This weekend the prompt from Write On Edge asked us to explore the idea of flavour in a fiction or creative non-fiction piece of 400 words or less.  I looked at my husband's aversion to onions.  But we're not diplomats, and have never dined with the French Ambassador in Warsaw...  Please follow the WOE link to see how other writers handled the prompt.

January 13, 2012

The Taste of Onions

His aversion to the flavour of onions is so strong that a hint makes him retch: Michael refuses to eat any of the allium family. To me, addicted to the musky sweetness of onions and the zing of garlic, for whom no salad is complete without the bite of scallion, who lusts for the unctuousness of leeks in winter stews, his phobia is a burden not lightly borne – for he can also not stand the smell on another. “I once loved a woman deeply,” he said early in our relationship when I had met him after a lunch that included a sensational caramelised onion marmalade. “But she wouldn't give up onion sandwiches, and I couldn’t cope.”

I jettisoned alliums instantly, but not without looking back.

His dietary constraint makes our social lives in senior diplomatic circles ones of endless delicate enquiry. I must quiz chefs and hosts as to every ingredient when we eat outside the Residence, and I can't mince words in asking if dishes are onion-free. “Even a tiny bit,” I say, indicating with thumb and forefinger a milimetre apart. “Even the smell... And His Excellency will --” and I clutch my stomach and throat making delicate strangled noises. The dire consequences of His Majesty’s Representative ingesting the tiniest scrap of allium would surely include ruined damask and quite possibly an expensive dry cleaning bill from other guests, not to mention transport to hospital and the tarnishing of their name forever... Few fail to grasp the implications, and none dare risk their reputations. Caterers come to know us quickly at each posting, and when Michael and I are on the guest list, the menues are well-vetted and our dishes are always discreetly indicated.

Until Poland. “Ugghhh,” he moaned, as the chauffer whisked us through Warsaw's darkened streets after a dinner at the French Embassy welcoming the new ambassador where an early course had been... onion soup. Although Michael and I had been provided with a delicate consomee, around us other diners had supped a rich brown Gruyere-topped delight which to me smelled ambrosial but had Michael's eyes watering and twice sent him seeking the ambassadorial w.c. “When the Belgian chargé whispered in my ear, I nearly vomited in his lap...” and he turned away, powered open the window, and took a lungful of icy air to drive away the memory.

This weeks prompt was from Write on Edge, and we were asked to write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece of less than 500 words in which an epitaph featured prominently.  Mine concerns my father's memorial.

January 7, 2012

Enigmatic Epitaph 

My father died more than a decade ago on the other side of the world.

By some logistical miracle, his seven scattered children and one grandchild – I was nursing a baby – made our way to Hawaii for his funeral at the National Memorial Cemetary of the Pacific. The Punchbowl Crater – lush lawn set in lava deep in the heart of the city that had been his home for thirty years – would be his final resting place.

We said farewell in a moving ceremony which included my brother's reading of 'High Flight' by Canadian fighter pilot John Magee ('Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth/ And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings...'), but none of us was present for the final immurement which took place several weeks later.

Years passed without my returning home. Then, researching my father's war on his old unit's website, I came across a photo of his memorial plaque. With his name, dates of birth and death, rank, and branch of service, it closed with the words “in Loving Memory”. But it included, along with “WWII”, “Korea and Vietnam”.

How could this be? Daddy had left the service in 1946! During the Korean War he had been running a (less than successful as he had been less than fully interested) cattle outfit in Middleburg Virginia. During Vietnam – a war he considered misguided in both conception and execution – he had been in the foreign service.

I contacted his best friend: “How did this epitaph end up on Daddy's memorial?”

“I don't know,” Jim replied. “But I'm sure he wouldn'ta liked it!”

“I don't know!” each of my siblings echoed. “But Daddy was too honest to have wanted something like that!”

We agreed that his wife must have arranged the wording in some misguided attempt at casting him as even more of a conventional hero than he had been. But by then she was dead, too, and unavailable for comment.

We left matters. Much as he would have deplored the inaccurate rendering of his record, Daddy would have deplored fuss on his behalf. “When I am dead,” he had often said. “Do what you want. Shoot my ashes from a cannon or dump them in the sea. Won't make no difference to me!”

So the lie remains on the bronze plaque set into the white marble wall. But although it rankles when I see the picture of it, the plaque is really just a footnote: only the memories count.

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