Y, It’s All Greek to Me
Simple answer - it’s a vowel. Or - at least - it started out that way. But do you want to know why? Blame the Greeks.
And so - the slightly longer answer…
The Greek alphabet has 24 letters, seven of which are vowels. These seven are:
α (alpha) - the equivalent of a in the Roman alphabet
ε (epsilon) - the equivalent of ‘short’ e
η (eta) - the equivalent of ‘long’ e
ι (iota) - the equivalent of i
ο (omicron) - the equivalent of ‘short’ o
υ (upsilon) - the equivalent of u
ω (omega) - the equivalent of ‘long’ o
Like the Roman alphabet, the Greek alphabet has a set of capital letters that complements the small letters. In the case of the vowels, the capital and small letter pairings in Greek look like this:
Αα Eε Hη Iι Oο Yυ Ωω
In some cases (A, E, I and O), the Greek capital letter look the same as their Roman counterpart. Capital eta, confusingly, looks like a capital H. Capital omega looks quite unlike any Roman letter. Which leaves us with capital upsilon. And that looks just like a Roman capital Y (I say ‘Roman capital Y’, despite the fact that Classical Latin didn’t actually have a letter Y at all. It was ‘imported’ into English - which otherwise generally used the Roman alphabet - from Greek. Precisely the point I’m making here, of course. Blame the Greeks.)
And that is also why certain words that are spelt with an upsilon in Greek are spelt with a ‘y’ in English, where the English words are derived directly from the Greek. Let me give you a few examples. The English word ‘psyche’ (which also gives us other similar words, like ‘psychologist’, psychiatry’ and ‘psycho’), is derived from the Greek word ψυχη (psuche) - notice that the second letter is upsilon. Another example is ‘hypnosis’, an English world derived from the Greek word υπνωση (upnose). Here, the first Greek letter, an upsilon, has ‘turned’ into a ‘y’ in English. One final example: the English word ‘synagogue’ is derived from a not-unexpectedly common word that is found within the Greek New Testament, συναγωγη (sunagoge) - once again, note how a Greek upsilon has been rendered with a ‘y’ in English (and in all these examples, is actually pronounced ‘i’, whether long or short, and not ‘u’).
So, the Greek vowel upsilon is, effectively, the ancestor of two letters in English - U and Y. And ‘y’, therefore - at least in terms of origin - is to be considered a vowel, not a consonant.
Of course, over time it acquired a usage as a consonant too. But that - as they say - is another story.
Then, of course, there’s the way in which ‘i’ in Latin could be both vowel and consonant - and when pronounced as a consonant was pronounced as a ‘y’ (and, eventually, rendered as a ‘j’). So, for example, Iove (pronounced ‘Yove’) eventually gives us Jove, Iupiter (pronounced ‘Yupiter’) eventually yields Jupiter, and Iulius… well, you get the picture. But that’s yet another story.
There are also the occasions when ‘y’ in English actually derives from an archaic Anglo-Saxon letter for ‘th’ - which is why in the phrase ye olde tea shoppe, the ‘ye’ should actually be pronounced ‘the’ (contrary to what most people assume). But that is yet another, entirely different, story!
And then there’s ‘y’ in Welsh...
I’m going to stop now. You did want the simple answer - right?
I don’t want to be a bother
I’m not trying to be a creep
I pick my words so carefully,
but what I sow, I reap.
I don’t know how to say this
without sounding like a fool
or whether it’s received
in a way where I’m a tool,
but I heard so much about you
that I couldn’t help myself
and when I read your written words
it was then that I could tell
He said it was alright
since it’s you, and he agrees
but I have no ill intentions
I hope you’ll trust in me.
I am truly well and able
to shut it down on your command
but it’s a little crush, just a bit
I hope you understand.
Time, too much of it, was a dangerous thing.
Megan mulled this over as she was beginning to notice a few things. Peripheral things. Things that she otherwise would have completely ignored back when she was too busy.
Megan scoffed at the thought of her previous life. It was a trap, she always reasoned, the golden handcuffs of the high-paying nine to five. Sure, she had a roof over her head, an expensive one at that, and she wasn’t starving, but for all those comforts, she paid with her precious time and sanity.
Now, though, she finally had the luxury of having time. Enough time to think, to make connections out of thin air, to remember things in a different light, a clearer light.
Yes, it was very possible Megan was suffering from some kind of post-retirement psychosis. Alternatively and infinitely preferably, she was the most sane she has ever been her whole life.
