Maya Seligman
Magical Realism
AP English, 12th grade
Ashland High School
March 12, 1995

Eggplant Caponata

"Someone's in the kitchen with Dinaaah! Someone's in the kitchen, I know-oh-oh-oh," the young woman sang while cubing a shiny, purple eggplant with a long knife. However nobody else was with Dinah in her tiny kitchen, for she lived alone. The sharp fragrances of the Sicilian Eggplant Caponata taking form seemed to rescue her for a moment from her apartment's Spartan emptiness. Rosemary, garlic, and black pepper evoked strong memories of the dish's years of tradition. As the olive oil sputtered in the cast-iron skillet, she thought of how the recipe had been passed down through so many generations, improving with each secession.

Dinah had learned how to make the flavorful recipe from her mother, Carmine, who's exotic radiance captured anyone in her presence. Like her daughter, Carmine often braided her long, black hair into a thick rope that swung in arcs on her back as she leapt around the kitchen. When she cooked, Carmine would add nearly as much red wine to the sauce as she drank, guzzling it straight from the large bottle. The wine’s green-glass flask reached the top of Dinah's head when she sat on the counter as a young girl, watching the Caponata materialize. In the beginning of the evening, when Dinah peered through the bottle of dark fluid, she saw the eggplants on the counter as shiny, fat blowfish resting on the floor of a burgundy ocean. After dinner, only a few sparkling drops remained at the bottom of the flask.

For her entire life, the divine meal was made once a year, in the middle of October, when the kitchen was the prime source of her sanctity and warmth. Carmine would always sing as she chopped the olives and onions and many vegetables. Dinah remembered one year when Carmine sliced her finger and a flow of dark red blood spilled onto the counter, splashing onto the crushed pignolas. The pine nuts were still thrown into the dish, festooned with scarlet droplets. The accident sparked a surge of creativity within Carmine. She grabbed Dinah's tiny hand and quickly slashed the knife across her daughter's pinkie, squeezing her blood into the bowl of mashed tomatoes, flesh-like in their texture.

"The Caponata must have the entire family's juice in it," Carmine whispered, her dark eyes sparkling with excitement. Dinah's blood completed her wish, for they were the only members of the family.

Years later Dinah continued the tradition, slowly and sacredly drawing a sharp blade across her smallest finger. A bright stream dribbled onto her white apron, leaving a trail of glistening ruby spots. She quickly put her finger over the tomatoes, and they soaked up the liquid like hungry sea anemones. Dinah then dipped her finger into the bottle of red wine vinegar and wrapped it in a dishtowel. She opened the oven's door and pulled out a steaming loaf of bread. When she sliced it, the crusty shell dropped a flood of crumbs onto the counter and linoleum floor. The inside flesh glittered with a pearly iridescence. After tucking the bread into a napkin-lined basket, Dinah unwrapped her hand. She smiled when she saw that her finger was perfectly smooth and clean, without a trace of the cut.

The kitchen was getting too lonely, too still, and too quiet, so she turned on the radio to erase the halcyon lull. Familiar words of Cole Porter surged from the speakers:
"Appetizing! Young love for sale. If you want to try my wares, follow me and climb the stairs...," a throaty voice sang. Dinah hummed along as she carefully added capers to the pan of bubbling ingredients. The music grew louder, building in intensity. She felt woozy as the words seemed to run together in her head like the ingredients in her Caponata.

"YOUNG LOVE--NEW LOVE--EVERY LOVE BUT TRUE LOVE--APPETIZING FLAVOR--SAMPLE ME--I'VE BEEN THROUGH THE MILL OF LOVE." The stream of lyrics was scrambled, skittering off the walls and ceiling. They were bouncing and tumbling in a chaotic blur, all in rhythm with the cooking, crackling ingredients on the stove. A clear memory suddenly flashed before Dinah's eyes. Her mother used to sing this song, as a parody of her own profession. Carmine's face would reflect conflicting emotions; the words barely escaped through her stretched smile, while lines formed at the edges of her indignant eyes. Dinah could never decipher her expression, her mixture of pride and shame. Now the lyrics felt suffocating to Dinah, soaking into her food like an invisible poison.

Dinah ran over to the radio and struck it with her arm, swiping it off the counter. The plastic box violently clattered to the floor, its knobs popping off like scared crickets. Dinah froze, her head suddenly clear. The room was silent, except for the eggplant which crackled in the skillet's olive oil.

back to writings | main page