This piece was written for the Mythology Workshop over at the 13th Floor Paradigm. The task was to pick a mythological figure and a recipe suitable for that figure, and weave the recipe into the story. Demeter, the goddess of the corn and the harvest, seemed a promising subject. Here’s what I came up with…
* * * * *
“I wonder if she’s lonely,” Inge said.
Paul, who had been reading the sports pages of his newspaper, wrinkled his nose, “Who?”
“The lady upstairs,” Inge peered out the window.
Paul snorted. For their forty-five years of marriage, Inge had been speculating about the neighbours in their small Swedish town.
“She looks so sad. Maybe we should invite her over for tea. She’s looking at your garden now,” Inge went on, “You should get rid of the weeds Paul.”
“I’ve got a bad back Inge.”
“I can’t remember when she moved in. Overnight it seemed, just when the weather changed in November. I wonder what she does for a living.”
Paul buried himself deeper in his armchair.
Paul was coming back from the community centre the following Tuesday, when Inge beckoned him inside.
“I found out everything!” Inge declared with excitement, “Her name is Demeter and she’s from Greece.”
Paul took off his coat and scarf, “That’s why she’s looks worried. They’ve got financial troubles in Greece, you know Inge.”
Inge waved him aside, “She’s a horticulturalist! And she has one daughter, who’s married and is living abroad!”
Paul humpfed at his wife’s ability to extract information.
“She said she’d help you with the garden.”
Paul thought it was unlikely this Demeter (who he had noticed was a very attractive and glamorous woman) would be much use in the garden.
But he found Demeter by the forlorn plot the next day, looking at the overgrown beds and tired stalks.
He was struck by the desolation in her eyes, “This is your garden?”
“Haven’t been able to look after it for a while,” Paul said, feeling a little ashamed, “Our son, he lives in Copenhagen. He used to help me with the hard work.”
“My daughter is far away too. There is not too much to be done here,” Demeter smiled.
She knew a lot about plants. Paul found his strength returning as they stooped down and pulled out some weeds.
December passed, then the fierce cold of January, February and March. Paul was surprised to see Demeter outside often, tending the bare earth in the moonlight. April was bitter, but finally a gentle warmth filled the air in May.
“Demeter has invited us to lunch today!” Inge exclaimed one Sunday, “Her daughter’s coming to visit and she’ll cook for us. That’s nice of her isn’t it!”
Paul nodded. He looked out his window and was amazed to see his humble garden allotment was suddenly a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. He scratched his head as he saw tall sheafs of wheat growing in one corner.
“Put on your best shirt Paul,” Inge insisted as they were getting ready.
“We’re only going upstairs.”
“You haven’t seen her daughter and son-in-law. They’re very well-to-do. They arrived in that huge black BMW this morning.”
Paul sighed. When they climbed the stairs to Demeter’s apartment they were amazed at the huge dining table covered with food. Demeter was bringing more bowls from the kitchen. The worry lines were gone from her eyes and her smile was dazzling.
“Welcome my friends! Sit down! Enjoy!” she said.
Persephone, Demeter’s daughter, was a dark-haired beauty and her son-in-law, Hades, was a handsome silver-haired man in a black polo neck and jeans. He was polite and charming, although Paul felt kind of nervous around him.
The food kept coming. Salads of olives, tomatoes, cucumbers and feta cheese; dishes of lamb, dates and spices; aubergines stuffed with vegetables and Inge’s favourite dish, a bowl of tomatoes and chick peas.
“Simmer the onions in olive oil with the tomatoes,” Demeter advised, “Then add the chick peas. For extra flavour add some finely grated carrot and some red bell pepper and let it simmer. Add a bunch of baby spinach just before serving. And lastly my secret ingredient.”
Inge nodded, her fork halfway to her mouth.
“Happiness,” Demeter raised her glass of peach nectar, “Serve it all on a bed of couscous, the husk of the grain.”
Paul looked at the tall sheaves of wheat in the kitchen and Demeter gave him a sweet smile.
The lunch was a great success. Hades slapped Paul on the back as they were leaving.
“See you soon,” he said, then paused, “But not for many years, eh?”
Paul felt strangely relieved.
“They have so much joie de vivre in the Mediterranean,” Inge sighed, clutching a leftover bowl of Demeter’s tomato and chickpea sauce, “You should be more like that Paul.”
Demeter moved out of her apartment a week later, telling them she always spent the summers traveling with Persephone. Inge started to speculate about the young couple who moved in afterwards.
Paul stared over his garden, which continued to bloom over the summer months. There was definitely something unusual about that lady Demeter and her family.
* * * * *