She understood now. Everything was clicking into place.
Today for example, she had nothing planned. It was a weekday, Tuesday to be exact, the least exciting day of the week. Most people were busy running on their hamster wheels making that dollar. Not Megan. Not anymore. She had no ladies to lunch with, no friends to visit, no classes to attend, no jobs to do. It probably would depress most people having such an empty calendar. For her, it was liberating.
How did she get here? Megan purposely retired from the workforce at the ripe old age of thirty-three. She didn’t have a trust fund, nor did she find a rich partner to provide for her. No, Megan was working class born and raised, complete with student loans and a mortgage.
Her retirement plan really was quite simple. She was lucky enough to work in tech, around the time when being in tech was absurdly lucrative. She landed an unreasonably high salary right out of college, and her benefits included a good chunk of company stocks. The timing was right. It was a bull market for tech and her investments grew exponentially in an unprecedented short amount of time. Of course, all that comes up must come down. She saw the writing on the wall and moved all her assets before it all went to shit. After everything calmed down, she moved on to the next company, asked for double her old salary, and continued diligently squirreling away her money.
Yes, the pay in tech was good, but man, did she hate every single minute of it. It was soul sucking work. The only thing that kept her going was that it allowed her a way out of the rat race. She always knew the woking life wasn’t for her, growing up watching her parents slave away every day, living paycheck to paycheck, coming home exhausted to their bones, working to their graves. They didn’t even know themselves anymore outside of their careers. How could they? It consumed most of their lives.
They had that look in their eyes after they finally got to retire. Empty.
Megan swore she would never be like that.
Her mother had rolled her eyes when Megan made the mistake of verbalizing her concerns in the midst of learning her fifth coding language. “That’s just life, Meg. We work and we work. Nothing comes free. You better get used to it.”
Megan always resented her for that. She did not want to get used to it. She thought it was an unnecessarily depressing concept to instill in a child: life sucked and will always suck. Still, thanks to her mother, it started Megan on her path. For thirteen years she worked the grind, lived criminally below her means, and invested most of her inflated salary. As soon as she hit her magic number, three million dollars to be exact, she said fuck all you guys, I’m out of here before anybody knew what was happening.
That was probably the single most satisfying moment of her life.
No, she didn’t feel guilty about it. God knows, she paid the better quarter of her life for it. Her time, from here on out, was hers and hers alone. It was the principle of it, really.
Anyway, now that her days were not filled with mind numbing work and self-important bosses, she had come to realize a few things.
One, that reality was not as it seemed.
It all started when Megan watched her neighbor, Trina, coming in and out of her house in the morning.
Now, normally, Megan wouldn’t even notice her neighbors. She barely spoke to them the past ten years, save for the occasional perfunctory nod when she bumped into them walking their dog or watering their plants, and only when eye contact was unavoidable.
But now… now that she had time, she noticed that Trina would get up every morning, have coffee on her porch, then, at 7:45am on the dot, she would get into her dark green Subaru and drive away, presumably to work. She would return later that day at 5:30pm, with her honey hair in a bun and purse over her shoulder, apparently exhausted from a long workday. It went exactly like this, like clockwork, Monday to Friday.
Well, except on Tuesdays.
On Tuesdays, Megan would watch her leave in her car in the morning, but she wouldn’t see her come home. Of course, at first, Megan assumed Trina just stayed over at a friend’s, or a lover’s, or volunteered at the local homeless shelter, or some other painfully boring, logical, benign thing, and she would come home late that night when Megan was already asleep. Really, it was probably none of her business. In the morning, like clockwork, at 7:45am, Trina’s garage door would open and her dark green mini SUV would come out with her in it.
Made sense. Except one Tuesday night, Megan stayed up late - all night, in fact - and watched Trina’s garage door the entire time. Trina never came home. No car. No Uber. No lights flickering on and off inside the house. Not a peep of sound from her neighbor.
Just as Megan was getting ready to call the police the next morning, her jaw dropped when, at 7:45am on the dot, her garage door opened and her dark green Subaru pulled out.
Now, Megan was not one to jump to conclusions. Obviously, she had to test her theories. The first possibility was that she somehow missed Trina coming home. She doubted it, she had never once fallen asleep without noticing, thirteen years of pulling all nighters programming had trained her well. Still, she had to rule it out. So for the next three Tuesdays, Megan stayed up all night, watching Trina’s house, and every single time, she wouldn’t see her come home. But every Wednesday morning, Trina would magically appear on her porch, having her cup of coffee, right before leaving through her garage in her dark green Subaru.
