Ode to Turkish Delight
Liana Tsang Cohen
The night I signed my divorce papers, my daughter and I drove an hour into downtown Manhattan for our first taste of Turkish Delight. The documents had arrived in the mail, an unceremonious stack in a nondescript envelope, as I was settling down for my third dinner of poached eggs that week. Otis was always the chef in the relationship. In the old days, back when I still felt a flutter in my belly at the thought of him, he would cook extravagant meals for us on Sunday mornings: piles of plush French toast sprinkled with strawberries and powdered sugar and bowls of jook, the rice porridge he’d grown up eating, with soy sauce, ginger, and flecks of pork, and we’d wash it all down with steaming mugs of coffee.
The arrival of the papers was not unexpected. Otis had been gone a month, just long enough for his side of the bed, compressed into the long, angular shape of his body, to regain its former flatness. The decision to separate had, for the most part, been mutual. There’d been no blow-out fight, no torrid affair or surrender to alcoholism or drug addiction. The aloofness in our marriage had been building for a while—it started after Ariel left for college. It should’ve been easy to be in love or at least be content with just the two of us in the house, but, instead, the things we loathed about each other, those little annoyances we’d learned to ignore, began popping up like whack-a-moles. I hated that he never made the bed even though he always left for work after me. He hated that I never removed my hair from the shower drain. Over time, I started noticing that he’d stopped calling me during the day to check in or kissing me before bed at night. One morning, I woke up and he was already awake and staring at me, which told me something was wrong even before I looked in his eyes and saw that he wanted to leave.
The pen was bleeding a small, angry circle of ink onto the line for my signature when Ariel came into the kitchen, rubbing her eyes sleepily. A second-year law student at Fordham, she’d trained herself to take 20-minute “power naps” during study sessions. Having made the journey to Yonkers the night before, she’d spent most of the day preparing for an upcoming exam in the cramped quarters of her childhood bedroom. After Otis left, she’d started visiting me more frequently, appearing at the front door on Saturday mornings with her hair in a tangled braid and her arms hugging a stack of textbooks. I knew it wasn’t convenient—but I couldn’t bring myself to ask her to stop.
“Mom?” Ariel’s eyes caught on the papers as she approached me cautiously. “If you don’t want to sign them now, you don’t have to. Gosh, look what you did. Do you have any Wite-Out here?”
I released the pen as she went over to the kitchen drawer. When she returned to the table, however, she didn’t have Wite-Out. Instead, she held a worn copy of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. She flipped through the yellowing pages, her face aglow with nostalgia.
“Do you remember that scene…?”
“You mean the one where he eats…”
“The Turkish Delight!”
“God, I always thought it sounded so good.”
It turned out that, although neither of us remembered the book very well and hadn’t seen the movie in years, there was one image we both remembered perfectly: Edmund, the misfit middle child, devouring the magical Turkish Delight given to him by the evil white witch against the frigid backdrop of Narnia’s forest. It was the treat so ripe with promises of grandeur and clout that its taste alone had convinced him to betray his sisters and brothers. I wondered what it was like to experience something so powerful, so transcendent, that it made you want to throw everyone away just to have a bit more.
“Let’s go get some.”
I nodded, certain. Ariel assessed me for several moments, evidently trying to figure out if this was a “Mom is being cute and impulsive and I should support her” moment, or a “Mom is off her rocker and should probably seek professional help” kind of deal. She must have decided on the former option because her face broke into a slow smile.
We grabbed wool sweaters and hats, and I retrieved the car keys from my room. When Ariel went to lace up her boots in the foyer, I picked up the pen and signed the divorce papers.
Outside, the moon was a cold, hard orb, like butter that someone forgot to take out of the fridge before serving. Ariel offered to drive, and we took our respective positions in the old Honda—or “Leslie,” as Ariel called it after watching a bit too much Parks and Recreation in high school. The dark homes and yellowish streetlights sped by in the night, too fast for my eyes to catch hold. Ariel drove in silence. I leaned my head against the frosted window and imagined spreading the moon on a slice of bread.
The international grocery store was near closing time when we arrived. We headed straight for the back, where a balding man with a large birthmark on his cheek lifted tender pieces of our treat from their place behind the glass case, nestling them gently, like infants, in a bed of wax paper. We brought the package outside and ate our dessert with gloved hands on the front stoop of the store.
The Turkish Delight was soft to the touch, yielding to the pressure of my fingers. It melted on my tongue, forming sweet puddles as powdered sugar collected across my lips, like snow. The gummy interior clung to my teeth and the roof of my mouth, like an embrace. It was the food of gluttony, of pure selfishness, of me, me, me. It was the exact opposite of anxiety and loneliness, of impersonal pieces of paper with hard, sharp edges. As the little squares warmed me to my core, the world of goodbye’s and poached eggs felt impossibly far away.
Neither I nor Ariel said anything as we ate. Her eyes were big and watery, and she gripped each piece with all five fingers of her right hand, like how she used to hold her food when she was a child. Sirens screamed as an ambulance sped by. A group of drunk teenagers clambered past us, chattering over each other. All around me, the city twisted and pulsed, but I felt peaceful. Resting my head against my daughter’s shoulder, I let my heart compose an ode to Turkish delight.