The Lost Recipe for Happiness - By Barbara O'Neal


A long Elena’s smooth white back is an ancient scar that cuts downward in grotesque beauty like a long, graceful snake. It begins at the joint of her right shoulder and sails south across her shoulder blade, then her spine, swoops around the lower edge of her left ribs and across the unguarded softness where vital organs once lived, and finally ends deep in her left buttock. In places, it looks like a rope, dark pink and angry; in others, it submerges beneath the flesh, showing only a slight white scratch above the skin.

Men love it, thinking themselves so original, so generous in their tracings of it, so accepting. In fact, it is the lover’s version of slowing to look at an accident on the freeway, equal parts horror, fascination, and, if there is any wisdom, gratitude. Some ask her what happened. Some do not. All of them wonder.

But only Elena’s ghosts know her story. The ghosts who travel with her. The ghosts she protects. The ghosts who will never leave her.

Red onions are especially divine. I hold a slice up to the sunlight pouring in through the kitchen window, and it glows like a fine piece of antique glass. Cool watery-white with layers delicately edged with imperial purple…strong, humble, peaceful…with that fiery nub of spring green in the center…”

—MARY HAYES GRIECO, from The Kitchen Mystic


Elena had been expecting Dmitri for more than an hour when he finally stormed through the back door of the Blue Turtle, the Vancouver restaurant where they both worked.

She’d come in early, as was her habit, to cook in the agreeable quiet of the Sunday morning kitchen, when the young apprentices and line cooks and dishwashers were all still abed after their Saturday night revelries. Her only companion was Luis, the forty-something El Salvadorian commis, who stirred his stockpots with a hand so brown and squat it looked like a hand balloon. He sang cheerfully under his breath, a bloody old Spanish folk song about a conquistador taking revenge on his enemy. It made Elena think of nights at the VFW when she was eleven or twelve, drinking Cokes while everyone danced the two-step. No doubt it made Luis think of bodegas back home.

Humming tunelessly along with him, Elena stood at the stove, stirring pale pink shallots and yellow onions with a long wooden spoon, thinking of the things she needed to check for service today. She thought of conquistadores and the plate armor they’d worn to protect themselves from arrows.

Mainly, she thought of Dmitri, who had betrayed her.

Her whole body ached this morning, back and hips from the old injuries, shoulders and neck from trying to erect the armor she had to assemble afresh each and every day, finely honed plates of sharp arrogance and bad language beneath which she—the secret and guarded Elena—could hide. She rolled her shoulder blades down her back, reminded herself to stand tall.

Shake it off.

When the onions were nearly done, she crushed garlic with the flat of her knife, and was about to scrape it into the mix when Dmitri burst through the back door. Hearing his fury in the slam of the door, she pulled the pan off the fire and turned to meet his anger.

Long and lean, with severe planes in his beautiful Russian face, he strode through the kitchen and flung a newspaper down on the counter. She turned off the burner and wiped her hands.

The paper was turned to the front page of the Lifestyle section, and featured a photo taken two weeks before. Of Elena, dressed in chef’s whites at the end of a shift, long blonde hair pulled back from her face beneath the bright scarves she had adopted as her trademark. She lifted a glass of wine to the camera with a crooked smile and a saucy cock of a brow. It was a good photo, she thought again. It made her look younger than her thirty-eight years, sexier, charming. The headline read:




“I saw it,” she said mildly.

“You are fired.”

“What?” Her head jerked up. “Come on, Dmitri. It’s not my fault she liked me better than you. And you’re right there in the first paragraph anyway!”

“It is my kitchen. Your focus should have been on the restaurant, on the menu. Not on yourself.”

“It is not your kitchen!” she said, slamming her knife down on the counter. “You have the title of chef, but you