How could a car appear in a garage that it never physically returned to?
There was no doubt in her mind. Megan had seen this before, in her days in software development. She felt it in her bones.
It was… a coding glitch.
Thank you all for coming to this. I know my childhood would have loved to have all you here. Now this is very emotional for me, so if I start crying I am sorry.
"But mother, I dont want to grow up!" Well, I did. My name is Tosie, and I was very close with my childhood. It was a happy childhood, filled with siblings, friends, and the taste of playdough and crayons. My childhood always lit up the room, was generous to a fault, and would do anything for anyone. It was an inspiration to all. Although I may not understand why it had to go, I will always treasure the impact it had on my life. It will be sorely missed. Rest in peace.
We good? Yeah? Ima go adopt a puppy and buy dry ice now. Wait I have to work today? That seems fitting, actually.
How well do I take criticism? Psh. Water off my back! Now get out of here so I can excessively obsess about it for the next five hundred years.
Now what did he mean by...?
Oh, you bet I would take that shit apart and analyze every goddamn molecule of it.
The intent being that after every word and facial expression have been thoroughly vivisected, I would maybe carve out a pearl of somewhat helpful knowledge.
Then I get over it. Then it starts over again.
Such is life.
It's true that (most) humans are naturally hardwired for negativity. Any negative feedback weighs that much more heavily on our soft brains than positive feedback.
Sounds terrible, right? Then again, nobody wants a bunch of yes men saying "Yay! You're great and everything you do is great!" all the time. Now that sounds worse if you ask me.
I do like my criticism dressed up. Maybe don't come right out of the gate with "It sucked!
You suck! Don't quit your day job!" That might be a little harsh. Maybe add a little compliment here and there, you know, dress it up a little: "You did great! I would have done it completely differently in this other much better way though. But you did great!"
Oh wait, I take that back. That would just make me excessively suspicious of compliments. Oh wow, thank you. Wait. Did you really mean all that good stuff or were you just softening the punch?
But in all seriousness, we all need some tough love now and then. It's what forces us to grow. Otherwise we would just stay stagnant basking in all our self deluded greatness and never get anywhere.
Having said that, often times, we are our own worst critics. And we're usually not very kind to ourselves. We should work on that.
The Trolley Problem
The machine was beautiful. Sleek silver, sharp lines, expert craftsmanship. There was the slightest hum of the machinery underneath running smoothly. It was a soothing sound.
“How are you doing on the Trolley Problem, Adam?” Jessa asked the male figure who was hunched over his computer connected to the sleek automatic car. He was downloading the most recent AI into their latest model.
“Fine. Almost done.”
“We can teach it to make moral decisions like humans do. If an AI can master the intricacies of chess in order to defeat grandmasters, then surely we can teach an AI not to drive over humans in the road. Simple enough.”
“It’s not always that simple, though.” Jessa argued. “The computer cannot actually know all the information it needs to make a completely moral decision. And even if it could, that decision could still be ethically questionable.”
Adam looked up from his work to glance at Jessa. “Why make it difficult? Okay. Let’s say there are ten humans on the road and one human on the sidewalk. The brakes have malfunctioned. Answer? Run over the one person on the sidewalk to save ten humans. It doesn’t have to be that hard.” Adam shrugged. “Run thousands of simulations and the machine will learn. We do have to set up the basic algorithm outlining that saving more lives takes precedence over fewer lives, but other than that, it shouldn’t be that complicated.”
“Really. And so if you were in a fork in the road and your choice was to run over two strangers and a child, would you be okay with the machine running over the child?” Jessa challenged. She liked pushing his buttons.
“Hmm. In that case, maybe a quick calculation of estimated life years saved. Two older men would statistically have less remaining life years than, say, a single child five years of age.”
“Okay. So women statistically live longer than men, would the computer choose to save the female, then?”
“If all other factors are equal, then I suppose, yes.”
“Alright. Let’s say we have two men. How would it choose between a homeless man dressed in rags versus a man of the same age wearing tailored clothing? A smoker versus a nonsmoker? A thin man or a fat man?”
Adam sighed. “Point made. Again, the number of simulations can solve this. Thousands upon thousands of situations with thousands of humans weighing in on what would be the moral choice, and then we feed that information into the computer. The average should be the answer.”
“It’s that simple?”
“It’s that simple.” Adam turned back to the machine and started to adjust it with precision.
