Sauce for the Gander

FOOD

By ANN LEIGHTON

FOR, what is love, thought Mrs. Heath, stirring her sauce carefully over a low flame as the teacher had told her to do. Or marriage. And she looked at the woman next her, browning a small, plump chicken.

But whether women ages ago had reserved to themselves the magic of cooking, or whether men had imposed it upon them among domestic chores, not realizing its special potency, she really could not decide. In the long, slow game played between the sexes, choosing out the special burdens and privileges, sometimes one sex had won and sometimes the other. When civilization had begun to be interesting, women had somewhere managed to establish themselves as the weaker sex. Clever of us, thought Mrs. Heath, seeing a tapestry of primitive women still bending in fields the wortd over. But everywhere men had bagged the things most amusing to do — all the things that would take them out and away. And they are still going, she thought. Whether war and business are really any more wearing to body and spirit than tending fires and children is women s doubt; but everyone knows which is most interesting.

Yes, she said to the teacher, it is coming nicely. Men like to be mended, she thought, but not more than anything else, and clean, though not very. But in either state they are not interested in its mechanics. The little woman with her needle, the slim figure with the broom, never awaken passionate admiration after the first few days of domesticity. Respect. Tenderness. But who wants respect and tenderness, thought Mrs. Heath, if she can have anything else. Probably in danger and far away — in great danger and very far away — a man’s heart might leap to the vision of t he head bent over his socks, the arm raised to sweep; but near by, in easy reach, these are not certain lures. Men have even persuaded woman that the ideal in housework is not to be seen in the act, not to be heard in the chronicle. Men plan so well for their own comfort and entertainment, she thought, even to inventing machines to help the women work and keep them beautiful.

Men saw far ahead long ago, she thought, when they rushed from the cave to hunt and hack, leaving ihe women to brush up the bones, tend the fire, spread fresh boughs. A dead animal on a man’s shoulder is as showy as any peacock’s tail. Even today women love men holding out a bit of meat, a piece of fur. But when he asks, What have you done today, dear? and it is merely, Brushed up bones, tended the fire, spread fresh boughs, the response leads nowhere worth the journey.

But they left us the cooking, she thought, and lifted the wooden spoon to see if the sauce had started to coat it. They carelessly left us the secret — or did they never know it? A few fresh leaves fallen into the pot, or a bit of something rubbed into the raw flesh where it fell, and he began to bring her the largest pieces, to wait to eat with her and rest afterwards. Perhaps all romantic love began with what woman learned to do with fire.

Yes, she said, it is beginning to thicken. Because, she thought, the old anatomical saw is really true, like so many old saws. The way to man’s heart— And here we all are taking it — all these women of different shapes and sizes and ages, removing their rings to get their hands into the dough. Trying to learn how to make something wonderful without all the materials — like would-be ballet dancers or show ponies training in weighted shoes. Preparing for a glamorous future. At least we all look contented and assured, she thought. The way back is evidently not through the stomach.

Yes, she said, it is nearly ready.

For behind each of us learning to cook superlatively stands a man. The teacher knows, she thought, looking up to see the regal figure, clear-skinned and fullbosomed, like a priestess initiating the devotees a mong the plumes of fragrant steam. The magic rites. The ancient way. And what would you like to learn today, she asks, but she always has the right ingredients ready — for the woman with the Spanish name, the woman with the English husband, the woman whose husband raises pheasants. The engaged girl is taking the whole course, because she cannot know yet what he likes as he is still on a far island. But he is here with us too, thought Mrs. Heath, hearing her husband say, This really is a sauce.

For it is not servant problems that bring us to this superb cooking school, she thought. This is not what one can ever hire anyone to do for one. As soon entertain a concubine as a woman who can cook as we hope to.

Of course, she thought, this spoils us — for all sorts of things we have enjoyed, or endured, until now — for eating out in most restaurants, and for even the kindest ignorance in the kitchen. And for all the tales by glittering epicures whom queens have begged for dishes learned from sheikhs. For these last, these glamorous good-eaters, she thought, are merely leftover cavemen sorry to have let the charm slip from their hands. Let them go out to kill or plant now, she thought, something for us to cook later; but let them stay away from our fires. For women do not really love men for their cooking. Whereas men —

The sauce is done. Perfect. He will love it. And me.

Dismissed, the class field upstairs into the restaurant. And there was a crowd already by the door, waiting to eat well. For the teacher would now stand and cook beautifully for all to see, and there were men waiting to watch her stir something slowly over a flame, for them.

Do men gather outside windows where women mend invisibly, asked Mrs. Heath as she put on her hat. Or watch cleaning demonstrations? But let a woman cook proudly and easily, and here they all are — the intellectuals with, No clippers, please, to the barber, and the genial baldheads who have to wipe the mist of pleasure from t heir spectacles to see more clearly the woman stirring slowly over a low flame.

The class filed out of the door, aprons under arms, balancing in their hands their special charms, their spells. And behind each one, thought Mrs. Heath taking care not to spill her sauce, goes the archetype husband, the lover, the hungry male.