Mousse au Chocolat

First period class with Mrs French was our favorite. She was one of the coolest teachers. She somehow managed to pull off a pixie cut despite being old (read: middle-aged – ya’ll kids are jerks). Coincidentally, she was the French teacher and ran French club. The irony was not lost on us freshmen.

She walked in Friday morning wearing a cute little black beret, carrying a tray full of little glasses filled with chocolate-y goodness. Around me, there were little pockets of whispers and chuckles from my classmates. I bit my lip and clicked my pen open and closed and open again in quick succession.

“We’re totally going to get wasted,” I heard the girl behind me whisper out of earshot of Mrs French.

I shifted my weight as the teacher dropped the tiny glass onto my desk, teetering on a seesaw of should Ishouldn’t I? 

 

Last night, the first ever meeting of French Club was so cool. We went to the popular girl’s home and spoke broken French to each other while Mrs French (geez, that’s a lot of French in two lines) collected the ingredients to make our very own mousse au chocolat, the fancy way to say chocolate mousse.

We piled into the kitchen and started following the recipe. Mrs French carried over a bottle of amaretto and poured a tiny teaspoon into the mousse.

“A little won’t hurt,” she told us. “‘Sides, the french give their children wine to drink as early as six.”

We chuckled and whispered among ourselves as I stirred the chocolate mixture constantly.

It didn’t take long before something pulled Mrs French’s attention away and the bottle of amaretto came out. It was two inches from my nose, upturned and filling the top of the pan in a fine layer.

“Stir faster, Mel!” I heard. And I did, feeling a little naughty and a little ashamed at us.

Mrs French trotted back in, “That’s smelling so good.”

She asked us to work as a group to translate what she had said into french and walked away.

The amaretto came out again and trickled into the pan. Girls were snickering, and the few boys were elbowing each other in the ribs.

When the cook was over, Mrs French told us how great we had done and announced that the mousse had to set. It would take a few hours, so she would bring it in for class in the morning.

The small group of fourteen-year-olds groaned but accepted begrudgingly.

 

I eyed the dessert with a caution generally afforded to vegetables I’d never tried. I took my spoon, dipped the tip into the mousse, and put my tongue to the edge. It was sweet, but I thought it would taste funny. Dad’s Crown Royal smelled like it would taste cringe-worthy. I drove my spoon into the mousse again and tried it properly. This was creamy and rich and so yum, but there was no hint of alcohol. I breathed a sigh of relief and polished off the small glass in a few spoonfuls.

A few of my fellow students showed looks of disappointment.

At the front of the class, though, Mrs French sat at her desk with an all-knowing smile on her face. Needless to say, none of us got drunk off the mousse that day.

Chocolate Lover

“Keep outta that chocolate, Max!” the lady who thought she was my owner, cried.

She gave my rump a tap, and I trotted away with my stubby legs.

“Stupid dog,” she said in her primitive communication device. “It’s like he wants to die.”

I wriggled through the mini door – my bulky belly made it difficult to walk through – to the thing she called the backyard. I knew where I could find chocolate. I needed chocolate. She would never understand, and I couldn’t exactly explain it to her without sending her into a mental breakdown.

I dug under the fence into the place called the park. The air smelled of sausage sizzles and birthday cakes, but I had eyes only for the ice cream parlor across the street. Little humans were huddled around the street-side counter. As long as the employee behind it didn’t see me, I could lick up the remains of their lost offerings, often chocolate.

This world differed vastly from what I had seen when I first ID’d it from my ship. Covered in water, I thought the dominant species were fish. Since my ship couldn’t land in water, though, I landed in a green field close to the water.

As the little humans ran across the street, I collected the drips of ice cream on the pavement, narrowly avoiding being trampled. I noticed one lone boy on the edge of it all, watching the others as they ran through the park. His face was sad. Two big wheels on either side of his seat told me his legs didn’t work.

The ice cream lady walked up to the boy and handed him a cone with a big dollop of chocolate ice cream. She gave him a reassuring pat and said, “Want to go to the park after I finish work?”

He shook his head and licked the melting cream. Now she looked sad too. I wondered if I could make him smile and if I could get chocolate for my troubles.

I wasn’t on this planet long before I found chocolate. It wasn’t the first food I ate, mind you. But it was the first thing I enjoyed. I loved it so much that I scoffed down a whole cake sitting on a table in someone else’s “backyard.”

After that first great success, I learned a terrible fact. Non-alien dogs can’t eat chocolate. Something about exploding tummies. It seems almost every human knows this and will go into hysterics if they see a dog even near chocolate. I cursed my luck. Not long after that, I was “rescued” by the lady who talked on the phone too much, and she subjected me to her horrible ideas of food.

I ran to the boy’s side, and I tried to be coy as I jumped onto a chair beside him. He giggled and gave me a long pat on the back. His hand was soft and small.

“Where did you come from?” he asked.

Making sure no one was watching, I answered, “I’m from outer space.”

“But… why do you look like a corgi?” Children accept things a lot easier than men do.