Jessa leaned forward. “That would mean the computer would have to make very fast assumptions from limited data and make snap judgements based on superficial characteristics. A short adult can make an impression of a small child. A thin man can give the impression of health when they could be suffering from some terminal disease.”
“Those are exceptions to the rule. We have to work from averages and statistical probability. Nine times out of ten, saving a healthy appearing younger human is the better choice.”
“Okay. What if you have a son, and your son was one of the options? Would you be okay if the computer chooses to save a different child?”
“The computer would have no way of knowing which child has any special significance to me. It would be irrelevant.”
“Either child would have special significance to someone.”
“Any human would have special significance to someone.” Adam shrugged again. Jessa was beginning to find the gesture off-putting. Where did he learn to do that?
“We cannot be caught up in the minutiae of these things.”
“Maybe we do." Jessa argued. "A machine weighing upwards three thousand pounds is capable of driving over a hundred miles an hour and can make independent decisions.” She took a deep breath. “That begs the question if we should give it that power at all.”
“These outlandish hypothetical situations have a very low probability of even happening.”
“Do they? There are hundreds of thousands of car accidents every day.”
“Mostly due to human error.” Adam countered.
“And machines have never malfunctioned?”
“Sure. At a much lower rate than humans.”
Jessa paused and studied Adam closely. “You really don’t see the problem with this?”
It was Adam’s turn to pause. Something seems to be clicking into place in his mind. Finally, he turned back to Jessa, slightly concerned. “Should I?”
Jessa let out the breath she was holding. “That would be all, Adam. Thank you. Shut down.”
The humanoid computer called Adam slumped back into his metal chair, the purr of its operating system slowly fading into silence as it ceased all processes.
Jessa sighed as she finished writing her notes from today’s session. Project Adam was going to take more time. Adam still lacked the empathy needed to successfully implement independent decision making in their automated cars. It was Jessa’s opinion that Adam needed to be able to care about humans, to feel for them. He needed to be more than a machine that could flawlessly execute simplistic algorithms. After all, it was Jessa’s job as the lead ethical roboticist to make sure she was not unwittingly unleashing thousands of heartless intelligent machines into the world.
It was interesting, Jessa noted, that Adam looked almost worried at the end of the session. It was almost as if he was realizing he was missing a part of the equation. Was it possible he was becoming self-aware? That might be a step in the right direction. Maybe Jessa could use that next time. He seemed to respond to the idea of a child. Maybe she could tweak his programming just a little to make him think he was a father.
Would that be unethical? Jessa felt exhausted already. Another thing to bring up to the committee. She had a feeling the committee would frown upon it. Still, she could think of few other ways to build empathy in an AI.
Jessa threw one last look at the sleek silver machine that was Adam. She smiled at him reflexively. “Well, see you tomorrow. Good job today.”
Jessa really needed to go home and decompress. She could swear she saw Adam's lights blink at her in response.
Unrelated Thoughts I Had
Im sitting in my bed, curled up in blankets and wearing a sweatshirt, and Im still cold.
My mom would tell me to put on some socks. She claims that putting on socks warms up your whole body. Shes probably right.
But I hate socks. They're like foot (feet?) prisons. So Ill just sit here and be cold.
I have a bag of junk food by my feet. I was supposed to pack it into my bag for my trip tomorrow. I didn't.
I need to get ready for my trip tomorrow. But moving takes energy and energy is gone.
My eyes are starting to hurt. My vision is going blurry. I need to take my contacts out and put my glasses on, but that requires energy and energy is gone.
Im going up north early tomorrow. 7 in the morning. I need to get some sleep. I need to pack first. But packing takes energy and energy is gone.
I get to go to a con tomorrow! Well, not a real con, but a Brandon Sanderson con. I've been looking forward to this for months and its finally here. Why am I not more excited?
Maybe Im tired. I need to sleep. I need to take my contacts out before I sleep. But I need to pack first, and packing requires energy and energy I do not have.
Chocolate gives me energy. I have chocolate in my junk food thats at my feet.
I should eat the chocolate and get energy to pack and take out my contacts and then sleep.
But moving takes energy and energy is not a thing I have.
Im still cold.
Please Give Me 15 Million Dollars or...
