Oct 26: VOODOO
Sam’s kitchen wasn’t one of those photogenic open restaurant kitchens. Au contraire. It was stained floor tiles and a gaping grate in the middle of the floor, battered heavy-guage pots hanging from blackened hooks, a walk-in baking oven with yellowed glass, a mixer with a bowl that could hold a couple of small children, plastic tubs stuck with tape.
He hadn’t been able to get all the blood off the ceiling. But it was supposed to be non-infectious after twenty-four hours, anyway.
And it had been seven years since the previous—the final—zombie outbreak.
Exactly seven years. He had come in early to, what was the word, celebrate? To mark the ending of all that death. There was something about the length of time that spoke to him, although he didn’t know why.
He started pulling the ingredients out of the fridge and stacking them on the counters. Before he knew it, he had the butter and flour measured out and mixed up and in a couple of big pots.
Two big pots. Two sets of ingredients.
That night seven years ago, he had lost his best friend in the world, a gigantic mother of a man named Tony, who was six and a half feet tall if he was an inch. A real monster of a man, you know? Ugly as sin and sweet as caramel. He couldn’t work the front of the house because he would scare folks, but every night he was at the restaurant, the whole kitchen sang. Figuratively, because the dishes Tony sent out—hell, anything that he so much as touched—would be so good that it would fill your heart. And literally, because he had the voice of an angel. Or rather the angels sang like Tony, a sweet baritone voice that knew every Frank Sinatra song by heart.
Best friend? If he couldn’t tell the truth now, when would he? He had been in love with the bastard, and worried that Tony would not love him back.
Seven years was a long time to be without your best friend. The love of his life.
The roux started to cook, filling the kitchen with that raw-flour smell. He stirred both pots with wooden spatulas, sometimes one in each hand.
From the fridge he heard something moving. Ignoring it, he kept his eye on the roux. He didn’t have the ingredients he needed to start all over again. It was now or never, and come hell or high water, he was not going to let his roux burn.
He started humming. You do something to me…
Finally both sets of roux were a deep, rich chocolate brown. Through the double doors leading out of the kitchen, it was just now starting to get light. Rising on a day he might never see.
He added the holy trinity and for a moment just stood there in the steam coming up, wafting over him. Then he added the big links of sausage, making sure not to make a mixup, even through his tears. Then the chunks of gator. He wanted to let that stew for a while, too.
The broth he had made ahead of time. He had to take a small plastic tub and ladle the clear brown liquid into the two pots; the container was too heavy to lift. The ice bath he’d packed it in had melted, but it was all good. He’d only had to take the thinnest of scum layers off the top before he wheeled it out.
Only one type of broth. He hadn’t been able to save any of the bones. The CDC had claimed all those. Because of the marrow. Now he felt nothing but anger. None of them would have had to die, if only–
Brought to a simmer, he added sugar, salt, Tabasco sauce, his own seasoning mix, bay leaves, stewed tomatoes and tomato sauce from a farmer that lived on the edge of the swamp.
He checked the fridge. Not quite.
He cleaned for a while. It was a kitchen. It always needed cleaning. The blood splatter on the ceiling tiles remained where it was.
The filé powder went in, and then, in a big skillet with bacon drippings, he cooked the okra with a little distilled vinegar until it turned soft. People who were afraid of a little slime didn’t belong in his kitchen.
Crabmeat, shrimp, Worcestershire sauce. Another forty-five minutes until it was done and perfect.
At forty minutes, the fridge door opened, and Sam swayed, caching himself against the counter by the big pots. He covered the pot that he’d made with pork sausage and fat as the fridge door swung closed and clicked back shut.
Tony was still big, but he wasn’t exactly a man anymore. Sam had been thawing him out for a week, though. And now it was time.
Him or the gumbo? Sam was humming under his breath again. And crying. Big fat tears running down his face.
He wanted to beg forgiveness. Seven years he had held out against temptation. Seven years he had left Tony to rot in a frozen hell.
But the loneliness and his longing had never faded.
“Tony?” he said. “Sing for me, Tony.”
The big man bared his teeth.
And then it was all down to a last test of faith.
That his gumbo really was good enough to bring back the dead.
Unfortunately, I don’t know enough about actual Voodoo practices to treat them with respect. But I do know something about cooking.