“Can you hand me the kale?” asked Bartholomew as he grabbed a colander from the counter.
Charlotte handed over the kale and continued mincing garlic. Bartholomew ripped the big rough leaves, stem and all, from the stalk, placed them in the colander and washed them in the sink.
“You sure you washed them enough?” asked Charlotte. “They can be pretty dirty inside all those bumps.”
“This is how my mom used to do it. It should work,” said Bartholomew with confidence.
“So you used to cook with your mom?”
“No, I never really did. Both my parents were really good cooks. They would buy fresh and organic vegetables and things from the farmers’ market and the co-op and they would cook really amazing meals. They were so tasty, but for some reason I didn't feel like I should cook with them. It kinda seemed like something they liked to do together – just the two of them.”
“Didn't they want to teach you to cook?”
“Yeah, they asked me all the time. But I just didn't want to do it. What they did was so delicious and magical. I didn't even want to know how it was done. That would have ruined the magic.”
Charlotte tossed the minced garlic in a large black cast-iron skillet to saute in some oil. Bartholomew kept piling more and more kale into the colandar.
“How much do you plan on eating?” asked Charlotte.
“Oh, it cooks down a lot,” said Bartholomew.
Charlotte removed a lid from a pot of soup she had made the day before and stirred it around with a big plastic spoon. She made the soup by chopping up vegetables and cooking them in a couple cans of tomato soup she bought at the grocery store. This was Charlotte's general method of cooking. She would purchase pre-made items at the store and then add a few of her own ingredients to make them better. “Charlotizing” food made her feel good about her cooking skills. Topping knew how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot dogs and a bowl of cereal but not much else. In exchange for Charlotte doing all the cooking, Topping would help set the table and clean up afterward – and always tell her he liked her cooking.
“He sure is quiet back there,” said Bartholomew about Topping who was in the bedroom working on a design for painting Bartholomew's car.
“Yeah, he wanted to finish it before you got here tonight but had a little more to do. He has a hard time finishing it, he doesn't know when to stop.”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you know. Topping is just so intense and such a perfectionist about stuff that he always sees something else he wants to change or correct.”
“Really?” Bartholomew said. “I always thought he was just winging along and having fun. I didn't know he was a perfectionist.”
Charlotte felt like sharing her thoughts about Topping with Bartholomew, but worried it would be inappropriate. But she felt she could trust Bartholomew.
“Yeah, well when he is at a party he is really enjoying himself. And when he is designing a paint job, he is really designing a paint job. He is very intense about what he is doing. Lately, I think because he hasn't had a job, he has been filling all of his time with projects. Did you know he designed the garden you want to plant?”
“He has designed it? Wow, great! I really haven't thought about any kind of design yet,” said Bartholomew a bit relieved.
“No, that's not great. He should be out here talking with us and helping us and being a good friend – and a good boyfriend.”
Bartholomew said nothing. He didn't want to be in the middle of Topping and Charlotte's relationship. He washed a few more kale leaves.
“I'm sorry,” said Charlotte, “I shouldn't have said anything. You’re his friend, I shouldn't be sharing this stuff with you.”
“No, that's okay,” lied Bartholomew. Changing the subject, he asked, “Is the garlic done? The kale is ready to be cooked.”
“Oh shoot, it's getting a little burnt,” said Charlotte.
Quickly Bartholomew threw a heaping pile of kale in the skillet and stirred it all together, hoping to prevent the garlic from burning more. Charlotte pulled some bread out of a cupboard, removed it from the bag and started slicing it.
“Did you make that bread?” asked Bartholomew.
“Yeah, I did,” said Charlotte. “They have the dough already made in the freezer section at the Food Barn. I just pop it in the oven and forty-five minutes later it’s bread. It's pretty good.”
Bartholomew changed the subject again, “You hear about Claire taking those spoken word classes?”
“Yeah, I think its great! I just love how she says what's on her mind. You should have seen her stick it to Mayor Dick at the Earth Day Celebration. It was so cool. I really admire her. I'm glad Topping met you and Claire. You guys are good friends.”
Noticing that she didn't mention Ned, Bartholomew said, “You, too. I mean you two, too. Both you and Topping. And Claire. I like her a lot, too. And Ned. He's great, too. Ned is always coming over to my house.”
Charlotte continued, “We should go to Claire's performance. She has one in two weeks. It would be great to go support her.”
“Definitely,” said Bartholomew. “That would be fun.”
“Hey, when is your garden planning meeting?”
“Uhmm,” Bartholomew glanced at the calendar in his head. “On the last Wednesday of the month. I have you two, Claire and Ned, Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey and maybe Mr. MacBardon, my neighbor, all planning on being there. I'm really looking forward to it. I haven't thought at all about the design, but I know what I want to grow in it and am ordering some seeds this week.”
“Could we order some seeds with you?”
“Sure, you can...”
“Wow, that smells great!” interrupted Topping as he walked into the kitchen. “Is it almost ready?”
Bartholomew, who had forgotten about the kale while talking to Charlotte, jerked his head around to see that the kale had indeed cooked down quite a bit. He stirred what was left in the pan while Charlotte went back to cutting bread.