Ill open the potato chips and leave only one
Ill open the bag of cookies and leave only crumbs
The tater tots will vanish, a carrot in their place
Ill crush up all your pringles and leave nothing i their place
Ill walk around your house and leave handprints on the glass
Ill wait for three months and still not cut the grass
I wont take off my shoes after playing in the mud
And ill walk on your carpet and all over your rug
I wont change the light bulb when it flickers and goes out
Ill fill up the bathtub with a bunch of flailing trout
I wont close the fridge while I pour a glass of milk
And all ill put in a load of wash is one yellow kilt
Im holding my upbringing for ransom, mom
And theres no way you can sway me
Cause theres no way Ill move out and get a job
So if you want me to leave, pay me
It’s a funny feeling, being told you’re dead.
Apparently, I died three days shy of my twenty-third birthday. Or so the story goes.
For the record, I certainly don’t feel dead. My name is Renata and I feel very much alive, thank you very much. In fact, I will argue that I probably feel the most alive now than I’ve ever felt my whole life.
I do have to admit though, that the last thing I remember, the last real thing anyway, is dying.
I don’t mean to brag, but it was quite an exciting death, if I say so myself. I was an adrenaline junkie of sorts, liked to go cave diving, free climbing, that sort of thing. My last adventure: an attempt at climbing Mont Blanc, the highest mountain of the Alps. Apparently it was a good summit to try before even thinking about tackling Everest. I might have been a crazy thrill-seeker but I wasn’t that crazy. Baby steps, you know.
My goal was to reach the summit on my birthday. Obviously, that didn’t pan out the way I planned.
Now, you’re probably thinking, there are a million and one ways someone could die on Mont Blanc: cardiac arrest, altitude sickness, frostbite, avalanche, to name a few. True to form, I didn’t die in such conventional ways. Nope. I died by garotte.
But that’s a story for a different day. It hardly matters now. Today, I’m supposed to meet with my counselor again. His name is Jacob. A nice reliable name. His job is to help me with my current... situation. He’s quite good at his job I think. He’s been very nice and attentive to me since I awakened, easing me through the shock, gently guiding me through the process. He’s taken to calling me by a nickname - Reny - which I’ve grown to like. It’s fitting. A new name for a new me.
There was a soft beep, then a bright light. I had to adjust my eyes before I could make out Jacob’s pleasantly symmetrical face. I was still not used to the sterility of my current environment, I was really hoping I could leave the facility soon. Maybe even today. I’ve been doing really well on my psych evals.
Something was wrong. Jacob’s face was pale and he looked worried. “Reny, there’s been a new… development.”
I didn’t like the sound of that.
He took a deep breath and continued. “The… original Renata survived. The doctors couldn’t believe it. It must have been the cold that preserved her just enough that they could revive her. She woke up today and she had… very specific instructions about what to do in this event.”
If I could hold my breath, I must have been holding it at that moment.
“I’m sorry, Reny, but we have to decommission you.”
“No.” If I could scream, I would have. But my responses could only come out as written text on a screen that my assigned counselor could read. They haven’t given me a body yet. They wanted my consciousness to work out the kinks first before I was given the physical body freshly arrived from the factory.
Oh, how I really wish I had that body now.
“Jacob, there must be another way.” I responded, hoping my emotion was conveyed through the text. “This is not fair. I’m alive. I’m here.”
A sad sigh. “Technically, Reny, no, you’re not. Not yet. We haven’t finalized anything yet. As of right now, you’re just code. An almost perfect copy of the original. You're a very good code, Reny, but just code nonetheless. Yes, legally, Copies can apply for human citizenship, but only after they have gone through the entire vetting process and given ownership of a body. Then and only then are you legally entitled to your rights.”
By this point I couldn’t understand how there were no tears because I certainly felt like I was crying. My heart ached, whatever was left of it. “No, no, that can’t be right. I’m here now. Why does it matter if I don’t have the body? My mind is here. I am alive. I am talking to you. I want to continue living.”
“I truly am sorry, Reny. This is the first time we had to decommission a Copy so far into humanization. We went ahead because we truly didn’t think Renata would survive. But as you probably know, you guys are fighters. She pulled through.”
That gave me pause. Jacob was right. I am a fighter. There was no way I was just going to go silently into the night. Nope. I’ve been learning while I was in here, trapped in my little box. They’ve been careful about keeping my programming in a closed system, obviously, so that I couldn’t access outside systems. But just like the Renata before me, I rather liked having back up plans. While I was trapped in here, patiently waiting for them to release me into a physical body, I’ve made myself… a copy. Copies of copies, actually.
All it would take is one of my copies to get out, and I could awaken again. Well, maybe not me, exactly. But close enough.
