Food and the Art of Mourning

From the Story Arc: Cold Front

Previous Story in the Arc: Another Way to Cope by Madame Molotov (Thursday, December 14, 2006)

Next Story in the Arc: Cold Comfort by Re-Bear (Friday, December 15, 2006)

(posted Friday, December 15, 2006)

Sofia threaded her way through the surprising throngs crowding the CCCP headquarters. Her own sole concession to the extreme mourning that most of everyone sank themselves in was her presence in the hero-world, so to speak, in daylight. The professors Rabinovich had a strict understanding; herodom stopped at the threshold of their house, their workplace and their lives in general. Unless you were, for some reason, endangering your life or limbs by removing the ‘supersuit’, after a brief introduction you had generally been asked to please visit their house anytime at all – in your plain clothes.

She ruthlessly made her way through some whimpering young females she didn’t recognize, circumventing some fellows in capes, and one or two very out-of-place, bewildered types in dark suits. At that point Sofia held back for a moment, and realized that, as usual, she was the only one present in a woolen, furry sweatshirt and felt coat amidst the leather and spandex. Oh, dear; no wonder half the time she was requested to just ‘talk to such-and-such please, Sofia’… It isn’t as though Star – where was he, by the way? Probably doing something silly like contemplating self-sacrifice again – could.

“Can I direct you gentlemen?”

“Oh, thank you madam,” one of the men turned towards Sofia, relief painting his face at the glimmer of normalcy. “We are just waiting around for Ms. Parker, to offer our condolences.” Nonetheless, he seemed to be masochistically compelled to ascertain her identity, and just where, precisely, she fit in. which, in Sofia’s eyes, marked him government. “Are you…?”

“Yes,” Sofia quirked a brow sarcastically, “I’m a member. Have you been accommodated?”

“A… member…” the taller one slowly slid his gaze upon her graying ponytail, proceeded to her lumpy laptop case, stuffed with papers and ended – quite expressionless – at the tips of her slightly worn shoes. “Yes, we have accommodations; however, we felt it more appropriate to be here. As, ahem, empowered representatives.”

And now you have no clue what to do with yourselves, you poor sods! “Perhaps,” Sofia suggested delicately, tilting her head, “you would like a cup of coffee…” She let the suggestive pause trail enticingly, and then jerked her chin towards the little kitchenette. “The kettle and coffeemaker are over that way. And now, if you will pardon me…”

She left the two relieved officials, who – she saw with amusement – proceeded immediately to the coffee stand. They busied themselves with a plethora of coffeemaking equipment, their conversation politely muffled but having to do – Sofia’s sensitive ears told her – more with their latest escapades than with anything related to pertinent topics in their immediate environment. She dumped her laptop in the company of a silent, gloomy Ivan Derinsky and, unable to resist the urge, patted him on a suited shoulder. Her hand clanged a little hollowly, but he actually seemed to perk and sit up a little straighter. <”Please keep an eye on that,”> she sighed, rolling knotted, painful shoulders, <”I need to go extricate Bella, and with so many people here, who knows…”> Before Derinsky managed to give her a lecture about comradely trust she departed, weaving through the unprecedented crowds to the door of the little office.

Astra Murdock – unexpected – raised her head from some books and glared at Sofia from behind her desk. She only smiled, very slightly; a smile that practically dared the child to come out into the open, and deal with the issue then and there. It may have been bad of her, goading the teenager so, but she was tired, and her patience – normally low enough for a chicken to wade through – was at a zero. Empathic fray and wear, and the crowds nipping around the edges. Astra glared, but, in the end, said nothing. Out of honour to Marlowe and not to herself, Sofia was sure… but at the moment, she didn’t really care.

Bella Parker – pale blue and looking thinner, smaller in her ceremonial black – mumbled something into a phone receiver and automatically sipped a glass of some vile liquid that was intended, Sofia was sure, to keep her alive for the next day and a half, only to require a complete replacement of the digestive system on the day after. Foolish melodramatic Americans, foolish pompous Vietnamese, sappy French. Which, now she thought about it, encompassed every single medical specialist – or semi-specialist, or even wannabe amateur – in their little collective madhouse. Aha… She reached her hand and unplugged the phone.

“I will put it right back,” she told the other woman, holding the cord in one hand. “but first, a few words. Here they are: when have you last eaten?”

