“Come in, Grace,” Dance calls cheerfully when she knocks on the door to the Trio’s houseboat. “We are in the kitchen.” It must be strange to live with a naga. No secrets.
She carries the basket of fresh eggs into the room and sets them down on the counter. “These are from Rene and Jackie. Their hens are going nuts right now, so I thought I’d bring some over.”
“Her hens lay wonderful,” Dance says, and his tail makes a happy little flippy gesture in the air like an Italian cook waving ecstatically. Grace watches it a moment, laughing, and nodding in agreement, as if it’s talking to her. Well, it is, really.
Seung chuckles. “Little Brother likes Jackie’s eggs. So do I. Good flavor.”
“Oh, so does Hal.” She grins at Seung, bowing to him, and he inclines his head in return from the kitchen chair in the corner. He’s the consulting expert on authentic tastes when Dance cooks various Asian cuisines, which Grace suspects is just a fancy title for Always Hungry. And it sure smells like Dance is cooking now. “God, that smells good. What is that?” She blushes when her stomach rumbles noisily.
“Onions, green pepper, just a little celery–” Dance grins, as reference to one of the major features of Cajun cooking makes that funny look come over Grace’s face, “–many greens, and tiny oily salty fish, rather like the bacon drippings I use to oil the pan–” He’s stirring things vigorously, the same as he would in a stir fry. “Now the wonderful part, all of this goes better with the eggs, is that perfect timing from you, or what?”
Seung chuckles. “Not Julia Child, with the tail.”
Dance turns, grinning as he pulls down a bowl with it, and starts cracking eggs in swift little flicks of his tail tip. It’s fun to see him wash his hands and tail tip afterward with soap too, all three manipulative organs smacking around with quick economy.
“No, Dance is much prettier,” Grace says, sitting primly in a kitchen chair next to Seung.
“Oh stop, you make me blush,” Dance says, with a mischievous glance.
Seung’s tail comes up and gives Grace’s arm a little tap. “See, you say nice, his head get bigger and bigger, explode on kitchen.”
Grace’s mouth comes open in surprise, and she pushes Seung’s tail right back. “Was that a joke??”
Seung grins. “I’m in kitchen with food cooking and beautiful womans, what is to make me sad?”
Dance puts up his hair in a twist on top of his head and starts singing Aretha’s R-E-S-P-E-C-T in a silly high voice. Grace pushes her hair up off her neck in an impromptu beehive, and sings right along, chair dancing and smiling at the two nagas. “Ummm, when is that going to be done, Dance? I’m starving.” She gets up to peer into the pan, starts to poke what’s in the pan with a finger, until the tail swats her away. Her eyes feel large and greedy, like a kid at Christmas, looking under the tree.
“Only one moment, please. Would you mind finding plates?” The tail indicates where she should look, and it only takes a moment to pull three clean plates down off the shelf and find appropriate silverware. No, not three plates, she needs five. She can hear two pairs of footfalls at the front door.
Drin and Emma troop in moments later, looking like they’ve been in the garden. They have that earthy, weed-juice, been-in-the-wind-and-sun smell. She hopes that there’s enough to go around –her stomach is cramping, she’s so hungry. Emma comes round the stove to give Dance a squeeze, but Drin comes up and eyes Grace critically.
“Have you been eating?” he asks. She shrugs awkwardly. There’s always a girl with babies to feed who’s fallen on hard times. Some days it seems like she gives away more food than she consumes. “Grace,” Drin growls, warning in his voice. “This will not do. You need to keep yourself healthy. Sit down and eat some of this.” Her butt hits a chair seat suddenly, and a plate of steaming greens and egg is in her hands. The first bite is heaven. The second is even better. Her vision blurs as the food drags complex taste and texture across her tongue, but she still catches the cryptic look that passes between Drin and Dance.
The plate is empty. Did she just eat all those greens?
Dance grins proudly. “Good, yes? What do you think of this?” More eggs appear, mixed with pale green and bright red. It smells sour, like it’s been fermented. Pickled. The sour and spicy taste makes the roof of her mouth ache in bliss. Her eyes roll in their sockets. “Oh, my, yes,” she murmurs.
Dance and Drin share another look, and then there’s a steady stream of things for her to taste — spicy bits of leftover grilled meat, some sort of pork dumpling that Dance stir-fries in a hot pan, noodles that have a slightly slimy, gummy texture and a wonderful sweet taste, some sort of mild meat that tastes like fresh seawater. The last one makes her gasp and pant with her mouth open. One faraway part of her brain feels like she’s making a fool and a glutton of herself, but the taste is so extraordinary that she just doesn’t care. More of those morsels come her way, and she swallows them reverently, with her eyes closed. “What are those?” she asks.
“Fresh shrimp,” Drin answers.
“But how did Dance cook them?”
Dance answers, “I did not cook. They are raw.”
Her eyes pop open. Raw?
He doesn’t even give her time to think. “Here, taste this.” It’s some sort of fish, topped with herbs and pan-seared. The fish must have come from Miss Hester’s kin, because they’re from the spring-fed pond they have on their property, not from Bayou Rainette. The taste is totally different. And the herbs are soothing and delicious; she strips them off the top of the white flaky fish meat and swallows them whole. Then there’s some sort of sharp-tasting green stuff — different herbs? — and some of Dance’s apple butter. They’re all wonderful, they make her mouth water until she fears she’s just going to drool all over the Trio’s kitchen table. More apple butter spread thick on home-made bread, and some slices of candied ginger…
Then, as quickly as it started, her frenzy eases, and she’s suddenly stuffed to the gills. She gives Emma a sort of bewildered, poleaxed look, which makes the Aussie woman bray with laughter. Then Dance urges her out onto the back deck of the houseboat and into a comfy lounge in the sun. It takes all of five seconds for her to fall asleep.