18. Uncertain Soda Bread

Soda-BreadI arrived at work at six o’clock, per usual. After a night spent at Burton’s, I had not yet had my coffee; I was predictably tired. Lasagna was on the menu which made for a stressful hour and a half — my boss never kept in mind delivery schedules when dictating a menu and my lasagna noodles hadn’t arrived.

At nine o’clock, I sent Burton a text asking if his back was feeling any better. It was a chronic and sometime incapacitating problem that consumed most of his daily life. Surprisingly, he texted back immediately.  He was still in pain, but it wasn’t so debilitating that he couldn’t text. The texting back and forth continued for the next two hours. It was a welcome distraction, but out of the ordinary.

Soda-Bread“Take a break and come see me,” he wrote. “I need you here RIGHT NOW.”

“I can’t come right now,” I responded. “I have to work.. I have a deadline. And I’ll see you later tonight.”

“Please?” he begged. “Even I get to take breaks during the day.”

“Burton,” I wrote. “I would never ask you to interrupt your day for me.”

“You take everything so seriously!” he said. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wanted you here.”

“It’s fine. I really like all the texts, but I do have to work.”

“OK. I’ll stop bothering you now.”

“No! You don’t have to. I just can’t leave at the moment.”

The texting continued as I layered my lasagnas and stacked them in the oven. As the noodles, cheese and sauce bubbled up together, I received a text filled with unexpected relief.

“Oh my god. I’m so relieved. I got some terrible news this morning but everything is OK now.”

Soda-BreadHis step-brother’s wife was pregnant and had some complications that could have ended in death, but everyone pulled through. He apologized for not telling me.

“You don’t have to tell me anything. I’m not your girlfriend.”

“No. I should have told you. Your texts distracted me. Thank you for that.”

“Go back to work. I’m glad everything is OK.”

“Thank you. Me, too.”

That night we planned to have a do-nothing kind of evening with movies. He said he was going to be at work until seven o’clock so I planned an internet date with my friend in New York. I warned him that there would be drinking involved and I might be a little tipsy by the time I got to his house.

“I’m going to bring sweatpants, by the way.”

“OK,” he said. “Your comfort is of the highest importance.”

Soda-Bread“And I’ll probably bring my toothbrush.”

“Hahaha. Very funny.”

“I’m not joking. Dental hygiene is a top priority for me.”

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. You don’t need to start moving things into my bathroom.”

“Uhhhh… I wasn’t planning on it. I just wanted to be able to brush my teeth.”

“Exactly my point.”

“OK. I won’t bring my toothbrush. I guess I won’t bring my sweatpants, either.”

I dismissed the weird interaction and dialed up Des. This was a new routine for us. We started it in October on our friend Abigail’s birthday. She died in May and Des and I hadn’t been able to talk about it in person, so we did it over video chat and cider — Abigail’s drink of choice.

Soda-BreadBut this particular conversation promised to be much lighter. I sat down with a vodka lemonade and Des had her beer so she could detail her adventures south of the equator. With a devastating breakup and Abigail’s death, she’d had a rough year. She took a leave of absence from her job as the photo editor at a big, fancy fashion magazine and escaped to Brazil for a month to clear her head. While she was there, she met a 25-year-old Irish kid that she spent 10 days with. He was completely smitten with her and promised to visit her in New York in December. The day had come for him to fly in and she was nervous.

“I have no idea what to do with him,” she said. “I’ve got 56 hours to show him New York.”

“Don’t show him the touristy New York. Show him your New York.”

“Oh God. I don’t even know what that means anymore. I want to get out of here myself.”

“Take him to Trinity and all your favorite restaurants.”

“That’s kind of a problem. He’s from rural Ireland. He likes Irish food. Really likes it. So I was thinking about making him an Irish breakfast. But I don’t know how to do that!”

Soda-Bread“It might be easy enough but I don’t know where you’ll find white pudding and black pudding. Soda bread is easy.”

“How do you make soda bread?!?!?!”

“Ohhhhhh… I love soda bread. It’s sooooo good. It’s easy. It’s a quick bread.”

“What does that mean?”

“It doesn’t require yeast. It’s kind of like banana bread or zucchini bread.”

“Oh. I can do that.”

“I’ll send you a recipe.”

We planned out their itinerary, I sent her a recipe and told her to purge the uncertainty from her mind. I told her I would text her in the morning to see how it was going. After three vodka lemonades that I had poured with a heavy hand, I texted Burton to tell him I was on my way.

“Bring us something to drink and cigarettes, please.”

Soda-BreadI stopped at the grocery store and got a bottle of Jameson and a pack of Parliaments and pedaled off to Burton’s. I had no business operating any kind of machinery — the night was a blur before I even got there. I continued to feed my buzz with Jameson and Burton fed my anxiety by explaining why he was upset about the toothbrush.

“I just got out of a relationship,” he said. “I haven’t had time to process it. I’m sure you’ve noticed the tampons she left in the bathroom. I’m not ready for you to move your stuff in there, too.”

He went on to tell me he gave up an opportunity to move to San Francisco to stay with her, but she ended up being a different person than he thought she was.

“Are you breaking up with me?” I asked.

“No. I’m just telling you that I can’t move as fast as you want me to. I’m not ready.”

I got more drunk and less lucid. I don’t know exactly what I said. I’m sure I rambled. I think I got angry. And then I sobered up. But only slightly. When I did, I realized that the pain in Burton’s back was searing and he had to resort to the pain medication that he had been avoiding.

Soda-Bread“Please don’t look at me while I do this,” he said. “My back makes me feel like an old man and it ma kes me self-conscious. And I’m really embarrassed that I’m doing this in front of you.”

I defied him and watched as he crushed the pain pills into a powder. He snorted the product and continued talking.

“And with all of this pain, I feel so unattractive. It’s fucked my life up. But that the beautiful woman that you are is still attracted to me, makes me feel less bad about myself. So thank you for that.”

I desperately wanted to go to sleep, but Burton begged me to stay awake so he could let his mind unwind so he could sleep better. We continued to drink, smoke and trade affection until six o’clock in the morning. When I woke up, I felt physically fine, but he had planted a seed of uncertainty that made me feel unwell emotionally.



Soda Bread

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 325℉. Spray a 9” x 5” pan and set aside.

Combine the dry ingredients.

Whisk together the egg and buttermilk. Stir the milk mixture into the flour mixture until it’s just moistened. Stir in the butter. Do not overmix. The batter should be lumpy. Pour into prepared pan. Bake for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness by sticking a toothpick in it. If the toothpick comes out clean, it’s done. If it’s not done, bake it for another ten minutes. I use this recipe as the base for many other breads and muffins — it’s tasty on its own, but you can fold fruit into it if you want.



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