If I feed you, can I
I’ve been thinking about the deeper meaning of the kosher dietary
laws of Judaism. I do that now and then, for fun. Common wisdom says that these
edicts were necessary to avoid contaminated food, back in the days before refrigeration.
The rabbis wanted to steer people away from bottom-dwelling clawed critters and
pigs that live in their own filth. Less common wisdom—and perhaps the real
reason, in my opinion—is that kosher laws were designed to keep Jewish children
from fraternizing with and eventually marrying people of other religions. What
is sharing a meal if not a bonding ritual, an opportunity for a social
Breath is not about a Jewish family like some of my other books, the
sharing of meals still bonds the characters in different ways. Caitlin Kelly, a
budding painter, is sixteen and very fond of Daniel, the art teacher who has
been renting her mother’s upstairs apartment for the last six years. Daniel has
cystic fibrosis. At thirty-four he’s passed his doctor’s “expiration date” but refuses
to give up on his art, his students, and, although he feels it’s remote, the
possibility of finding love.
Yet the women in Daniel’s life unwittingly or overtly use
food as a social weapon, their way of tending to him and claiming him as their
own. His overprotective older sister, Denise, brings groceries every Saturday
and throws away food that’s gone bad, even though he’s fully capable of doing
this himself and has told her so. On Sundays, Caitlin’s mother, Maureen,
invites Daniel to have supper with them. Through this ritual, Maureen can tend
to him, like she’s done for others through the many charities she works for.
Over the course of the book, Caitlin’s friendship with him
deepens, and the gift of food and care is a safe way to express her affection. She makes him brownies when he’s sick. She brings up the Tupperware containers
of leftovers when he can’t come down for supper. She knows from all those meals that he hates broccoli. Along with their
shared love of art, knowing what he likes and doesn’t is a way of connecting
with him. Even though she cringes when women like her mother and Denise treat
Daniel like some kind of freak because of his condition, she sometimes can’t
see that she’s as proprietary as the rest of them. And in some ways, even more
One day, an interloper arrives, in the form of redheaded
Bess, who is rather gaudy-looking, in Caitlin’s opinion. Intent on striking her
own culinary bargain with Daniel, she knocks on their front door. She claims
she’s one of Daniel’s private students, and wants to repay his generosity by
making him dinner while he’s out. Caitlin, home sick from school that day, is
feeling especially protective:
didn’t think he was taking private students anymore since school started,”
bites her lower lip. “Well, it’s not really a formal class.”
guess that’s why you don’t have a sketchpad.”
Bess lets out her breath. Her hair looks wilty. There’s a smudge of mascara
beneath her left eye. “I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. But I’ve got
twenty dollars’ worth of free-range chicken, buffalo mozzarella, and organic
vegetables in this bag. Maybe I could just put them in your refrigerator and
come back later when Daniel is home?”
considers this. If she takes the bag, Bess will have to come back to the
Kelly’s apartment, exposing the woman to more germs she might take to Daniel.
If Caitlin sends her away, maybe Daniel will be angry with Caitlin for not
letting Bess just go upstairs in the first place.
here.” Caitlin sighs and fetches the key from the pantry closet.
Having let this interloper
into Daniel’s kitchen, feeling in her gut that Bess is ultimately going to hurt
Daniel, Caitlin tries to warn him. It doesn’t take, which leads her to make one
very bad decision, and all the brownies and pot roast in the world might not be
enough to fix what she’s done.
Thanks for coming back to share more food for thought, Laurie!
Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader,
and former graphic designer. She is the author of two
novels, The Joke’s on Me
(4RV Publishing, LLC, July
2011) and Drawing Breath
2012). She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley
withher very patient husband, a commercial
illustrator. Learn more about Laurie at
and her Amazon Author Page