The Point, Carla Sökefeld, Amburgo
Mention Energheia Germany Award 2022
It’s not winter yet, but it might as well be. I fill my days, the hours not alotted to work, with small activities. I bake an apple and walnut tarte. It’s delicious. I scoop cream onto my slice and it slowly melts at the edges.
I meet Sophie to go for a walk. She has a lot to tell me about and I’m glad she shoulders most of the conversation. I step on some wonderfully crunchy leaves. The air is crisp and has a golden shine to it. There are two squirrels on a nearby tree, chasing each other around its trunk. I don’t point them out to Sophie, the thought of stringing the necessary words together instead of simply keeping on listening to her story is exhausting. I’m not even sure I’d find them in time, the words, before the squirrels would be done with their chase and gone.
We wave goodbye outside the park and walk home our separate ways. I sidestep a snail making its way from one side of the pavement to the other and try hard to find meaning in it.
The year will end and there’ll just be another one, right at its heels.
I make myself some hot chocolate and read the new book Alice swapped me a few weeks ago. It’s really good, maybe one of my favourites this year. The hot chocolate tastes earthy and warm, making an effort to comfort me. In the kitchen, ladybugs cluster in the upper corner of the windowframe like black mould. Every time I close the window after letting some air in there’s another one. I read that ladybugs can survive the winter if they huddle together and go into hibernation. If it gets too warm, they will wake up early and starve. Maybe, if I keep the heating very low, they might stand a chance. Everything I do makes me feel like a hypocrite.
I swipe through instagram. “Friendly reminder to unclench your jaw!” My muscles don’t respond to my efforts of relaxing them. I wear the mouth guard my dentist prescribed me diligently, but it doesn’t seem to have any effects apart from making me wake up very thirsty every morning.
A few last leaves cling to the empty branches of the tree outside my window. Sophie and I are on the phone, she tells me about the dog she saw on the way to the supermarket today.
“What’s wrong?” She asks suddenly.
“What?” I say, caught off-guard.
“You haven’t even said aaaw,” she says pointedly.
I sigh. We share the silence for a second. “You know that Laura Marling song where she sings, twenty-five years and nothing to show for it?” I lean my cheek against the window pane and wince from the cold. My breath fogs up the glass.
“Didn’t she put out, like, five albums before she was 25?”, Sophie says.
I hesitate, mentally counting through my record collection. “I think it was four,” I say after a while.
“Oh, in that case,” Sophie replies, making the corners of my mouth turn upwards briefly. “It’s a slippery slope from humility to self-deprecation,” she adds.
I look out of the window. On the other side of the street, a child is perched on their windowsill, reading a book. They scratch their ear, then turn the page.
“I’m so glad you’re my friend,” I say.
“Right back at ya,” Sophie replies. “It’s a beautiful song though.”
We talk for a few more minutes. After we hang up, she sends me a picture of the dog.
“Aaaw,” I say into the empty room.
Felix makes me a mushroom risotto. Well, technically, I make it myself, but he gives me instructions over video call. We heat up a “big splash” of olive oil in our respective pots. A measuring cup with 500ml of vegetable broth is already standing on the counter, swirling steam into the air, an open bottle of red wine right beside it.
“You have to chop the onion as finely as you can, the garlic too. If you’re not crying, you’re not doing it right.”
“That would be a good slogan for, like, life, in general,” I say, tears streaming down my face.
“Ha,” Felix laughs, adding his onion and garlic to the pot that’s just out of frame. “Right on.”
His voice is tinny through the laptop speakers.
The onion sizzles as it reaches the hot oil, and shortly after, with the garlic in the pot too, it smells so good I could cry again.
“Okay, next up,” Felix says, “we’ll have to add the rice. I never measure it out, to be honest, I just go with what looks right.”
“That’s very helpful, thank you.”
“I mean, the good thing is, if it’s too much rice you can just add more liquids later.” Felix picks up his bottle of wine and holds it into the camera with his palm behind it like a beauty guru showing off their newest eyeshadow on youtube, cracking me up. “I think the rule of thumb is like 70 grams per person.”
“Are you serious?”, I say, incredulous, and it’s Felix’ turn to laugh. Eyeing the 500g pack of risotto rice, I add, “That’s a ridiculously small amount.”
Felix gains back his composure and shrugs. “I never really make just one serving anyway, even if I’m eating by myself.”
