Rain stuttered, off and on, through a heavy mist as the remnants of a cold front pushed through. Regular classes did not meet on Saturdays, so the parking lot, hidden among a thick clot of pine trees, was almost empty. Registrants for the cheese-making class, hosted by the school’s adult continuing education department, had the parking area to themselves. The few cars, clustered near the entrance to the hospitality and hotel management building campus, belonged to them and the instructor.
Phaedra Lipscott steered her ancient yellow Triumph TR7 around a deep puddle and parked next to a new Cadillac SUV. She barely cracked the door open, raised her arm just above the top of the car, and punched the button with her thumb. The umbrella popped open like an inverted red flower and Phaedra swung the door open. Her purse held close to her chest, she sprinted toward the front of the building, where she spied the hand-lettered sign: “Introduction to Cheese-Making, Teaching Kitchen 4.” An arrow pointed toward a hallway. She walked in the direction of the arrow, winding around the convoluted labyrinth until she saw the open door and the only illuminated classroom.
The class had begun by the time she slinked through the door, but the buzz of voices and the fact that people were shifting in their seats suggested to Phaedra that it had started only moments earlier. She slipped around the perimeter of the classroom, and found an empty seat near the front. Just as she adjusted herself in the seat, the instructor spoke.
“Okay, why don’t you all come on up and gather around the work table. Be careful not to knock into the table; the legs are a little unstable.”
Students rose from their seats and drifted forward, clogging the space around the work table where water boiled in large pots on a portable electric burner.
Brevity Jones shrank back, almost imperceptibly, from his students as they edged a little closer, hoping to get a look inside the kettle. Phaedra noticed his retreat from the cluster of retirement-aged couples, dotted with a few younger pairs and a few loners. She saw something in the way his eyelids fluttered slightly as the crowd inched closer that told her he was not a people person.
“All right,” Jones began, “I’ve already poured a gallon of whole milk, the stuff you buy in the grocery store, into the top of the double boiler and turned the heat to high. The reason you want to use a double boiler instead of heating the vessel directly on the burner is that you want to avoid scorching the milk, which would ruin the batch of cheese you’re trying to make. I’ll heat the milk until it reaches one hundred eighty-five degrees, which I’ll measure with the immersion thermometer attached to the side of the kettle.”
Jones paused and watched the crowd peer intently at the white liquid in the stainless steel container.
“While the milk is heating, I’ll gather up the rest of my ingredients and utensils. We’ll need about a teaspoon of salt, about four tablespoons of white vinegar, and a teaspoon of citric acid. In place of the vinegar, you could use lemon juice.”
Phaedra maneuvered closer to Jones, sliding around a young couple she figured were newly weds. They looked to her like they were going through the bonding process that takes place early in relationships, that period of excitement during which couples seek out opportunities to enjoy new experiences together.
Jones backed away from the table on which he was heating the milk. His eyelids fluttered during a pause before he continued with what seemed to Phadrea a well-practiced patter of instructions.
“Now, in addition to the double boiler and thermometer, you’ll want a large strainer or colander and a bucket to put under it, a slotted spoon, and enough cheesecloth to make a double layer in the strainer.
“Okay, while the milk begins heating, you’ll measure the citric acid and add it to the warming milk,” he continued, as he poured citric acid from a small container into his hand, and then sprinkled it into the double boiler.
Jones scanned the students gathered around him, as if gaging whether they understood his instructions. When his eyes met Phaedra’s, she took advantage of the opportunity to capture his attention.
“I noticed you haven’t used a measuring spoon for the salt or the citric acid. How precise do the measurements need to be?”
“Well, I’m pretty good at estimating how much I’m putting in, but the answer is that you don’t need to be terribly precise. Initially, though, I suggest you follow the recipe I’ve included in the handout materials and be reasonably precise with your measurements. Once you’ve made a few batches of ricotta, you can experiment.”
For Brevity Jones, the excruciating pace of the day exacerbated his discomfort with his students. This, he thought, was a group of people made up, predominately, of geezers looking for something to occupy their time while waiting for death.
His students, though, seemed to find Brevity’s teaching style fascinating. They followed every word, their eyes following him as he paced back and forth in front of them as he explained the distinction between curd and whey, the concepts of coagulation and curdling, and the differences between, and applications of, cheesecloth and muslin in cheese-making.
Phaedra thought Brevity looked worn and mentally exhausted as the last few students finally offered their thanks for his instruction during the day and shuffled out of the room. She had stayed, though she wasn’t sure just why.
“Can I help you pack up your stuff?” Phaedra smiled at him, trying her best to mold her mannerisms to maximize “friendly” and minimize “seductive.” The latter was hard, though. She increasingly had become interested in Brevity during the course of the day. By the time the workshop was over, her skin was slick with moisture that showed through the thin t-shirt she wore beneath the down jacket she had removed earlier in the day.
Brevity seemed flustered by Phaedra’s offer.
“Uhh. Um. I think I’m good,” he said, as his eyelashes fluttered. “I know where to pack everything so I can find it again. But thanks.” He made an involuntary step backward as Phaedra drew near.
“Yeah, I understand that. But if you need any help, anything at all, I’m happy to oblige.” Her broad smile was, at once, genuinely casual and friendly but seductive and dangerous. Brevity didn’t seem to pick up on Phaedra’s suggestion.
Phaedra decided to be a little more direct.
“Have you ever had sex in a Triumph TR7?”
Brevity’s response surprised her.
“A yellow one?”
[Like so many others, to be continued…or not. Just another spark, triggered by an innocuous recent experience. Sadly, the question about sex in the Triumph was not part of the triggering incident.]