Cooking The Midnight Soap

Quarter to one on a (working) Wednesday morning.  The almost aggressive rumble of a hard boil is the only sound accompanying me.

I’m cooking soap.

Nights have always been mysterious.  As a kid, stumbling out of the bedroom, up front and into the dining room/kitchen area often found me face to face with Focusing Daddy, a nocturnal creature who huddled over a bulky-headed computer, hacking away at a sermon, Bible pages fluttering in the frenzy, the old dot-matrix printer whining its rhythmic song as it churned out a draft at one a.m.

When I hit college, I knew the grown years had come when my mother kissed me goodnight, donned her nighttime headscarf, and smugly announced that she was off to bed, and that I could go ahead and close up the last windows when I was done.  I hunkered down over my first year Sociology paper with the resignation of the newly matured.

Through university, I worked during those quiet hours when the courtyard of screaming children settled into a black-green square of blissful hush.  It is the introvert’s hour, the time when the bother of, well, everything recedes and it is possible to, once again, focus.

All day long, I am obliged to multitask.  Phone, email, assistance, responses.  An hour’s roundtrip commute does not include daydreaming time, and even on the highway, the farmland flats stretching out on either side, zoning out is only minimally appropriate.  For at least ten hours out of any average day, I commiserate with Frasier: “a little bit here, a little bit there, a little bit here, a little bit there, until I feel like a zebra carcass on the Serengeti, surrounded by burping vultures.”

More and more, I understand my father.  Perhaps it’s as I grow closer to the age he was at when I remember beginning to know him.  Perhaps it’s that rosy haze through which we sometimes see those who have died.  Perhaps I’m just seeing myself more.  I can understand why, when I materialized at the door to his office with a request–ride to a poetry reading, money for a field trip, notification of dinnertime–he’d look up, mildly annoyed at the crack etched into his concentration.  Now it’s me, sucking my teeth when a piece of paper is shoved under my nose mid-type, pointedly ignoring shadows in doorways while I’m on the phone doggedly refusing to multitask for any moment I can.

I can understand why he worked while the rest of us slept and the phone sat obligingly silent, when our one-station TV broadcast had signed off after midnight and only that configuration of fat coloured bars could be found on on the squat, rounded screen.  It’s rare bliss, to work uninterrupted.  No cellphone chiming out the worthy arrival of a Facebook like, no errant call at a moment misspoke, no figure materialized at an elbow, no piercing ring, no press of other obligations.  After all, the only thing I should be doing now is sleeping.  If that is being shunned, only I am affected, and frankly, the trade-off–sanity, stability, and unmolested accomplishment for bag-free eyes and a perky morning demeanor–is more than fair.  Exhausted and yet mentally alert, the arms of my muscles weak, eyes burning and brain racing, I need answer only to my mind, and the pot of saponifying soap.

One a.m.: the soap mixture has transformed from caustic pudding to translucent-greenish glob and has been turned off and poured into its mold.  Tonight’s recipe: a simple lavender castille, garnished with the satisfaction of creativity, focus, and that earthy sensuality associated with working with hands, raw ingredients, and the interruption of not a single soul.

I work alone, following rules to create something with my own hands, relying on the predictability of lye + water + oil = jelly-paste that will harden into a log I can slice into bars, breathing in the double boiler’s steam and the aroma of essential oils poured and waiting to be mixed in.

I work together, work with these memories, work in his legacy.  I work as my father once did, thinking, creating, focusing, finding myself while the world rests.

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