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SHORTS | HARRY MATHEWS

Crème Brûlée

(Warm up the engine and go. Watch the trees.
Do not forget what you’ve left behind.
Stop to sip some wine. Return to the road.
Let the ink dry before serving time . . .  )


For me the identification of trees has always been a puzzle, one not really made easier by consulting my tree books inside my house, where no trees are. I can certainly remember the caramel color of beech leaves in fall, the cropped silhouettes of plane trees along the highway, the almost-blue brown trunks of fallen spruces I’ve had to cross over or around on my walks, the purpled boughs of Judas trees where no swallow ever perches.

But do swallows ever perch? It seems that every swallow I’ve seen out of its caked nest is part of an everchanging, bug-eating swarm—a puzzle too mobile to decipher, tumbling and soaring over the cross of a church in Tuscany or Touraine, with pink evening light inside the bell of the air, an image that saddens me when I return to a highway leading north into the night thick and empty as caramel custard. But of course crème brûlée is the new name for caramel custard, and probably a new name was needed, because before you swallow any custard you now have to crack through a delicious crust, something that on the highway may stir your desire to drive on to your next restaurant. Restaurants are a puzzle in themselves: how far is the next good one you can reach before you step inside the hospitable, softly lit walls?

Through an entrance lined with vases full of leaves and flowers, you cross to a room full of tables, sumptuously or plainly set, sometimes a cross between the two. But by this time you have abandoned every thought of caramel anything. You are now interested by what is to be found inside the menu, inside the wine list. You order and wait and meanwhile have a first swallow of the local white, of a denomination you don’t have to puzzle your head over. You soon forget about having to drive along the highway, the hard driving you already had to do, with lights on the far side of the highway making you tense slightly (and when undimmed making you slightly cross).

You reflect as the wine mellows you that if life is a puzzle, travel is another. Why ever leave your house, why leave behind the caramel-colored leaves and the bluish brown trunks? Take another swallow and enjoy it. Let the sweet melancholy of wine expel the demons inside you.

There are no demons inside you, just your addiction to any puzzle that will addle your contentment, like salt in caramel. You swallow your last glass of wine and return, not unhappily, to the highway.


STORIE 64
© 2009 Leconte

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