It seemed like a good idea at the time.
My kitchen was transmogrified into its alternative existence as a honey production workshop, an arrangement that includes an electric extractor and dozens of large plastic buckets filled with honey or about to be filled with honey, a large red bin into which CSB was carefully shaving off the capping wax of the supers, piles of honey supers waiting to be processed, and bees, hobos who came along with their honey. That was the state of my kitchen, and I had all sorts of people to feed: Iggy, my precocious demonic 5-year-old grandson, my mother with Alzheimer’s, my sister, her number one son and his girlfriend who is gluten free.
What would you do?
You would take them to Sushi Mike’s.
Sushi Mike’s is close by and open on Sundays.
Iggy loves sushi and miso soup.
Mom, although she may not recall, used to love sushi and ate it regularly.
Everyone else likes sushi, except CSB who would not eat raw fish if you held a gun to his head. But he was not planning to join us because of the aforementioned honey extracting. In fact, he was looking forward to our absence.
So off we went. Mom was suddenly adamant that she had never eaten Japanese food before, even though I said she used to love it. She said I was probably confusing her with my father when he was in Japan winning the war. I didn’t argue. She thought the chopsticks in their paper wrappers were someone else’s debris. I asked for forks.
I ordered for her and Iggy (miso, California rolls, salmon for Iggy, nothing too strange), and my sister and her son’s girlfriend parsed the gluten free options on the menu. My nephew described a recent birthday party to his grandmother. Mom told him about going to the dentist early in the week and how delightful it was not to have a certain hole in her mouth anymore.
We talked some politics. Iggy explained our plan to balance a Hillary sign inside the antlers of our animatronic illuminated reindeer, named Otto. My mother cannot recall his name, so she refers to Trump as His Highness with the Orange Hair and accompanies it with a hand gesture delineating his cantilevered do.
Iggy ordered a second bowl of miso.
Then my mother looked miserable. Pained. She said her mouth was burning up. “Was it that stuff?” she said, pointing to the spot on her platter where there had previously been a sizable dollop of wasabi.
“You mean the wasabi?”
“I don’t know what wasabi is,” she said.
“It’s a strong green condiment made from a root, like horseradish,” I said. “It’s great for clearing up a stuffy nose.”
My mother said, “Nothing’s wrong with my nose. But…” She drank more water, and I gave her white rice. She had eaten, straight, all that wasabi. More wasabi than even Iggy eats in a month.
She wasn’t feeling any better. I took her home and gave her milk and some sugar. She was weeping and telling me how terrible her mouth felt and she didn’t know why. I explained about the wasabi, again. I tried to be calm, but it did seem that I might have killed my mother, or done irreparable damage to her mouth or her throat or whatever else in there was suffering.
That night I looked up wasabi to see if any deaths had been attributed to it. (None, but that doesn’t mean anything. Only that they are not on the web.) I learned that wasabi is not really a root, but the stem of the plant Wasabia japonica. Its isothiocyanate levels are what make it so pungent.
I did not sleep well that night. I imagined how badly my mother must be sleeping, if she even was. How would I tell my brothers that this green paste had felled my mother, while I was theoretically right there keeping an eye on her? Yes, I was grateful my sister had been there as well, so I could share the blame with her. But I was the elder, and I felt responsible.
The next morning, my mother told me how much she’d enjoyed dinner with my sister and ‘those two nice young people’. She told me that they had taken her to a restaurant with fish swimming in the walls. (There was an aquarium. Absolutely.) She wanted to know where I had been.
“How do you feel this morning?” I asked.
She said she felt fine, and no, she could not remember what she had eaten last night. It had been good though.