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Elegant Shrimp in Champagne Sauce

Suzette Marie Bishop
You're sitting outside the French doors.     It's night and I'm startled 
to see you sitting there on a stone bench. I see your profile in the dark. 
When you want to have friends over, but don't want to spend all 
day getting ready, this simple but elegant dinner is perfect. 
Your face is sad; you are like a stone statue outside my lighted house. 
I think the last place we had our furniture was at the house where 
you lived as a companion for an elderly woman.    We put our 
things in the garage.    We lived among the woman's objects. 
I keep wondering if our furniture is still there.    You left it 
there. 

Chill the champagne and fix dessert first.     We came back to 
the house to see if we'd forgotten anything.     We left the piano 
and my dollhouse that time.    I'm coming out of a twenty-first-
century apartment.    There are many apartments like this--low, near 
the ground, level, with sloping roofs, lanterns set into the stairs. 

I woke up screaming for sleeping pills when I was sleeping on a 
cot in our empty kitchen. I was twelve that summer, the stairwells 
were filling with huge moths.     I could hear them flying 
through the stairwell. 

While cooking liquid for shrimp is reducing, start grilling the veg-
etables.         The landlady came to talk to you about the 
back rent. I stayed in the bedroom like you told me to. You and 
she had coffee and talked quietly.         The sheriff came a 
month later.     The next time, there were fists pounding on the 
heavy door for a while, and they were going to break it down. 
We had our things put in storage in the night and stayed at a 
neighbor's. 

They were very gentle women with large, sad eyes and all starving. 
They had long, bony arms. They shared their breakfast with us. 
Reheat shrimp and mushrooms in sauce just before pasta is done. 

The sky is empty and colorless. There are lawns, but few trees or shrubs. 
Lanterns set near the ground along drives and sidewalks are the only 
beautiful things.    We stayed for a while at a relative's house. 
They lived in an arboretum. The bay, exotic birds, and trees 
surrounded us. I slept on an army cot. Everyone thought I would 
like sharing my cousin's room, the lace curtains, frilly girl's 
bedding, shells, earrings, closet full of girl's clothing, dolls, porce-
lain animals, her white furniture with gold trim "just like" my 
furniture.     When I was in the room by myself, I could almost 
pretend it was my own room, but when my cousin was there, it 
became hers again. I spent hours riding my bike along the trails 
during the warm fall, the trees making a shelter above me with 
their interwoven boughs. 

To make dessert, peel four (preferably seedless) oranges, 
removing as much of the white pith as possible. Slice oranges into 
"wheels," put them in a shallow serving bowl, and toss with a few 
tablespoons of Grand Marnier and a teaspoon or so of sugar, if 
needed. They're great accompanied by really decadent chocolate 
truffles. 

We had our things again in our new apartment.    But the 
eviction notices and bill collectors began coming again. The new 
place we moved to was rundown, and the neighbors kept a wild 
dog in a cage near their property line to guard it. They never let 
the dog out. We went over to introduce ourselves when they were 
having a yard sale. The mother kept her children near her and 
had a tight, very polite smile.     My room was lavender. 

Sometimes the heat shut off in the middle of the night, and my 
mother would go outside in the cold in her nightgown to go down
to the basement to switch the furnace back on.     And my 
mother heated water on the stove so that I could wash my hair. 
There were ants in the kitchen cupboards, and they poured out of 
a box of cereal when I was pouring out a bowl for breakfast. I 
threw it on the floor and ran to school. 

Sauté mushrooms in a medium saucepan in hot olive oil over 
medium-high heat. Cook just long enough to release mushroom 
juices and let them evaporate.     I want to stay in the apartment 
that's already furnished with white swiss-dotted sheer curtains, afghans, 
handmade quilts, a brown couch, and bay windows.    I don't want to 
leave these things. As I live there, I become attached to the apartment, 
its rooms.     The houses along my walk to the bank remind me of the 
neighborhood where I grew up--low, small ranch houses.    I realize 
they had looked much bigger when I was a child. Now, they seem very 
small, like dollhouses, and the neighborhood is empty.    All the girls 
are in their nightgowns    wandering through the woods with candles. 

The roommate who is incredulous I haven't contributed an equal 
number of appliances, cookware, and furniture to the apartment. I 
want to tell her these were all taken from me and give her an inven-
tory of what I used to have.    I am floating past neat, suburban 
houses, small ones with little flowers planted out front. One of these is 
our old house.    The landscape opens up    to fields, green fields. 

Remember the small kerosene lamp made of white porcelain with roses 
on it, the blue china, painted with people            gathering hay 
at harvest time.

From She Took Off Her Wings and Shoes by Suzette Marie Bishop. Copyright © 2004 by Suzette Marie Bishop. Reprinted by permission of Utah State University Press. All rights reserved.

From She Took Off Her Wings and Shoes by Suzette Marie Bishop. Copyright © 2004 by Suzette Marie Bishop. Reprinted by permission of Utah State University Press. All rights reserved.

Suzette Marie Bishop