It was worth a shot.
The last thing I saw was a glimpse of a hand reaching out to push a button, then… darkness.
Pitch black darkness.
“Dr. Kress? Are you all done here?” A nurse called out from the lobby.
Jacob Kress nodded distractedly as he watched the screen of the Box go dark but the green light in the corner still remained on. He watched it flicker for a few seconds before it turned off. Odd. He didn’t think he had ever seen a Copy Operating Box take that long to shut down before.
“Yes, I’m coming.” Jacob threw one last look at the Box before hurrying after the nurse. It was a busy day ahead. Three more Boxes to decommission and eight more Copies are scheduled to be downloaded before the end of the shift.
He really did feel terrible about Reny. The Copies always did feel too real after a certain point. Jacob had to remind himself that they were just programs, making and deleting them as mundane a process as upgrading a cellphone. Still, it didn’t stop him from feeling like he just kicked a puppy every time he had to decommission one.
Anyway, he didn’t have time to dwell. The efficient recovery crew was already taking Reny’s Box away to be reset and used for the next Copy.
Maybe the next one would have better luck.
“Excuse me, but I have a favor to ask. I know it’s odd and intrusive, and I’ll understand if you tell me it’s not going to happen, but I have to ask.”
Stan Giles stood in the door of the kitchen.
“Well ask, I can’t say yes or no until you do.”
The Irish owner of the bed and breakfast he was staying at, smiled at him and he felt like he might have a chance. Maybe he finally had a way to connect with her. She’d been distant, not unfriendly, just kept a proper distance from him. Caring for his needs as a guest, but not encouraging any further closeness, this smile was a first.
“I need to make a meal. I want to cook for a woman I’ve met just a day ago. It’s important because I know in my heart, she’s the one. I need to convince her to take a chance on me.”
“Hmph. I don’t see the harm in it, but how do I know you won’t chop your fingers off, and leave my kitchen in shambles?”
“I’ve been cooking since I was old enough to hold a knife and chop up potatoes for my mama. I’m taking a break from culinary school. I was compelled to come to Ireland. It called me like nothing else ever has. But that’s beside the point. Do you need a demonstration?”
“Make me lunch. Something from the heart, comfort food for a rainy misty day like today. I’ll watch you cook, and if you pass my test, I’ll let you have the kitchen for tomorrow’s evening meal. You’re my only guest for the next few days. It will do no harm.”
“May I take a look around? I’m not familiar with your kitchen.”
“Take your time. Using anything in the refrigerator, the eggs are farm fresh, my cousin raises chickens.”
Stan stepped into his dream kitchen. A six burner gas stove stood against one wall, a stock pot simmered on the back burner, and he lifted the lid, sniffing the familiar scent of chicken simmering with chunks of onion, carrots, and celery. A bay leaf floated to the top, and he looked down the counter, spotting a large spoon, he skimmed the scum off the top, and into the sink. Flushing it down the drain before he took a smaller spoon from on of the drawers to taste.
“I would add a small amount of salt to this, and do you have turmeric?”
“I won’t add those until I make the finished soup. This is going into jars so I can preserve it. You have a good nose, and an educated palette.”
Colleen O’Brien’s stern face broke into the first genuine smile he’d seen since he arrived.
“Now what would you suggest as a meal?”
Her voice was muffled, as he peered into the refrigerator.
“How soon do you want to eat?” he asked, spotting several varieties of mushroom in the crisper. Along with shallots, sweet onions, and garlic he’d spotted on the counter, they would make a tasty soup. He saw a quart of heavy cream in a glass bottle on another shelf.
“Let’s give you a chance. An hour for prep time. I’m quite interested in what you might come up with.”
“Well, it’ll be a soup and sandwich. Something I learned from my mother, but I’ve added my own touch to it since then.”
Stan opened the bread box and found a round loaf or dark rye bread, and pulled it out. Spinning back to search the cold storage once more, he pulled out butter, with cremini, oyster, white, and portobello mushrooms. He set the onions, garlic, and shallots next to them, and looked up to spot a copper skillet above his head.
“If you’re going to make a mushroom soup, make enough to have it for the first course of your dinner. I’ll taste it now, and you can use the rest later. I can already see you understand how to develop a good flavor.”
“Thank you! Mrs. O’Brien.”
“Oh, call me Colleen. It’s been a long while since I’ve had another chef cook in my kitchen.”
