In this WWII story, Lenny brings back to mind his memories about Natasha and how she rescued him from a death sentence by the German soldiers after D-Day. But the beginning and closing frame the novel at both ends in the present, when she is losing her mind. This makes the memories all the more precious:
“I’m hungry,” says Natasha.
“Me too,” I say. “But we’re out of bread.”
“Then, we must have cake.”
“How about Tart Tatin? It’s a French recipe. I learned it from you, years ago.”
“Yes,” she says. “Tart Tatin.”
“I see you like the sound of it.”
In recent years I have served not only as the father to our son, Ben, but also as the mother, because my wife has become increasingly absent-minded. Of all the new tasks I have learned, the one I like most is baking.
So I get up to my feet, give her a hand, and together we go to the kitchen. I squeeze some juice from a lemon and have her add a few heaping spoons of sugar into it. Then I bring the mixture to a boil till the syrup turns thick and dark, like amber. I tell her to unwrap a stick of butter, which I add to the mixture. Then I pour it into the bottom of a ceramic pie dish.
Natasha leans forward, taking in the aroma. She finds a spot where the syrup has dripped onto the table. “Sticky!” she says, and licks the drop off her fingertip with childish delight.
I peel a couple of apples, cut them, and have her arrange the slices in a circular pattern around the dish, right over the syrup.
“Fit them closer together,” I tell her. “Yes, just so.”
When she is done, her arrangement looks quite messy. I cannot help thinking how flawlessly she used to do it, years ago. No matter. Perfection is overrated.