“Okay,” I say. “I think I’ll take your ‘just go with what looks right’ approach then.”
“You’re a great student,” Felix says approvingly.
We stir in the rice, “make sure it’s coated well with oil”, then add a first bit of broth and wine and seasonings (”Salt, pepper and oregano,” Felix says, “the holy trinity.”). We turn the heat down to let the rice simmer. Chopping our mushrooms, Felix tells me about this guy he’s been chatting with on twitter. He sounds sweet, but after I’ve said that I can’t think of anything else to add.
“So, I know we’ve all been feeling like shit for the better part of the year,” Felix says as I’m adding most of the remaining broth to the pot. Most of the liquid has been absorbed already, rice really is greedy like that. “But I’ve noticed you’re leaving the hilarious memes I’m sending you on read more than I’m used to lately.”
Guilt washes over me, pricking at my eyelids. “I’m so sorry-”, I start saying, but Felix cuts me off.
“I don’t mean to guilt trip you,” he says. “I just – oh, wait, how much broth do you have left?”
I hold the measuring cup up to the camera. “Not much.”
“Okay, then lets add the mushrooms now, and some lemon juice. A bit more wine won’t hurt either, and salt.”
We follow his instructions simultaneously. There must be a small cut on my finger I haven’t noticed before, it stings as I squeeze the lemon half into the pot and its juice runs over my hand.
“So, as I was asking – have I asked yet? – anyway – I want to know how you are, really, and no nonsense answers.” He looks at me, or rather, his webcam, sternly, and I can see the teacher in him, telling his tenth-graders not to take Austen so personally.
I sigh. I haven’t tried to put it into words yet, fearing what I might come up with. “It’s been a few weeks. Maybe months.” I pause, looking away from the screen. “I just keep thinking, what’s the point?”
Felix looks at me and cocks his head. Then he says, matter-of-factly: “This.” He gestures around his square on my computer screen. “This is the point,” he points to the risotto soaking up broth and wine in its cosy little pot, “and this,” he adds, then picks up his wine glass, “and this, too, a little bit.”
I smile vaguely. I could just humor him, but in a way that feels more daunting than the truth.
“I know it is, rationally, but I don’t feel it anymore. I read a really good book, or listen to a song I love, and think, wow, this is amazing, but it doesn’t move me as it used to, and the next thought is always, so what? So what if the music is beautiful, so what if I’m eating the best apple pie I’ve ever tasted?” I don’t like the sound of my voice. “It’s all a distraction.”
“Okay.” Felix thinks for a while. He looks at me, and I can feel my cheeks burning. “I’m sorry you’re feeling this way.” He pauses again. “Let’s just say, then, that the point is to stick around until you see a point again?”
I feel something pricking my eyelids again, but this time it’s tears. I move my hand awkwardly, suddenly feeling embarrassed, and almost knock over my wineglass.
“Oh, don’t forget to stir!” Felix suddenly yells, rescuing me from the moment. I wipe at my eyes and take a big gulp of wine as he goes on, in a more normal volume: “It’ll stick to the bottom of the pot and be burned in an instant, no joke. My older brother ruined my dad’s favourite pot once because he thought he could play Mario Kart while cooking.”
“Oh no,” I say, and I smile despite myself. My risotto isn’t burnt yet, but it looks dry, so I add the last of the broth and a bit more wine.
“I don’t think he made risotto ever again,” Felix says gravely.
“That’s a real cautionary tale,” I say, and he nods, still pretending to be solemn.
“I think we can grate in the cheese now,” Felix says. He lifts the lid off his pot, and the steam fogs up his glasses. “Fuck,” he exclaims. “This happens every time!” He curses again under is breath and I know he’s exaggerating to cheer me up.
He has a fancy grater, I just bought the pre-grated parmesan. “Sawdust,” Felix says disapprovingly, and I stick out my tongue. I do feel lighter, somehow. We try the risotto to make sure the rice has softened. The mushrooms have shrunk down to half their size.
“How does it taste?” Felix asks, and before I can answer, he says, “you should probably add more salt,” and he’s right.
We fill our plates and sprinkle some more parmesan on the risotto, then go sit down at our respective kitchen tables.
“Cheers!” We say in unison and pretend to clink glasses through our webcams. Then we dig into the risotto. I’m careful not to burn my tongue. When I’ve finished my plate, I’m glad I used more than 70g of rice, and get myself a second helping. The risotto is creamy and rich and tastes salty, like love.