Carrie had her speech all planned out. It would be a marvelous speech, calling on the fraternity of studenthood and the hour of the night, maybe even touching on expatriate sacrifices and the universal yearning for a good philanthropist. She heard the door open and began her spiel.
"Can I please borrow some peanut butter . . . ?" She stopped short at the sight of a very frazzled Maggie, who was talking frantically into her hand. No, wait--she was on the phone.
"We talked about this before and you said--hold on, there's somebody at the door--I know--" She was wearing an apron over her normal clothes and held a wooden spoon that was dripping on the threshold. "Oh, hey, Carrie. Come on in; I'll be off the phone in a second."
Carrie stepped inside the flat and tried to say that she only wanted some peanut butter, but Maggie had already resumed her telephone conversation, nodding violently and frowning as she walked back to the small kitchenette area of tiny living space, leaving the door open to the watery light of the hallway.
Her visitor closed the door quietly and stood uneasily by it. Maybe she should have just apologized for the bother and left. Maggie was now wielding a knife at what looked like some potatoes and carrots, maybe an onion or two. The rest of the room was silent and dim with the night, and somehow a citified cricket found an audience for its arias below the single window of the room. Carrie walked over to the window, not wanting to sit down and make herself comfortable, and hoping Maggie wouldn't be on the phone long.
She had that awkward feeling of asking a favor of somebody she didn't know very well. That is, she knew Maggie, but not really to speak to. They'd had a class or two together and shared a nationality, though that didn't amount to much as the classes had been rather large and so was America. Come to think of it, Carrie didn't even know where Maggie had lived in the States before .
Maggie pulled out a metal pan from a cupboard and said something in a sad tone of voice, explaining something unintelligible (it must have referred to several previous conversations because Carrie could make no sense of it) while scattering the vegetables on top of two chicken breasts she'd put in the pan. She listened for a little while, hands still moving, and poured a little olive oil, a little wine, and a squirt or two of honey from half-bottles next to the stove. The spoon she'd held as Carrie entered was in a bowl of broth that Maggie poured over the mixture. Maggie slid the pan into the oven and twisted the timer in a familiar fashion before tugging absently at the knot at the back of her apron.
Carrie had found a book of poetry by the window; a translation of Carmina Burana. How very odd. It was open to something called "Burning Inside"; she read it and then reread it breathlessly. What was she doing in sociology? Somehow Carrie found a chair and sat down with the book.
Maggie, having forgotten her visitor entirely, ended her telephone conversation on an exhausted note and began the process of washing up. The smell of the roast in the oven began to fill the room and the cricket outside the window bowed offstage with a dignified but slightly off-key finale.
"Peanut butter." Carrie started. Maggie had turned around in sudden remembrance of opening the door for something that had to do with peanut butter. "I don't have any."
"Oh," said Carrie. "Did you need peanut butter?"
"I thought you did." Maggie frowned.
"Did I?" Carrie looked blankly at Maggie for a moment. "Oh! I found your book and I forgot why I came. Yes. I wanted peanut butter. It's too late to go out for dinner but I have toast and jelly in my flat."
"But you needed peanut butter;" Maggie nodded sagely: "I see." They looked at each other appraisingly for a moment.
"Which book?" Maggie peered into the dimness of the room as if the title would appear in fiery letters.
"'Carmine Bureau' or something. It's really good." Carrie held up the book but was unwilling to let it go. Maggie grinned.
"The Carmina Burana? Yeah, that's great stuff if you read it in the right context."
"I've never read one poem for half an hour straight, before."
"Want to stay for dinner? I made extra. You can tell me what you think about the poetry."
"Sure! Thanks!" Carrie half-rose from her chair. "I say, was your phone call alright? You sounded upset."
"Oh, no, it's fine. Thanks for asking, though." She turned back to the kitchen and checked the timer. "A friend and I seem to have periodic arguments on the nature of the universe. In fact, we don't really get along very well. It is an absurd friendship."
"Huh. Well, can I do anything for dinner?"
"Nope. You could read the poem aloud while I get out dishes, if you want."
"Would you read the poem for me?"
"If you don't mind."
"No. Uhh . . . no, that's ok." Carrie cleared her throat and began to read.