(Previously Published in Windmill: The Hofstra Journal of Literature and Art)
In a large glass bowl, mix all of the items you’ve gathered from the supermarket: the egg yolks, vanilla extract, white sugar, heavy cream, and brown sugar. The index card recipe sits on the counter, given to you by your kind neighbor Mrs. Tate. You get the cream heating slowly in a saucepan over a tiny flame. Your daughter Nell comes down the stairs, brown hair spilled over the shoulders, full pretty mouth, and sits on the couch, watching you at work. Earlier, she left her door open and when you walked by, she tentatively said: “Dad?” (A delicious sound from a still innocent voice.) “Will you make me crème brulee? Sugary stuff is the only thing I can keep down anymore.” You rushed out happily to get her what she wanted. Tyler came by the other day. He says he has a new job and will be a better provider. Your daughter seems to like him. It is not your business. The cream is removed from the heat immediately just before it starts to boil.
It was your business to protect her all through high school. You smiled her way when her dates arrived and then sent them stark messages with your eyes, one by one, when they came to pick her up, the jocks, the pimply alternative boys, all of the contestants in the game of your daughter’s life. They got the message. You couldn’t stop them but you could keep them at bay. She is older now and you couldn’t protect her this time. You whisk the eggs briskly to make her laugh.
Let the glaze harden. You put the mix for the glaze down by the broiler so that it can become like brittle stone. When Tyler drops by tomorrow, with his skinny body and apologetic smile, try not to break the glass mixing bowl over his head. He will try to take her to live in a cheap apartment, your beautiful girl, and he will treat her well until he doesn’t anymore, since he is only twenty-three and likes to drink. She will forget her magnificence and become ordinary by being around an ordinary man with his ordinary problems of not enough money, cheap used furniture, and half-vacations to water parks. She will look at the baby and cry and think of him once he leaves. His genes are now in your family line. She won’t be returning to college in the fall, but promises you she will, when the baby is a little older.
Much time is needed to let the mixtures cool before you can present her the masterpiece. Her ravenous gaze follows your every move. You explain that it needs time to all come together. “Can you wait?” you ask. You want to make it perfect for her. She asks if she can eat some of the custard now, right out of the bowl, and eat the glaze later. She is so hungry. “Is that okay, Dad?” “Anything for my princess.” Her baby bump is barely visible. She keeps absentmindedly running her hand across it. You bring her a dish of the custard without the glaze. She could have waited and found a man who would have made crème brulee for her. Who even knew what crème brulee was. She could have waited for a man like you, who would have protected her, always. She is eating the crème brulee, her face awash in pleasure, looking at you like she did when you got her exactly what she wanted for Christmas. When Tyler comes tomorrow, you will steel yourself as every father has had to do for every unworthy young man who takes so easily the body of his daughter. She is Tyler’s now. For all of the disappointments in this life, you had not been prepared for this one.