“Yes, it’s just about done,” said Bartholomew.
With that pronouncement, Topping went to the cupboards and started pulling out plates and set them on the card table. He came back, put his hand gently on Charlotte's shoulder to move her slightly so he could reach the glasses above her head. He placed those on the table and then did the same with utensils, napkins, salt and pepper and the butter dish. As Charlotte placed the slices of bread on a plate and Bartholomew scooped the kale into a bowl, Topping grabbed three beers from the refrigerator. Then they all sat down on three of the four folding chairs around the table.
“Would you like to give thanks?” Topping asked Charlotte.
Charlotte was a little annoyed at this. She liked to give a silent “thanks” before each meal, but Topping would never join her. He would simply sit and wait. Now he was asking her to give thanks with a guest, as if this was something Topping always took part in. A little embarrassed, she turned to Bartholomew and explained, “I only give thanks quietly. Like a moment of silence. We don't actually say a prayer or anything.” With that, she bowed her head and was silent for a moment. Bartholomew bowed his head, too, but kept one eye open just in case he had to cross himself or mimic some other ritual he was unfamiliar with. He noticed that Charlotte bowed her head and gave thanks while Topping just stared at her and waited.
“Amen,” said Charlotte.
“Amen,” said Bartholomew.
“Let's eat,” said Topping as he grabbed the soup and ladled it into his bowl. Then he chose a piece of bread and scooped some kale onto his plate. He started devouring the soup.
“Mmmm. This is really good!” he said to Charlotte.
He then buttered his bread, dipped it in the soup and ate half a slice in one bite. With his mouth loaded he mumbled to Charlotte, “Whoa, this is great bread.”
After finishing his soup and bread, Topping turned his fork upon the kale. He took a big mouthful of the limp green mass. He chewed it a couple of times. Then a couple more times. Bartholomew was waiting for the inevitable compliment, but one never came. Topping kept chewing and chewing. Before Topping was done, Bartholomew and Charlotte had taken a forkful of kale, as well. They chewed and they chewed. Then they chewed some more. The texture was rubbery, soggy and crunchy all at the same time. Bartholomew didn't think that was possible with any food. Topping finally swallowed.
“That's... what is that?” asked Topping.
“Kale,” Bartholomew said while still masticating.
“Is this how you always eat it?” asked Topping.
“Well, yes,” said Bartholomew. “But my mother used to make it ten times better. I don't know what she used to do. I wish I knew.”
Charlotte finally swallowed her mass of goop and said, “I think you need to take the stems of the leaves out. They really... well, they...I think you should just take them out. Cut them out and just cook the leafy part. I think that would be better.”
No one ate any more kale. They had ice cream for dessert. After Topping cleaned up the kitchen, he showed Bartholomew his designs for the car. Upon seeing them, Bartholomew just laughed.
“Don't you like them?” asked Topping somewhat unsure.
“Like them? I think they're fabulous!” Bartholomew was looking at three sketches of his car, each with a different flame design. One design had flames that were more symbolic of flames than actually looking like flames. The second was more flame-like as the shapes licked down the side of the car from the hood to the back. The third had what looked like actual flames over the whole front of the car and then disappearing down the sides.
“Wow, can you really paint these on my car?” asked Bartholomew.
“Well...,” said Topping, “the first design I can definitely do. The second one I could do but it is a technique I haven't really done before. But I'm sure I could do it. The third one is probably beyond me. I can draw it, but Uncle Cy would have to help me quite a bit...and that one would take a long time.”
Bartholomew surveyed the drawings one more time. “I think we should try the second one, then. It will give you a challenge and I like it better than the first. That third one I'm not sure about. I don't know if I'm that excited about flames to want that. But the second design would be cool.”
Topping was a little disappointed to hear Bartholomew say that flames aren't what he is really excited about. He wanted this paint job to be something Bartholomew really wanted, that expressed something about him.
“Are you sure?” asked Topping.
“Yeah, I'm sure.”
“You really want flames?”
“Yes,” said Bartholomew grimacing at Topping. “Yes, I want flames and I want you to paint them.”
“Okay,” said Topping. “My Uncle said the shop would be available starting the first week of next month. You're going to have to leave the car with me for three weeks. I hope that's okay?”
“I'll just walk, or bike or use Uncle Jeffrey's car. That should be fine,” said Bartholomew.
“Okay, then. That's settled,” said Topping, knowing in the recesses of his mind that the design was going to change again before he painted Bartholomew's car. He would find just the right design for Bartholomew even if he had to work on it every day for the rest of this month. He wanted it to be perfect. Charlotte sighed knowing what Topping was thinking.
Bartholomew looked over the drawings one more time. “These are really good drawings. You ever think of just making art?”
“Nope,” said Topping.
* * * * * * *
Charlotte Unfolding, is the 21st story in The Book of Bartholomew. The story, written by Mark Granlund and illustrated by Raighne Hogan, tells of an evening with CHarlotte and Bartholomew cooking together. Charlotte opens up to Bartholomew about her relationship with Topping. You can see the full-color flipbook version of this story here.