“I’m curious, Madame,” Kate said as she picked up her fork. “What foods did you prepare as a young wife in France? Did you prepare the Floating Island back then?”
“What foods did I prepare? In France?” Marcelle echoed the question. She threw her head back and laughed, her deeply resonant voice filling the room. But, then she sat back in her chair, as her eyes lighted on the birds fluttering outside the sliding glass door. Kate was surprised at her laughter, but followed her gaze to see what had caught her attention. The California hills, just beyond her backyard, were vibrant green from recent winter rains, and the birds were having a heyday. She imagined Marcelle’s mind fluttering too, back through the cobwebs of her past. Through the glass table top Marcelle’s shoeless feet swung under the chair, back and forth, to and fro. Marcelle stretched her back, picked up her fork and sampled the lemon tart.
“Mmm, trés bon, Madame.” She swallowed. “Maybe I should get your recipe.” She paused. “Well, to answer your question,” she began, her rich voice rising, “I never had to diet.” She tossed her head back and laughed again as she licked lemon curd off her lips. She pulled her large brown sweater about herself, as Sophie tittered at the old family joke. Clearly Marcelle Zabél had stories to tell.
“It was during World War II, you see,” Marcelle began again, “and we had to forage in the fields for every potato, every carrot, even for an onion or two. We had a chicken once in a while, or a bit of rabbit. You know, some of the foods I learned to cook back in ‘43, I still prepare today, like Paté de Pomme de Terre. You wanted recipes, oui? I’ll be sure to give you that one.”
Kate nodded. “I would love that.”
“Potatoes and cabbages were our mainstays, of course, but we were lucky to have anything at all,” Marcelle continued. “Sometimes, when the Germans confiscated our food, we were forced to sneak into the night in search of even one potato. It was perilous, mind you. We hoped no land mines had been laid during the day and that no German caught us outdoors after curfew.
Kate had not been prepared for this turn in the conversation and looked for help from Sophie, who merely shrugged and waved a limp hand into the air. “C’est la guerre, as they say,” she laughed. “And, it is Maman’s story.” She patted her mother’s hand once again, reassuring her, or perhaps, herself.