The Love Season

By: Elin Hilderbrand

Part One


August 19, 2006 • 6:30 A.M.

Marguerite didn’t know where to start.

Each and every summer evening for nearly twenty years, she had cooked for a restaurant full of people, yet here she was in her own kitchen on a crystalline morning with a seemingly simple mission—dinner for two that evening at seven thirty—and she didn’t know where to start. Her mind spun like the pedals of a bicycle without any brakes. Candace coming here, after all these years. Immediately Marguerite corrected herself. Not Candace. Candace was dead. Renata was coming tonight. The baby.

Marguerite’s hands quivered as she brought her coffee mug to her lips. The grandfather clock chimed just as it had every fifteen minutes of its distinguished life—but this time, the sound startled Marguerite. She pictured a monkey inside, with two small cymbals and a voice screeching, Marguerite! Earth to Marguerite!

Marguerite chuckled. I am an old bat, she thought. I’ll start by writing a list.

The phone call had come at eleven o’clock the night before. Marguerite was in bed, reading Hemingway. Whereas once Marguerite had been obsessed with food—with heirloom tomatoes and lamb shanks and farmhouse cheeses, and fish still flopping on the counter, and eggs and chocolate and black truffles and foie gras and rare white nectarines—now the only thing that gave her genuine pleasure was reading. The people of Nantucket wondered—oh yes, she knew they wondered—what Marguerite did all day, hermited in her house on Quince Street, secreted away from the eyes of the curious. Although there was always something—the laundry, the garden, the articles for the newspaper in Calgary (deadline every other Friday)—the answer was: reading. Marguerite had three books going at any one time. That was the chef in her, the proverbial more-than-one-pot-on-the-stove. She read contemporary fiction in the mornings, though she was very picky. She liked Philip Roth, Penelope Lively, as a rule no one under the age of fifty, for what could they possibly have to say about the world that Marguerite hadn’t already learned? In the afternoons, she enriched herself with biographies or books of European history, if they weren’t too dense. Her evenings were reserved for the classics, and when the phone rang the night before Marguerite had been reading Hemingway. Hemingway was the perfect choice for late at night because his sentences were clear and easy to understand, though Marguerite stopped every few pages and asked herself, Is that all he means? Might he mean something else? This insecurity was a result of attending the Culinary Institute instead of a proper university—and all those years with Porter didn’t help. An education makes you good company for yourself, Porter had liked to tell his students, and Marguerite, when he was trying to convince her to read something other than Larousse Gastronomique. Wouldn’t he be proud of her now.

The phone, much like the muted toll of the clock a few seconds ago, had scared Marguerite out of her wits. She gasped, and her book slid off her lap to the floor, where it lay with its pages folded unnaturally under, like a person with a broken limb. The phone, a rotary, continued its cranky, mechanical whine while Marguerite groped her nightstand for her watch. Eleven o’clock. Marguerite could name on one hand the phone calls she’d received in the past twelve months: There was a call or two from the editorial assistant at the Calgary paper; there was a call from the Culinary Institute each spring asking for a donation; there was always a call from Porter on November 3, her birthday. None of these people would ever think to call her at eleven o’clock at night—not even Porter, drunk (not even if he’d split from the nubile young graduate assistant who had become his late-in-life wife), would dare call Marguerite at this hour. So it was a wrong number. Marguerite decided to let it ring. She had no answering machine to put the phone out of its misery; it just rang and rang, as pleading and insistent as a crying baby. Marguerite picked it up, clearing her throat first. She occasionally went a week without speaking.


“Aunt Daisy?” The voice had been light and cheerful; there was background noise—people talking, jazz music, the familiar clink and clatter of glasses and plates—was it restaurant noise? It threw Marguerite off. And then there was the nickname: Daisy. Only three people had ever used it.

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