ALMOND COOKIE: A Novel
TO BE RELEASED
“What happened? You’re forty five minutes late. That’s not like you, Desiree!” Jade appeared jittery and annoyed. She was fanning her menu back and forth with impatience. She had chosen a table for two under one of the many palm trees on the terrace of the restaurant which commanded a magnificent view of the Port of Nice.
“I got stuck in traffic,” she lied, leaning over the table to peck Jade on the cheek in greeting. She sat down, picked up her menu and began to look around for the waiter.
“Anyway, how are you doing, today? Have things improved from yester...?” she stopped abruptly, as her eyes widened with concern that Jade had again chosen to wear yet another Cheongsam. This time a vividly hot purple one which matched the shade of her eye shadow. In addition, she was now wearing face powder which was a shade lighter than her natural complexion and her lips were slashed with fire engine red rouge. Her eyeliner overstated the slant of her eyes and her waist-length, black patent leather hair was pulled back severely with another pair of elaborate chopsticks piercing her chignon.
Her once lovely and elegant friend had transmogrified into some kind of exaggerated Asiatic bromide.
“Avez-vous choisis, Mesdames?” asked the waiter who had just approached.
Jade motioned the waiter with her menu to leave, looked at Desiree and said,” You just got here, you need time to choose your...”
Desiree interrupted her and said to the waiter, “Monsieur, je vais prendre le Mignons de Veau aux Citrons et estragon, s’il vous plait.”
Jade looked over at the waiter, with impatience as if she felt he had rudely interrupted them, then looked over at Desiree and asked, “Is that all you’re having? You’re not going to have a starter?” She appeared to be mortified by the notion. “After all I’m picking up the check today. Profite-en!”
Desiree was appalled by the new crassness which had accompanied her current, bizarre fashion statements.
What kind of virus from back home had seized and perverted this woman’s sense of judgement? Desiree had wondered.
“Yes, dear...that is all I am...”
“Suit yourself. I’ll have the crab dish...I mean the Transparance d’Avocat et Crabe au Pamplemouse et Caviar de Saumon, or whatever it’s called and the Tartare de Beouf...that’s Steak Tartare, right?” She stared at the waiter waiting for his response.
He returned the stare and with stony disdain, answered, “ Yes, Ladeeee...eet ees ze Steak Tartare...a ham...bur...gerrrrr...” he sneered, then asked, “Vould you vant some viiiiine?”
“You order Desiree, I have no idea....”
“Monsieur, je voudrais une bouteille de Sancerre, et un bouteille d’eau minerale, sans gas,” she smiled at the waiter.
He returned the smile offering a sympathetic nod, then left.
“You know, Jade, you have really changed over the past year or so. What is going on with you?”
“Oh...I’m very, very sorry, but things have gone to hell for me.”
“No doubt,” Desiree responded, staring at the silk tassels decorating the chopsticks in her hair.
“I just don’t know what to do.” She murmured. Jade placed her elbows on the table and sandwiched her face between her hands looking as if she were about to cry.
At least, thought Desiree, she is finally acknowledging her aberrant behavior.
“I don’t even know where to begin, Desiree.”
“Why don’t you begin by explaining to me your....shall I say...eccentric attire.” Desiree almost laughed, but it wasn’t funny.
“You mean my...”
“Um humm...” Desiree, leaning back in her chair, lifted her eyebrows and the index finger of her right hand and pointed to Jade’s hairdo.
“Look, I am making my living these days as a professional Chinese! The flavor-of-the-month Chinese. I have to travel all over the country , not only to sign books, but to talk about China. A China I know very little about. Desiree, they say I’m supposed to be giving Amy Tan a run for her money!” She hit her fist on the table, raising her voice a bit.
Several of the diners nearby looked over at them.
Jade was talking about her debut novel. It was called Harem Murders. It was published two years before and seemed to be a huge commercial success. People in the business were even talking “movie deal”.
The novel takes place in a 16th century Chinese harem haunted by a serial killer.
Although Desiree and David had enjoyed it, Desiree could not imagine how such a novel had evolved from the mind and experiences of her childhood friend. She hadn’t asked either, because not only was she afraid of what might be revealed but she had also been preoccupied with the challenges of her own career.
“Amy Tan does not wear Chinese ‘get ups’ Jade.”
“Well, I do!” she snapped.
“Oh. Then why don’t you just limit this peculiar exhibition to you and your publisher’s traveling side show, instead of taking this mockery of your ethnicity on vacation with you? What do the kids think of this? You must be freaking them out!”
The waiter had returned with the water and the wine. He poured the water in their goblet, uncorked the wine, and had Desiree take a sip. She nodded with approval. He poured wine in both their glasses and then fled.
Jade, ignoring Desiree’s last questions, took a sip of wine and began, “Remember when I went to China?”
“Yes I do. You never explained to me what that was all about. Why you left Marc, little Rain and Miles to go off like that.”
