At Ardennes she conceived a desire to strangle the young woman who prepped and held down garde manger. The woman, Becky Hemerling, was a culinary-institute grad with wavy blond hair and a petite flat body and fair skin that turned scarlet in the kitchen heat. Everything about Becky Hemerling sickened Denise—her C.I.A. education (Denise was an autodidact snob), her overfamiliarity with more senior cooks (especially with Denise), her vocal adoration of Jodie Foster, the stupid fish-and-bicycle texts on her T-shirts, her overuse of the word “fucking” as an intensifier, her self-conscious lesbian “solidarity” with the “latinos” and “Asians” in the kitchen, her generalizations about “right-wingers” and “Kansas” and “Peoria,” her facility with phrases like “men and women of color,” the whole bright aura of entitlement that came of basking in the approval of educators who wished that they could be as marginalized and victimized and free of guilt as she was. What is this person doing in my kitchen? Denise wondered. Cooks were not supposed to be political. Cooks were the mitochondria of humanity; they had their own separate DNA, they floated in a cell and powered it but were not really of it. Denise suspected that Becky Hemerling had chosen the cooking life to make a political point: to be one tough chick, to hold her own with the guys. Denise loathed this motivation all the more for harboring a speck of it herself. Hemerling had a way of looking at her that suggested that she (Hemerling) knew her better than she knew herself—an insinuation at once infuriating and impossible to refute. Lying awake beside Emile at night, Denise imagined squeezing Hemerling’s neck until her blue, blue eyes bugged out. She imagined pressing her thumbs into Hemerling’s windpipe until it cracked.
Then one night she fell asleep and dreamed that she was strangling Becky and that Becky didn’t mind. Becky’s blue eyes, in fact, invited further liberties. The strangler’s hands relaxed and traveled up along Becky’s jawline and past her ears to the soft skin of her temples. Becky’s lips parted and her eyes fell shut, as if in bliss, as the strangler stretched her legs out on her legs and her arms out on her arms…
Denise couldn’t remember being sorrier to wake from a dream.
“If you can have this feeling in a dream,” she said to herself, “it must be possible to have it in reality.