Eating. instant pudding.
The pain began yesterday. Or perhaps the day before; I can't remember. It started out as a dull throb at the back of my jaw, which I ignored all morning and afternoon and evening as I ate leftover pizza and fried rice and that lovely roasted elk tenderloin with root vegetables followed by bread and cheese in lieu of dessert at Lark. By lunchtime Sunday I was reduced to carefully eating small mouthfuls of plain, steamed white rice and making congee (with the rest of the rice) with pork riblets and lots of ginger. It bubbled away slowly on the stove, filling the air with the sweetness of braised pork and spicy ginger, as I nursed my sore tooth (now agonizingly painful) and watched the Food Network. The elk with chestnuts and parsnips seemed very far away. Even the normally soothing congee was like pouring fire over my wounds. Would I ever eat solid food again?
Today it was worse. Opening my mouth was agony. The thought of food was unbearable, and I am someone who can eat through almost everything, even when angry or sad or depressed. But I have a birthday party to prepare for, a cake to bake, and I found myself walking up and down the aisles of my local supermarket, recipe in hand (more on that later). And then I found pudding. All kinds of pudding. Instant pudding, lemon and tapioca and vanilla and chocolate and butterscotch. I have never made instant pudding before, have never poured cold milk into a measuring jug and stirred sweet powders into it until it all becomes a smooth, creamy mass, thickening miraculously in minutes, without the mess of whisks and double-boilers and sieves, eggshells littering counters and spilled cornstarch on the floor. I give into the seductive promise of instant gratification for the first time, and run home with my packets of instant pudding (and some foil-capped plastic tubs of pudding for backup).
I have hardly taken off my coat and shoes before I am pouring milk into a glass jug and adding the pudding mix, stirring it until smooth, dividing the mixture into individual servings. The grocery bags lay abandoned next to the refrigerator; by the time the pudding is ready to eat I have put everything away, the milk and eggs and butter and boxes of cake mix and pudding cups. Now my vanilla pudding is pale yellow, thick and creamy. It tastes good, even with a toothache. It tastes like childhood and school cafeteria lunches and Jell-O ads on tv. I have everything I need: pudding (vanilla, butterscotch, and chocolate), an appointment with the dentist on Thursday, and the day off tomorrow.