“Desiree...the publishers had offered me a huge bucket of cash!”
“To go to China?”
“Remember, after we graduated, I couldn’t find a job anywhere in New York? I had broken up with Lester. It was horrible. So I went to San Francisco”
“What does this have to do with going to China? Who is Lester?”
Jade sighed with exasperation and said, “Please, Desiree, let me tell the story. I need to talk to you.”
To Desiree it semed that Jade’s desperate need for a talk was a condition similar to the accumulation of creative effusions which had been piling up in her studio.
“Who is Lester, Jade?”
“Oh...he...he...he was my boyfriend...Oh, you never met him because you had probably already left for Paris by then. You left for Paris right after graduation, didn’t you?”
“More or less. I do remember you leaving for the West Coast. You got a job with the State. Do I remember it correctly?”
“Desiree, I was a guide for the Alcatraz Island National Park! I hated it!”
Unexpected laughter burst forth from Desiree’s abdomen, “You never told me that you...”
She fanned her hands as if to swat at a pestering fly and continued, “It doesn’t matter, I quit and went to Italy.”
“Yes, go on.”
“For almost five years, as you know, I lived in an artists’ commune in Rome. It was a throughly interesting time in my life. Of course, not as interesting as our time in New York in the late 60s, right?” She winked at Desiree.
“What do you mean our time?” Desiree asked genuinely curious about how she remembered their youth in the Big Apple, being that most of the people she knew in their generation had been afflicted with CRS. Can’t Remember Shit.
“Remember back in high school, at Music and Art, we used to call ourselves ‘upscale bohemians...’”
“Yes, I remember,” Desiree smiled at the memory. Most of Desiree’s childhood friends...the ones that managed to stay in touch, anyway...could hardly remember what happened last week. Forget 40 years ago.
“You and I used to haunt all the Manhattan art galleries on the weekends, wearing our black leotard tops, miniskirts, black stockings, Capezzio chorus girl shoes....”
“You, wearing all those jade earrings and bracelets....”
“After all, Desiree...my name is Jade, right? And you...you had all that really cool silver and turquoise jewelry, and used to crown your lush wild Afro hairdo in beaded Native American headbands...”
“Laughing, Desiree interrupted and said, “After all my grandmother is native American, right?”
“Yes..I know. But she’s Seminole, yet you seemed to prefer all that was Navajo in jewelry.” Jade leaned back in her chair, a nostalgic expression forming on her face.
“I know. Navajo...Apachees...in my opinion the best looking native Americans in North America!” Desiree stated, wondering about the direction the conversation was taking. A conversation with Jade had become an exercise in cerebral gymnastics.
“You know what I learned from my years in Rome, Desiree?”
“What did you learn in Rome?”
“I learned that I was upscale...but not at all by nature a bohemian. Just because we love art, doesn’t mean that we have to live around starving white people with dripping paint brushes and paint splattered faces who feel that they have something in common with inappropriately democratic scions of vast fortunes...”
She paused and after a quick and impatient glance around the room, took a deep breath and contiued, “...speaking of the scions of the privileged classes, I leaned another thing in Rome.”
“And what is that, Jade?”
“That privilege affords one the ability to get away with shit....but you know...it’s still stinking shit. Besides, I could never even tell the difference between a bum and an artist in Europe. And as for me, I don’t feel guilty at all that I will stand to inherit a large fortune from my parents. I’ve learned that as crass as it may sound...money buys
everything! It even buys health. I’m sure you agree with me, Desiree!” She banged both fists on the table, causing several diners to glare over at them.
“What does this all have to do with China....or Rome...or whichever...”Desiree, was bewildered by the twists and turns of the conversation. At the same time she was moderately offended that Jade would arrogantly presume that Desiree would be in agreement with her assessment on the importance of monetary wealth, instead of asking whether she concurred.
Nevertheless, she knew exactly what Jade meant about the difficulty in distinguishing a bum from an artist...particularly the visual artists.
“Well, a few years ago I decided to write a novel based on my experiences living in an artists’ commune in Rome back in the 70s. This big-time publisher, despite telling me that they loved my writing style and all, offered me a contract on the condition that I change the location to China! They wanted me to change all my characters from European to Chinese. Although my experience in Rome is a Chinese experience, since it is told from my perspective, this was not good enough for them.”
“I see. Their marketing strategy was to target a Pandora’s box of Chinese experiences to the Asian American community.” said Desiree.
“Exactly! As you know, I had never been to China. My life has been populated by Semites, Hapas, Mulattos, Anglos, Baisians, African Americans like you and Europeans. My family members as you know are Chinese from Uganda...in Africa! People who had the sense and foresight to flee Africa before Idi Amin came into power and chased all the foreigners away. Of course, those people would care even less about that! They all probably figure I grew up in Chinatown, since I’m from Manhattan. So, what was I supposed to do? But they offered me this huge