turned the TV on. The anchor was saying, “shows no signs of stopping. Our meteorologists are baffled. We’re trying to contact our colleagues in China and the European Union, but international phone lines seem to be down.”

Nate put his arm around Joy’s shoulders and pulled her tightly to him. They all stood there, staring at the TV.

The news had people on to talk about the strange ash storm. Laypeople speculated about megavolcanoes, but the scientists they called said that there was no evidence that any volcano had erupted. The ash was evenly distributed over the earth, from what they could tell.

They called up satellite imagery. All the satellites would show was gray.

And then another scientist came on, an old man with a Japanese name, his hair a wisp that looked like it might blow away. Behind him was a window showing the ash falling, whether night or day in his time zone Joy could not tell.

“This is no natural phenomenon,” he said. “The ash started all at once, everywhere, with no visible cause. Why would any weather event begin in multiple places at once, precisely at six-thirty p.m. Eastern time?”

Joy choked. She had been making dinner at six-thirty p.m. She had been performing geshan at six-thirty p.m.

“I have to fix it.” She wrenched herself free of her husband’s grasp and ran for the kitchen, ignoring her children’s cries.

Where was it? There, on the counter, tucked behind the cookbook she’d been using that night—Great-Uncle Morrie’s cookbook.

Joy flipped through it feverishly. The book had no introduction to geshan, no explanation except the one in the glossary. What was the first recipe to mention it?

The recipe for peanut noodles had “geshan to taste” written in the margins, but no explanation. The recipe for pea soup had geshan crossed out in the margin with a heavy hand. Was it like the spicy soup she’d made tonight, and geshan would not work on it? Or could that mean something more dire?

A recipe for sweet potato pancakes had “geshan carefully” written. That didn’t explain anything at all.

But none of the recipes, in their text or their handwritten notes, had any explanation for how to reverse geshan, or how to stop it if it had all gone wrong.

Joy felt sweat on her forehead, though the temperature had dropped in the kitchen, as she turned at last to the glossary. Surely here would be the antidote to geshan. Surely one of these entries explained it.

But every entry she read was a cooking term. Blanch. Deglaze. Meuniere. Toss. She knew them all.

She went back and read, and reread, the entry for geshan. But it was no more straightforward than it had been the first time she’d read it. They were instructions for its use, no more.

She knew she’d used it correctly. She’d had such success with the curry. She hadn’t made an error with the soup. Geshan itself was not the problem.

The problem had to be her.

Joy shut the cookbook and stood up. There was only one thing to try. She just had to hope, desperately, that it would work.

She glanced out of the kitchen and shut the door. It wouldn’t stop her family from hearing her if they were in the dining room, but she thought they were still in the family room, watching the news.

The pot of soup had gone cold. So much the better. She put the trivet back on the floor and the pot back on the trivet.

She stared at it for a moment, biting her lip. Should she walk backward? What exact order should she do things in? What if she did it wrong and everything became worse?

But she knew she couldn’t just stand here second-guessing herself. She had to try something.
She took a moment to take a few deep, calming breaths, then stepped closer to the pot. She lifted her head to the ceiling, hesitated, and then insisted to herself that she at least try it.

“Nasheg,” she sang in a clear voice toward the ceiling. Then she walked around the pot three times clockwise. “Nasheg, nasheg, nasheg. Nasheg, nasheg, nasheg. Nasheg, nasheg, nasheg.”

Her voice was high, quavering, during the last three repetitions. Begging. She stopped when she had finished and blinked back tears. Had it worked? When she looked out the window, she could not tell; everything was dark.

She put the pot back on the stove and replaced the trivet in its spot. Then she opened the kitchen door and walked back out to the family room.

“Mom!” Alexander ran up to her. “Where were you? It stopped. It’s okay.”

“It stopped?” She put her hands on his small, narrow shoulders, squeezing tightly.

“That’s what they say,” Nate said. He was pale, though his voice was still calm. “They don’t know what caused it or what stopped it. But it’s not coming down anymore.”

“It’s stopped everywhere?”

“They talked to China,” Rebecca said. “The phone lines are back on. Everything’s working.”

“But the ash is still here,” Nate said. “At least six inches of ash. It’s all over everything.”

“They’ll be able to clean it up,” Joy said. “There must be a way.”

“We might not be able to go to school and work tomorrow,” Nate said.

“Snow day!” cheered Alexander and Rebecca.

Joy knelt down and hugged Alexander close to her. “I’m sorry about the soup, honey.”

“That’s okay.” He grinned. “The peanut butter and jelly was really good.”

“I’m still hungry,” Rebecca said.

Joy let go of Alexander and stood. “I’ll make you something else. Whatever you want. What would you like?”

“Pancakes?” Rebecca said hopefully.

“Sure.” Joy walked with her back into the kitchen. She reached for Great-Uncle Morrie’s cookbook, then hesitated.

What had his warning been?

It didn’t matter. She pulled the cookbook out of the stack. She could still use his recipes. They had never hurt anyone.

But she didn’t think she would be trying to make the food she cooked suit all of her family’s tastebuds at the same time. Not for a very long time.


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