Sylvia’s Kitchen

by Robert Buswell

Sylvia has her head stuck in the oven again. “Don’t try to stop me,” she says.

“Don’t worry, we won’t,” says Emily. “Although it’s rather difficult to attend to this kidney with you in the way.”

“Why dry your kidney?” asks Robert. “And is it safe to have a burner lit with all the gas in here?”

“I have this theory,” says Emily. “I propose that when almost dry the human kidney will assume a certain plasticity, a pliability. When my kidney is leeched of just the proper amount of moisture it will resemble modeling clay. Then I can use it to make beautiful sculptures.”

Anne laughs. “Or you could package it in little yellow tubs and sell it to children. It would be all the rage.”

“I’d rather keep it, thank you,” Emily says.

“Suit yourself,” Anne replies. She nudges Sylvia with the toe of her shoe. “Sylvie, be a dear and make room for me in there.”

Sylvia jumps, hitting her head. “Damn, woman! I was almost there. Quit interrupting me. Go find a car or something, will you?”

“Well, you’re no fun,” Anne says. She looks over at me. “What’s your story?”

Robert glances at me. “Yeah, I’ve been wondering the same thing. You think you have a right to be here just because we share the same first name? I won the goddamned Pulitzer Prize. Four times, Kid. Four times. What have you done?”

“I haven’t won anything, but I do need some help,” I say.

“And what help do you suppose you’ll find sitting at my kitchen table?” Sylvia mumbles from inside the stove.

“I’m trying to build an accurate three-dimensional tesseract and then unfold it into the fourth dimension,” I tell them. “Although I’m not sure that a roomful of poets will be much help.”

Robert laughs, then grimaces and clutches his groin. “This damned prostate is going to kill me. Listen; don’t think that my poetic ability precludes any scientific knowledge. You think that just because I deal mostly with rural themes that I’m some hillbilly hick?”

“No, of course not.”

“Don’t patronize me, Boy. You’ve got some nerve coming in here and telling me that I’m some two-bit bumpkin.”

Emily turns from the stove. “Hush, Robert,” she says. “It’s ready.” She holds out the kidney.

“What will you make?” Anne asks.

“A beautiful lady,” Emily replies. “Then I’ll cover her with flour so she’ll be white and hide her in the cupboard.”

“Wait,” I say. “Maybe we can use it to make the tesseract.”

“No,” Emily says, closing her hands over it. “A tesseract is only a fleeting beauty and when unfolded we may find that parts have disappeared into another dimension. I’d rather the kidney stay preserved in the cupboard forever. In one piece. In one place.”

“Don’t be stupid, Emily,” Anne says, grabbing the kidney. “This guy’s right. A hypercube would be much more artistic than some flour-covered doll.”

“Just let her keep it,” Robert says. “We can use my prostate instead. Come here, Boy. Take this knife and do a little surgery on me.”

“Nonsense,” Anne says. “This organ already has a perfect consistency for modeling. No sense in fishing another out of your posterior when Emily has generously agreed to let us use hers.”

Emily lunges for the kidney, but Anne knocks her down. She leans close to Emily’s face. “Lady, I’m not the one you wanna mess with, see? I’ll strike you so hard that all you’ll hear is a fly buzzing around your head.”

Emily looks down. “I guess you’re right. Let’s build a tesseract.”

“That’s much better,” Anne says, smiling. “Sylvia, get up and help us build, won’t you?”

Sylvia doesn’t move. Anne kicks her and she slumps out onto the floor.

“Stand back and I’ll give her CPR,” Anne sighs.

Sylvia starts coughing. “You don’t need to. I’m not there yet. Just let me finish, will you?”

“Relax, Sylvie. You can finish up with that on Sunday, can’t you? You have guests today.”

Sylvia brightens. “Yes, I’m not expecting anyone over on Sunday. That might be a better day anyway, seeing as it should be rather bleak.”

“Good, it’s settled then,” Robert says. “Why don’t we go down to the park to build this thing? I know it’s late and snowy, but the woods might be an inspiring place.”

Sylvia smiles. “Robert, that’s just the thing. I’ll pack a nice picnic and we’ll all go.”

“No can do, my friends,” Emily says, shuddering. “I’m not too fond of snow or woods or evening.”

“So get over it,” Sylvia says, stocking a hamper with food and silverware.

“I can’t and I won’t,” says Emily. “You may all go without me.”

“Hey, why don’t we have the picnic right here?” I ask. “Despite some of us being rather fond of winter scenery, I’d just as soon stay warm here.”

“Suits me,” Robert replies.

Anne drops the kidney onto the table. Sylvia presents a charming little meal and we tuck in. “We’ll start with a cube and go from there,” I tell them through a mouthful of bratwurst.

“Go for it,” Anne says.

“I wonder if Emily would be willing to do the honors?” I extend the kidney toward her. “It is hers, after all.”

“She’ll just make a damn doll with it,” Robert says with a scowl. “You’re giving our artistic medium to the one person who is most likely to misuse it and you have the testicular fortitude to call me an uneducated trailer park dweller?”

“I have never called you anything like that,” I say.

“No, Robert, I will make what we agreed upon,” Emily says. She begins molding the kidney into a cube. “What next?”

“Here’s the part I’m unsure of,” I say, scratching my head. “Now we must extend the cube at right angles to itself until it becomes a three-dimensional simulacrum of the four-dimensional object it will become.”

“Here, let me see the damn thing,” Robert says. He begins extending it at right angles to itself.

“That looks good,” I say.

“It better. You don’t win the accolades I’ve won without learning a thing or two about sculpting.”

I watch as he completes the tesseract and smoothes down the rough edges.

“Now how do we unfold it?” I ask.

“You got me there,” Robert says, carefully lying the structure down on Sylvia’s table.

We all stare at the tesseract. Finally, Sylvia jumps up.

“I’ve got it!” she shouts. “We’ll fill the interior with gas. Gas expands. The gas will force the tesseract to expand outwards into the fourth dimension.”

“Wait. Is the fourth dimension even real?” Emily asks.

“I think we’re about to find out,” Anne says. She digs around in Sylvia’s kitchen drawers until she finds a long rubber tube. She places one end of the tube over the oven’s gas nozzle and inserts the other end into the tesseract.

“Would any of you like to read a poem I just wrote about this experience?” Emily asks.

“I would,” I say.

She hands me a sheet of paper:

We who wait – patiently as it were
all – Strive to expand a
tesseract in Vain –
before Death – o’ertakes
and Light – fading –

“So you believe our efforts futile?” I say, handing it back to her.

“Of course not. But it has nice despairing poetic feel, doesn’t it?”

“It does indeed,” I reply.

“Feels more like an unhealthy obsession with dying to me,” Robert says.

“Never mind him,” I tell Emily. “It’s wonderful.”

We fall silent and watch the tesseract.

And we wait.

ROBERT BUSWELL is a world-renowned operatic singer, although he receives little attention in his home country of Burundi. His vocal range has been mentioned by critics as “Truly something which must be experienced in person.” He repaints cathedrals in garish hues in his off time and is currently wanted by federal authorities in Italy and France. He ardently admires and inefficiently emulates his idol, Australian Timothy Minchin,although the feeling is mutual. He drives a Dodge Tomahawk and lives in Wyoming.

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