ART BY CHILETA EGONU
Anyone within a 40-foot radius of our house knows instantly when we are cooking up a loaf of my mom’s garlic bread. She may be the master chef in our house, but I am the garlic bread specialist. Softened butter, freshly chopped parsley from our garden, Kirkland’s shredded Parmesan cheese, minced garlic. I throw together the ingredients and add a crack of black pepper. Taste, add, mix, repeat. I refine the flavors until I reach the golden ratio. I grab a speck of the mixture with the tip of a butter knife and bring it to my mouth. The fresh parsley and fine pepper lighten the rich, dense butter. The saltiness of the parmesan disarms my taste buds; the garlic provides the perfect kick. I press my tongue against the roof of my mouth to extract every morsel of flavor.
“If it’s ready, get it on the bread and into the oven as soon as possible,” my mom says, taking note of the silence on my side of the countertop.
“Okay,” I say with a bitter taste at my interrupted indulgence.
“Be generous. We don’t want any leftovers.” Could she know?
I nod and spread the thinnest possible layer of butter onto the spongy loaves. Into the oven they go. I scoop the remaining butter into my favorite tupperware, shove it in the fridge, and let the scent of roasting garlic flood the room. I stand in front of the oven to watch the cheese bubble, the butter brown, and feel the warmth from the convection fan rush over me.
Long after dinner is done and everyone has retreated to the plush safety of their rooms, I slip down the hall to the kitchen. I stand for a minute in silence to make sure no one has followed me; my mind wanders. I’m drawn to the butter: the secret of it, my guilty pleasure—mine and mine alone. Others wouldn’t understand even if they knew, so why share at all? Can’t they notice on their own? Slowly but surely my mind eats away at itself until only remnants remain. Silence has erupted, signaling the go-ahead. Feeling my way through the darkness, I give the floor-to-ceiling steel refrigerator door a hard tug. Its white interior casts a harsh spotlight. There, upon the second shelf, the garlic butter stands proud like the holy grail. I quickly nab the container, grab a tiny plastic spoon, and take shelter in my room. In the private nook under my top bunk, I peel open the lid. The parmesan and garlic envelop my nose. I scrape the surface several times until a mini crater emerges in its center. I indulge with caution—no generous servings here.
To savor this moment, I slap my headphones over my ears, put on Jane the Virgin, and eat mindlessly like someone with buttered popcorn at the movies—minus the popcorn. Without the bread, I’m able to fully bathe in the potency of the mingled flavors I watch as Jane is hailed as the Virgin Mary, innocence intact. Excavating the golden substance millimeter by millimeter, I eventually have to stop before the divot becomes too noticeable. I know eventually, when I reach the bottom of the container after scraping for anything that remains, I will no longer be able to pretend there has been no change in volume. Those millimeter-thin layers will add up. I take one last bite of the forbidden, savory ice cream and tiptoe back out to the kitchen.
Five years wiser, I now know the detriment of eating tubs of saturated fat. Last week when my brother visited home from college, he asked me the first time we were alone in the kitchen together, “Remember when you used to straight up eat butter?” I shrank, realizing he had known all along. My quiet tiptoeing wasn’t so quiet after all. I laughed at my naiveté, the fantasy of childhood. When I was younger, I didn’t know why eating butter was so atypical, only that others thought it was strange. I think that drew me closer to it. If I was found out, would people have seen it as a distress signal, a mad dog biting itself for sympathy? Or maybe I just craved what I couldn’t have. Don’t we all?
My brother turned to the fridge. I felt the acidity of something like garlic turn in my stomach and decided not to elaborate. Was it that obvious? Is it still?