“Funny story – could I have some of your chocolate?” I asked.

He passed the cone. I licked it and let out what I hope sounded like a sigh.

“I landed here in my spaceship in what you call a Corgi breeding farm,” I told him. “My people developed transformation tech linked to our ship. But after I transformed, they destroyed my ship.”

“So you’re an alien. That will look like a Corgi forever?” The boy let out a laugh,  “That’s so hilarious!”

I pinned my ears back in the only form of expression I could seem to master. He scratched between my ears.

“I could think of worse ways to live,” he said. “My name is Pedro, what’s yours?”

I said it, but it was far more complicated than any human name, so he asked, “Can I call you Krypto?”

I agreed to the name, and he cheered, his smile widening.

We shared his ice cream and talked. He put me in his lap and refused to let me go when the ice cream lady returned. He asked if he could keep me and buy me a ball and go to the park. Her eyes moistened, her lips spread, and she said yes.

After that day, Pedro and I were inseparable, and he always filled the fridge with lots of delicious chocolate, chocolate, chocolate!

Money Matters

Every couple has a tradition. That tradition might be a weekly “date” while others might watch Predator on Valentine’s Day. Hubby and I have the best tradition. Once a year he flies interstate for a week for work, and pretty much every time he does, something falls over at the house or in our lives, and I have to deal with it all.

It started thirteen years ago, when I hadn’t quite received my permanent residency, so I couldn’t work or drive in the country. The house we were renting had a major electrical issue – the whole system went down due to overload. After electricians came to the house to check it out, they announced it was unsafe to live there until they upgraded the whole system. I stayed with a friend for two nights until they sorted it out and learned how unreliable public transport was at the time.

Since then, I’ve had to deal with leaking hot water heaters, sewage blockages, contracting Ross River Virus (a mosquito-borne virus that causes fatigue and poly-arthritis), dealing with severely cut paws of a puppy, and the list goes on. 

This year has been no different. In fact, this year has been the worst one yet. It started with my car not starting, continued with my dog somehow getting into the fully-fenced spa. I fixed it so he couldn’t again (I thought) and worked from home a day to make sure he didn’t try it again. Took the car to the mechanic. The battery was dying and needed replacing which also needed to be ordered, so I was given a loan car for the day. Only thing was that very same day, the dogs escaped the backyard and were found some 7km away (first time that’s ever happened). Luckily, my stepson was able to pick them up and bring them home. When I finally did get home with the loan car, I discovered that one of the two dogs had blistered and fully ripped off her paw pads. I couldn’t take her to the vet in the loan car but she was in agony. So I had to organize a vet to do a home visit, which cost an extra $150 on top of anesthesia and surgery. By the time hubby flew home, though, all these things were fixed. My dog was healing, the car was driving fine, and the other dog hadn’t jumped on the spa again. The only thing was the bank account was $1500 lighter, and he came home to a wife with a few more gray hairs and chaos in her eyes.

 

Ten years ago, we could only afford one pet, a cat. Money was tight then, and anything extra on the normal cost of living was uncomfortable. 

Fifteen years ago, before I moved to Australia and felt this level of financial freedom, the lesser of all these things – the car battery – would have wrecked me. My options would have been to leave the car until I could save the money to replace the battery or pawn something moderately valuable for that $300 price tag.

18 years ago, when the car was the only home my family really had, a dead battery would have been catastrophic. Likely the car would have been impounded, because $300 was more than we could make in a week and the city wouldn’t let a car sit on the side of the road permanently. Friends of friends were willing to let us stay with them as long as we could drive there, but without a car, that would have been impossible. We could barely afford the car and the gas it cost to keep it running as it was, but without the car and friends of friends letting us stay with them, we’d have never survived the few months we were effectively homeless.

It’s hard to believe that so much can change in such a short period of time. But those moments eighteen years ago, when we were one catastrophe away from living on the streets were some of the worst of my life, but it also taught me a valuable lesson: Money matters, no matter how much you wish it didn’t, but treating people with kindness costs nothing. 

That’s why, to this day, I make excuses for bad behavior, foul tempers, or forgetfulness, because you just never know if the person you’re talking to/about is one step away from ruin.

The Barrier of Subtitles

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Source

When I was a little girl, my dad and I would walk through the aisles of the video rental store in search of movies to watch. We didn’t have cable, so this was how we spent our days. The store usually only showed the front cover, and you could only guess at what was within its tapes. Sometimes you would walk out of the store with a gem, sometimes a b-movie, and sometimes a foreign film.

At the 2020 Golden Globes, director Bong Joon-ho, stood at the podium, accepting an award for his film, Parasite. In his native Korean, he expressed that if people could overcome the one inch “barrier of subtitles,” they “would be introduced to so many more amazing films.” And he’s right.

