The Storyteller Entertains a Guest

Stories, I say, stories are like cooking,

and the Guest sat down in my kitchen,

watching my back move and my hand knead.

In front of the guest, on the scratched wood table, sat

a glass of wine and a plate of olives and a plate of bread

I had apologetically brushed with olive oil

and soft goat cheese and sprinkled with ground pepper.

It was not fresh bread. But this one,

it was still living and breathing between my hands.

Stories, stories are like cooking.

Take my mother, for example, I say,

my back to my guest, and I know the guest listens.

She has many qualities, and a stubbornness I envy, but

she could never make bread right. It never rose enough,

and tasted of yeast sharp and sour.

Making a pizza ended up in a crust too hard to bite through,

and you had to nibble at where

the tomato sauce and the cheese

had softened the dough enough.

My mother could never make bread right but

it was a game with my sisters to ask for her bread,

because it never tasted the same and nothing like what you could buy.

Between my hands, the dough takes shapes.

Knead and slap,

knead and slap,

and the flour around puffs in half-hearted clouds,

yearning for the oven-womb and the spark of fire.

Stories, I say, stories are like cooking.

You can have all the right ingredients,

and the perfect instructions,

and all the knowledge,

but if you don’t put a little more, it’ll just be there.

It’ll be a meal, it will be food, but

it will not be something that nourishes your heart.

It will not be the food you give to

friends and family and strangers.

I take oil —olive, again— and drizzles it

over the pale dough,

now elastic and soft. My hands glisten and shine,

rubbing in the liquid, kneading

the bread to be a little more.

You can’t just read a list of ingredients

and hope it’ll work. Sometimes

you have to stop and take care

of something going on in another room. Sometimes

the instructions are wrong, and you have to know that

they are wrong for the food to come out right. Sometimes

the tools you use are the wrong ones,

but there are no others,

and you’ve mastered their ways, so why change?

It’ll come out right in the end.

I let the dough rises, now,

wrapped in a clean damp cloth

with red patterns, roosters and trees and eggs,

placed in front of the guest and the half empty plates.

I smile like flour and smell like warmth,

take a glass of wine for myself

and sit on the other side of the table.

Stories are like cooking, I say. Now Guest, what is your tale?

Alix Ayoub is a French-American graphic designer and writer. Originally from the French Alps, she has been living in Columbus for the past four years, observing the differences on the ground, and the similarities from the sky, between the two continents she knows.