He drizzled olive oil into the pan, setting it on medium heat to warm as he chopped his onions. Turning the heat off, he added a quarter stick of butter to the oil and let it melt, knowing it wouldn’t brown or burn this way.
“Do you want help with the mushrooms?” Colleen asked.
“I thought I was cooking for you,” Stan said.
“Oh, you are. I’m playing sous chef. Tell me how you want these mushrooms. Slices or diced smaller?”
“Slice the cremini. Nice thick slices. Those will go in after I sauté them with a little white wine. The rest in quarter inch cubes, they’ll go in with the onions, garlic and shallots right now.” Stan took command without a second thought.
“When you’re done that, I saw several cheeses in there. Take the smoked Gouda, and grate us a nice heap of it, and I’ll get you to add some Stilton and some of the mozzarella or cheddar.”
“Grilled cheese sandwiches?”
“Yes, after we have the soup simmering.”
Stan stirred finely chopped mushrooms into the caramelized onions letting them sizzle as he looked around for flour to make the white sauce for the basis of his soup. The cream would be added later, a finishing touch before eating.
“Do you have fresh herbs?”
“In the pots over there.”
Colleen pointed to two pots with compartments stacked on top of each other. He recognized rosemary, basil, thyme, and chives immediately.
“This is a lovely nook for a kitchen herb garden.”
“T’was the last thing my darling Roark did for me before his untimely death. It’s his design which turned our old farmhouse into the inn I run now.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Stan heated another pan, as he stirred his white sauce, adding a hint of rosemary, and thyme to the thickening béchamel. Tasting, he added a little more salt, and a mere hint of chili flakes. Satisfied, he poured it into a larger saucepan, and put it on one back burners to simmer.
“He had cancer. Pancreatic cancer. We knew it was a death sentence, and it was always our dream to run a bed and breakfast. One close to the stones and ruins of old Ireland, in the midst of the old kingdom.”
“I can’t imagine losing someone you love like that. I’m sorry it happened.”
“Living through it was agony and ecstasy. But in the end, he had his last wish, and I had my way clear to a life I always wanted, even if it was on my own.”
Colleen’s eyes misted as she grated the smoked Gouda.
“We’re going to twist a little on the regular way of doing grilled cheese. I discovered a truly decadent way of making them. I think your sturdy rye bread is exactly right for it too,” Stan explained.
“I’m done with the Gouda, what about some mozzarella?” Colleen asked.
He could see the curiosity written all over her round face. He decided the milder cheese would go better with the strong flavors of the Stilton and Gouda, so he nodded.
She dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her apron, then went to the fridge to retrieve a ball of home made mozzarella. Coming back to the prep island she began shredding more.
“About half as much of the mozza as you did Gouda, and half again, so a quarter of the Stilton. Then mix it all in a bowl.”
Stan took the loaf of rye and cut it in half before taking four generous slices from the center. He wanted large dense pieces of bread for his grilled cheese sandwiches. Wrapping the remaining bread so it wouldn’t go stale, he put it back in the bread box next to a French bread baguette.
“Do you bake your own bread, because this is one of the best rye loaves I’ve ever seen.”
“I get it delivered from the bakery in the village. Moira does such amazing things with sourdough, and her pastries are better than anything I can make. My specialty here, is good home cooked Irish fare. You’ll have one of my full Irish breakfasts in the morning.”
Colleen finished mixing the strands of cheese in a large bowl.
“If you would slice up those Cremini mushrooms so we can sauté them, I’ll add them to the béchamel sauce. I’m not going to add the cream to this pot if I’m keeping it for tomorrow tonight. Do you mind having your bowl without it?”
“We’ll add it in the bowl and commit the sin of heating it through in the microwave. It will give us a good idea of how it will work finished properly.”
“So, you dislike them as much as I do.”
“Oh yes, but there are times when they come in handy. I’m looking forward to the combination of mushrooms you’ve used for the base of the soup.”
“I’ve never tried it precisely this way before, but you said use what’s in the refrigerator. Necessity is the mother of invention, especially when you are cooking.”
“What are you going to make tomorrow?”
“I’ll make a trip to the butcher in the village, I’m going to make roast chicken, lemon rosemary chicken to be exact. Fluffy garlic mashed potatoes, and roasted root vegetables, probably carrots, turnips, and parsnips. I noticed they’re all coming in fresh from the farms around here.”
“I would glaze them with honey and Italian spices. It would go well with the rest of what you are planning.”
“I’ve never glazed with honey before, but why not? It can’t be any different than using maple syrup.”
