1.14.1 Olympe Contemplates her Past and her Future
The Kitchen of Restaurant Le Gardon Frit, Pouzay
About 2 pm Wednesday 2 April 1987
While Ada played the coquette behind the Fragonard screen, the other woman destined for a major role in Alenby’s life was engaged in a mundane activity—preparing a Substance for use, not in her own modest law-abiding restaurant Le Gardon, but in Le Cèpe’s decadently luxurious Le Gardon Frit.
Olympe had for years carried out her modest and at times mildly repugnant duties with the utmost devotion to detail, but now she was distracted. The prospect of a reunion with Ada Lynche had set her thoughts swirling unsteadily around hopes of escape--escape from from her middle-life of unappreciated toil, perhaps to recapture the essence of her youthful dreams of beauty, love and laughter.
She came back to reality with a sigh of relief—Le Cèpe hadn’t noticed that errant curl that had escaped from under her snood, now tucked safely back out of sight. The slightest sign that a hair might turn up in the sauce hollandaise was enough to send him into one of his stupid fits of rage.
Le Cèpe and his rages—they were unbearable!
She continued to stir melted butter into the beaten egg yolks, her balloon whip describing figure-eights in the thickening yellow mixture. The whip brushed softly across the bottom of the tinned-copper bowl. Assez-assez, assez-assez, it seemed to whisper.
Assez, enough. She'd had enough of Le Cèpe, of Restaurant Le Gardon Frit and its sting operation, of PROFATPOL and the entire hierarchy of sleaze, all the way up to the harridan they feared and loathed and saluted on tippy toes: Madame Cava.
In a way she sympathized with her adoptive brother. At bottom Le Cèpe was a misguided innocent, a perfectionist devoted to the French culinary art of long ago, the era of La Belle France. It was a decadent, unhealthful art but an art nonetheless. But she'd had enough of his antics. She had to make a complete break.
Her thoughts strayed back to the halcyon time of her youth. In her mind's eye it glowed like the set for a certain ballet--perhaps Tchaikovsky's "La Belle en bois." Brightly lit, buttercup yellow and green, misty as viewed through a scrim....
The egg-yolks had taken up all the butter they could absorb. She began to beat in a little water: assez-assez, assez-assez,....
With an effort of will she steeled herself to consider her future. Make a break with the past, she urged herself. Renew one or other of the bold aspirations of her youth. So many brilliant possibilities! Dance, ballet--she'd loved all kinds of movement to music. Especially the tango. From the moment her dance master had introduced her to that slinky insinuating rhythm with its heady perfume of sensuality, she'd been captivated....
That all ended when the black-uniformed PROFATPOL agents took her parents away. Kin of criminals, she'd been pushed aside like rubbish, and left in the suddenly unfriendly company of the dance master and the other servants of the formerly grand household of the Paris Le Montrachets.
She stopped beating the hollandaise mixture. She would have folded in a little béchamel to ensure it didn’t separate, but she knew Le Cèpe would not allow it. Sauce hollandaise, he liked to proclaim, is sheer unadulterated goodness—nothing, absolutely nothing but salt, lemon juice, egg yolks and butter. She set the balloon whip in motion again, a rhythmic accompaniment to her thoughts of long ago.
The Little Sisters of Gaea, women dedicated to help the needy and downtrodden, had come to her aid. Aspiring to repay their goodness by joining them in their mission, she'd trained as a novice. She'd done the required course of field work, helping Substance users master their unhealthful impulses and return to decent society. She'd looked forward to taking the veil of the full-fledged Sister. But in the end her height had told against her--in the training period she'd grown a full two centimeters over the limit. But she retained a strong affection for the Little Sisters and their good works. Might there be some path back to that sorority? Common sense supplied an instant answer: No, she was too old now. And still too tall.
Another, completely different idea came to mind—perhaps she could take a lover! It wasn't a new idea, she'd thought of it many times, but she'd never made it a reality. She had only positive feelings for men in general, but had never felt comfortable alone with a man. And now, after years of drudgery in the restaurant business, she lacked the ability to loosen up and let her feelings flow in lightweight banter. How might she learn those things, at her age?
The answer came to her in a flash--from Dr Lynche! Surely Dr Lynche would be able to instruct her in the art of la coquetterie, the art that Miss Ada had practiced with such aplomb in Parc Monseau! Yes, she’d somehow bring up the subject with her at the earliest possible moment....
Olympe noticed she’d picked up the pace of her figure-eights. Nerves, she admitted inwardly. Trying to anticipate the outcome of her meeting with Ada put her in a nervous state. Drops of sweat dripped off her chin and punched tiny dark holes in the otherwise perfect sauce. She tried to relax, adjusting tempo to stroke the fragrant creamy sauce in a sulky, sinuous, sexy Latin beat....
A few more figure-eights and the sauce was done. It would hold for sure. Nothing to do now but lay a damp towel over the bowl of unadulterated goodness.
Assez! The word resonated more and more insistently.