I don’t even remember what my first foreign language film was. It could have been a Bruce Lee movie or Umbrellas of Cherbourg or The Seventh Seal, for all I know. Dad and I didn’t care if suddenly words appeared at the bottom of the screen. We watched silent films like Metropolis and Nosferatu, so the idea of reading while watching was never much of a barrier. In fact, when I graduated to watching Japanese anime consistently, I refused to listen to the English dubs because they homogenized the dialogue, dumbed down sections for Western audiences, and back then, voice acting wasn’t as it is today in the U.S. – often using the same actor for multiple parts or female leads with whiny, high-pitched voices.

When I became an adult, I learned that my appreciation of foreign films had not been shared. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve heard “I don’t watch movies to read. If I wanted to read, I’d get a book.” But, folks, stories are universal! Everybody has a right to tell theirs. Just because they don’t speak your language doesn’t mean they are any lesser than you, that your stories matter more than theirs. Parasite tells a universal human story about class and the parasitic nature of both the haves and the have nots.

In my lifetime, I can remember Life is Beautiful (La vita e bella) being nominated for best picture in 1998 Oscars. It was a tragicomedy about the Holocaust, a very important story to tell. It wouldn’t win that year, but Roberto Benigni did take home top acting prize. The next year, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was nominated for Best Picture and lost to the lesser Gladiator. It went home with cinematography, art direction, and best foreign language film. I can’t think of a more beautiful film, even in recent memory, and it’s now over twenty years old. Last year, the fantastic and underseen Roma took home best directing and best foreign film, and lost top prize to (shudder) Green Book.

All of these land on must-watch lists across the internet, but there are so many others that deserve to be seen. Train to Buson is easily one of the best zombie movies ever made. Pan’s Labyrinth and The Lives of Others are both great movies that came out in the same year and tell stories about different parts of history, one set in Spain (with plenty of fantasy to keep you going) and the other set in East Germany during communism. Anything by Studio Ghibli is better enjoyed with subtitles and is a great way to get used to reading. Your Name is an anime with gender role reversals, a subversion of romance tropes, and the tiniest bit of science fiction sprinkled on top. Also, did you know? You can thank the Raid movies for the John Wick franchise too.

Best of all, all these movies are available on streaming services. So unless you are physically incapable to enjoy movies with subtitles, give them a go (accessibility is a discussion I’m ill-equipped to make).

Still, now, as Parasite wins Best Picture at the Oscars, I wonder if this will change anything. Most people think the Academy Awards are pretentious, old-fashioned, inconsequential, or boring, and aside from a few headlines over the coming days, the loud conversation about representation, telling non-Western stories, will settle to a whisper and fade. Parasite was the best film of 2019, but entire groups of people will never watch it because it’s not in English. And they will all be missing one of the best movies of this century, let alone last year.

Gaslight

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CW/TW: Consider the title your warning.

It started with a simple, refutable lie. Mary asked a harmless question.

“I was at the office all day,” he said. He patted her head. “Why do you ask?”

“I was driving to a client’s house this afternoon and saw you, in your car.”

“You must be mistaken.”

“I saw your licence plate, for crying out loud!” she twisted the ends of her blouse.

One of his eyelids shuttered; he laughed and said, “Oh. That wasn’t me. The boss’s car was in repair. He took mine to pick up supplies.”

Mary shook her head. It was him; she knew it.

They fought that night, brought up untended wounds.

The next time it happened, she wondered if she was imagining things.

After months of second-guessing herself, Mary didn’t have the energy to fight or even ask anymore.

When Brad sat and watched TV with her, his phone vibrated at least twenty times. The smirk on his face, when he read the messages, was a giveaway, but when he looked at her, daring her to say something, she turned back at the screen and ignored it. It was only a friend, one of his many guy friends. Their relationship was solid. They didn’t fight anymore, and he was home every night, except those few when he had a big deadline.

It was her boss, Dana, that pointed him out during their unscheduled fortnightly cafe meetings. Brad sat behind the wheel at a traffic light, his face aglow as he pinched the soft, perfect cheek of an auburn twenty-something.

“Oh, Mary,” Dana said, with an extended sigh, “I’m so sorry.”

Mary stared at her boss, but no tears came. “I knew it,” she half-whispered to herself.

“Oh, hunny, how long have you suspected?”

“I dunno. Maybe a year,” Mary admitted.

“Lemme guess. He convinced you it was all in your head?”

“Uh… yeah. How did you know?”

“Men like Brad do that. My second husband gas-lighted me too,” she said with an uncomfortable snicker.

Mary watched the car drive down the road.

Dana put her hand on top of Mary’s and patted, “Tell you what you do. Tonight, act like nothing happened. Go to bed early and wait for him to go to sleep. Then take his cell phone and get all the evidence you need.”

Dana slid a card across the table. “Here’s my divorce attorney. You call her tomorrow with everything you’ve got. She’ll make sure he suffers.”

Mary took the card, the advice, everything, in a daze. As the day crept by, the numbness she had allowed herself to have over all these months hardened.

With stony determination, she took Dana’s advice. She laid in bed and listened for the sound of Brad’s snoring.

Then she slid his cell phone off charge, slipped out of the room, crept to the furthest end of the house, and unlocked it.