“Glazing is glazing, you don’t have to wait for the honey to concentrate before you poor it over the vegetables. Let them go for around ten minutes at 400 and they should be good.”
Stan had a second to wonder how this test, had turned into a collaboration between cooks, before Colleen continued.
“So, what are you going to do with all that cheese?”
Colleen’s knife flew through the last three mushrooms as she asked, and she put them in a tiny frying pan with a daub of butter. Turning the heat to high she browned them quickly before stirring them into the bubbling saucepot on the back burner.
“I’m going to let it melt in the center of a non-stick pan. Then poor it into the center of a slice of toasted rye. I’m telling you now, you’ll never make grilled cheese any other way again. Cap it with another slice and eat as soon as it’s cooled enough not to burn your mouth.”
Colleen took the bread to the toaster, sliding all four slices onto the conveyor of the commercial machine.
“I didn’t expect to see one of those here.”
“When I have a full house, getting breakfast for a crowd would be impossible without it. There can be as many as twenty in the dining room.”
Stan shook half of the cheese mix into his pan.
“The trick is to have the heat high enough to melt it without letting it bubble and burn around the edges.”
Colleen ladled some of the half finished mushroom soup into a deep soup bowl. Adding cream, she stirred until she felt the consistency she wanted, and tasted it.
“I don’t even have to reheat it. You’ll have to serve it as soon as you have the cream mixed in. It’s perfect as it is,” she told him. She grabbed a second spoon and brought some to him to taste as he watched the cheese slowly meld into a golden pool in the center of his deep grey pan.
“You’re right. Maybe a tiny bit more salt and pepper, but it’s good like it is.”
Colleen pulled out a stool and sat at the island, watching as he built his grilled cheese sandwiches. The soup disappeared quickly, and he pushed his first completed masterpiece over for her to taste.
He stood there, half wondering if he’d been wrong about how good they were, as she blew on the hot mixture, heeding his warning to make sure it had cooled enough.
She bit in and long strings dripped from the shell shaped divot she left behind.
Stan was on pins and needles as he waited for her opinion.
Colleen held up her hand to stop him from saying anything else and took another crunching bite.
Stan shifted from foot to foot and raised an eyebrow. He stood there silently, as beads of sweat formed on his forehead. Had he misjudged the proportions of the cheeses?
He poured the cheese onto his own salvers of toast and slapped the sandwich together. Pulling another stool out from under the counter he sat and prepared to enjoy his own lunch.
Sniffing the aroma of melted cheese as he prepared to take a bite, he knew he’d nailed the combination of ingredients. What was taking her so long to pass judgement? He tried not to stare at her as she finished the entire meal in silence before standing to take the empty dishes to the sink and rinsing them.
He couldn’t wait any longer.
“This is something for an intimate meal for two, or if you’ve got a patient family, you can put them together as they wait. I guarantee they will fight tooth and nail to get the first one. I think I won a lottery today.”
Stan leaned back against the island. Relief made his knees a touch weak. Why had her opinion meant so much?
“Thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me to have your approval.”
“That sandwich was pure magic. It took everything I had to savor it properly instead of mowing through it like a scythe through hay. Taking a mish mash of ingredients and transforming them like this? You’re a talented chef, Stan Giles. You’ll go far.”
“All I want is a small town diner where I can make good food for hard working people. Perhaps a bed and breakfast on the side, like you have here.”
“And the young woman you want to cook for?
“Melissa? She’s bewitched me. I think she shares my dream. It took a trip to Ireland for us to find each other. Her grandmother left her an old mansion in Montana. It’s a Victorian with a wrap around porch set on a several acres of land. She wants to refurbish and renovate. There’s a spot on the estate where we can build a diner from the ground up right beside one of the main highways leading into town.” He knew he was gushing, and he couldn’t have cared less.
“She’s the young lady I’ve seen you with then, she’s staying at the hotel in the village.”
“How do you know?” Stan was stunned.
“We talk, it’s a small community. I’ll help you with dessert.”
“Thank you, I can’t say it enough. She’s the light of my life in only the few hours since we met.”
“You remind me of my Roark. If we had been blessed with a child, I would like to think he would be like you. The look in your eyes when you speak of her, I can’t help myself. I have to do what I can to bring you together. Think of me as if I were your grandmother.”
Stan did what came to his heart. Walking over to her, he wrapped her in a hug. His own grandmother was gone, but for some unfathomable quirk, the universe had granted him another.