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A Culinary Murder?


Sunday, November 14—5:17AM


From my cabin window I can see…


Silvery gray water ripples gently, like an optical illusion meant to induce tranquility. The detail fades as it recedes into the distance where it is overcome by dense fog covering everything. If I go to the window and look down into the water, where the angle makes the surface darker, I can see that it is snowing; a mist of frozen rain so fine that it can’t be seen without the darker backdrop. There is no world out there. The apocalypse has come and now we’re floating through a Stephen King nightmare. Soon large beaked things with naked pink wings will swoop out of the mist and carry off screaming naturalists, large dangling cameras reaching back uselessly for the dubious safety of the ship.


Too gloomy?? Apologies. I woke up a little before 4 this morning and haven’t been able to get back to sleep.


Every night we have the “recap,” in which all guests gather for drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the lounge. Lucho lays out what’s going to happen (or what he hopes will happen, weather-dependent) the next day. Then he turns the microphone over to the naturalists. Maybe three of them get a chance to get up and give us little ten-minute talks. I thought it would be about what we saw that day, but that’s not always the case. These seem to be ten-minute versions of the hour-long presentations they make when there is no other entertainment to offer us.


And the recap is always ended by Sara, the chef, who comes out and reads us the menu for dinner. This is damned peculiar, given that I’m pretty sure most of the guests can read a menu unassisted. Five minutes after she recites the evening's selections, we sit down in the dining room and the waiters insist on handing us menus. There are only three items on it (well—three appetizers and three main courses), all of which have just been explained to us. If you wave the menu aside and tell the waiter “That’s okay—I know what I want,” then another waiter will see you menu-less and rush forward to hand you one. It’s just easier to accept one.


I think The Reading Of The Menu must have started with a particularly charismatic chef who would stand up at the recap and explain how the meal we were being offered had cultural significance to the region we were visiting. And that was such a hit that Lindblad decided ALL of the chefs would do an interpretive dance for our edification, ending the presentation with the dramatic flourish of “Dinner is served!” and then we’d all clap and go eagerly to our repast.


But aside from the reality that Antarctica’s cultural dining legacy pretty much ends with hardtack and scurvy, Sara is uneasy as a public speaker. And who can blame her? She’s a chef, and she does a pretty good job. She shouldn’t have to take the mike after naturalists hired for their ability to be engaging. And still she musters the will to do it, reading her menu to us as if she’d never seen it before.


Last night at dinner, I was sitting at the head of the 12-person table. The meal had been one of near-frantic gaiety and a vast emotional energy expenditure from me; it had been exhausting by any measure. I am compelled to be “on” in a group, and the attendant attention just eggs me on. I do not have the presence of mind to realize that I don’t have to entertain everyone.


We’d finished the main course and were waiting for the dessert (in a Georgette Heyer novel, the desserts would be referred to as having “more hair than wit;” they’re very pretty but created by people who don’t really like sweet things) when I felt a presence by my side.


It was Sara the chef, on her walkabout in the dining room. She was staring at me. Unnerved, I offered the standard “Oh—dinner was delicious.” This is usually all that is required to release the homunculus of the peripatetic chef, but Sara is made of sterner stuff.


“How is the novel going?” she enquired.


Like a record skipping across an LP, my brain made a screeching noise. “I’m sorry?”


“The novel. The novel you’re writing.”


I cast my mind frantically. Did she refer to the book that’s coming out in four days? To the MUSE books I’ve written and am now editing? To the new series I’ve sketched out? The You Decide story I’ll publish in December? What the hell? Was she stalking me? Reading my laptop while I was driving around on Zodiaks?


“The one,” she said, “where, I believe, I kill someone?”


Yeah. Like THAT’S not unnerving. Thank God Marianne, next to me, leaped in. “From that night when we were planning your next book, Pru—remember?”


God. Another night of frantic hilarity in which I was making up a murder mystery on the spot and including all of the diners in the plot. Sara had walked into the end of it, to cries of “And what about Sara?? What did Sara do?” And then we had to explain to her what we were doing and how she was going to kill off the bad guys. Or maybe it was the good guys. I don’t remember; the story had gotten pretty out of control by then. But it must have resonated with the chef, who had reappeared last night to enquire who it was she killed.


I gave her some line about keeping the bodies of her enemies dismembered in her fridge until she could feed them to passing leopard seals (which—actually—would be a pretty useful body disposal system), and she went away happy. I hope we haven’t created a monster. My GOD, is it any wonder I’m too tired to sleep? The evening was so noisy. I am not in a tranquil state, despite the screen saver currently drifting past my window.


No actual darkness that I’ve seen today. I went to sleep around 11 and it was still bright out, and by four it was bright again. Lucho has the sunrise and sunset times listed in the daily program, but he wasn’t right last night. Taking an internal inventory, I find that I am fresh out of sisu. No grit. No determination. No drive. It seems likely that no matter what they offer for me to do today, I’m going to be lazy. Think I’ll take a pass at the second MUSE book. But no murdering chef stories, please.



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