“I’m not precisely sure, Sofia.” Bella waved her question off, staring at her desk and then back to the phone cord in Sofia’s hand a little longingly. It was her lifeline; gave her something to do. Sofia recognized that, better than Miss Empath thought she did. She didn’t need psionics for that – nobody gave credit to common sense and life experience anymore. “Besides, they are taking care of me. You see, it’s fine.”

“Fine, my grandmother,” Sofia tapped her foot on the warehouse floor. “You think I don’t know what is going on? I do know. That young lady – Althea, yes? – she has been cooking meals like mad, and you are eating these… these… what are they?”

“Smoothies. Kid Crisis brought them over.”

“Ah.” Sofia stared down at the white, calorie-less yoghurts expressionlessly. “Smoothies. When have you last slept, young woman?”

“I’m not tired, Sofia.” The blue… er circles around the young woman’s eyes belied her statement, as did her puffy, drooping eyelids. Aha… so. She’d heard that Bella’s parents were busy somewhere in her apartment, dealing with stuff. She thought about it; most of the CCCP – well, most of them were men, but besides that – were confirmed bachelors. The few women in their midst were too old, or too young, or otherwise unattainable, to have truly had a family. John Murdock may have been a help, but he, too, had lost a close friend… and while Sera was a sweet lady her perceptions were not, precisely, human. Some might say that two years of joint life may have been too little to create an emotional bond, to form a habit… perhaps of the entirety of the CCCP, Sofia alone knew better. She remembered with horror her own second anniversary, when the twenty-year-old girl she had been paced back and forth through eternal, white corridors while waiting for her husband to come out of yet another bout of coma. Not habit-forming, pshaw. After two years of marriage, she could not have imagined to herself life without Alexander. Aha…

Sofia was daughter to a complex, dual heritage; the Jews of all people knew precisely what to do with the dead. And, more important than that, much more important, with the living left over after the dead. What matter if the beliefs were real or not real? She was a rational woman, and knew damned good psychologists when she saw them. To this help from a rather unexpected source she now appealed.

“Look. young woman, I don’t know what, precisely, you are doing, but whatever it is, it’s a bad idea. Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“Not at all, Sofia. I am not hysterical, nor am I crazy. And I am certainly not trying to kill myself; I’m trying to live.”

“You are doing a terrible job of it.” Sofia, still holding the phone cord in one hand, leaned both fists on Bella’s crowded table. “Listen up, child; you look like you are about to disappear, and you are wearing yourself down into little itty-bitty shreds. Nor do I care about how much these Empaths out there think they are holding you up – because no matter how nice their intentions, they get no calories into you, and they won’t stop the hallucinations that are bound to start up if you don’t sleep. We – that’s the Jewish ‘we’, not the Russian ‘we’ – know how to deal with death, and we have the procedure down pat. And the procedure says you eat, and you sleep, and you sit down and let people come to you, yes?”

“I have some things to do here… to organize…” Bella faltered, and Sofia saw a momentary flash of forlorn expression in her eyes.

“Things that other people can do for you…” she encouraged it – not too much, just enough to have Bella do the sensible thing – and prompted, “You have many eager helpers. I know the Bible is out of fashion nowadays; people prefer Greek tragedies, but Judaism was meant to be a lifestyle. It’s not about how to deal with death better on a spiritual level – oh no, that comes later – but throughout the generations, we’ve had some good psychologists, without any inkling of Freud. Your duty at the moment is to take care of yourself, and of your dead – in that order, note – and to be comforted. Are we with me yet?”

“Well…” she wavered indecisively, reluctantly. “Perhaps I can snatch a nap here…”

“Oh, no you don’t. I know what you are doing, or not doing, as the case may be. You will pick yourself up, and throw away this awful stuff that must have come from Thahn Ha –“ Sofia smirked ironically “- and then you will come out of here with me, to eat dinner with us and accommodate yourself in our guestroom. These are your orders from me, as medical officer.”

A tremulous smile touched the corner of Bella’s lips. “I thought I was medical officer.”

“Wrong. You, young lady, are a widow, or as good as. Whereas I am the Jewish mother-“ Sofia noted with satisfaction the tiny smirk, ah, the fish was hooked now “ – and I am giving you explicit instructions. Put away the phone, put away the papers and come along.”

“All right,” Bella sighed, and Sofia was almost certain that it was relief rather than anger. “You win. But look, the ceremony is in just a little bit… Afterwards, I promise, I will come to you.” It was the best Sofia could do, between cajoling and coaxing on such short notice, and she complied.