Butter Dish

Author: Luiz A G Cancello
Translation: Mike Welch

I live with my mum’s youngest sister. She receives a tiny pension. I provide for her, to tell the truth. In return – although this has never been made explicit – she cooks, cleans, and washes my clothes. In my youth, she was the subject of my first erotic fantasies, because there is not a big age gap between us. Today she is just my dear friend. I am not married, I date occasionally, sleep around a little. I passed forty with my ring finger unscathed.
But that was not what I was going to talk about. Maybe this introduction has something to do with what follows, although the connection, for now, is beyond me.
Is not entirely true that Auntie always washes the dishes, because there is one item which I make a point of cleaning. It is the butter dish. We have a silverware butter dish, with a lid, a family heirloom, within which a packet of one particular brand of butter may perfectly rest. I do not buy butter for the taste, as you may have already guessed, but for the shape. This is still not my main theme, though tangential to the axis which I want to expound.
I adore butter. I have tried to replace it with margarine, on medical advice, but it was impossible. Besides this gastronomic peculiarity, I have no vices, be it smoking, alcohol or any kind of drug. I lead a healthy life, taking walks every day. On rainy days I ride an exercise bike which, to the amazement and pride of Auntie, has not become a clothes hanger, as usually happens with personal aerobic equipment. Self-discipline also is not my subject, it now becomes necessary to clarify. These initial digressions, I am starting to see, are imposing themselves upon me as a backdrop for what will follow.
I have caught myself heaping smears upon bread until the butter dish is left bare, remaining at the bottom those gooey particles of fat, well known by those who wash dishes. Regular washing-up liquid leaves much to be desired in cleaning of this nature. Something always seems to remain, some viscous film, as if the job was poorly done. I spare Auntie this work, as will become clear.
I’m rather a perfectionist and always had a strong tendency towards handicrafts. I repair simple electrical appliance, do small plumbing repairs, install the stereo system, sew on buttons and know a few kinds of stitches, all possibly appealing gifts for a nonexistent wife. Auntie no longer shows astonishment, and has grown accustomed to always seeing things in perfect condition. This, however, is not the focus; treat it as one more detail in the framework of the story.
I need to return to the thread of the narrative. I have gone round in circles, I well know, traced zigzags. Could it be that I am a little ashamed? In principle, I don’t believe so. I have had many years of group psychotherapy, enough experience to make even a guy like me with no major problems to speak about himself. I am able even to confide in a stranger, whom I happen upon in a bar. Often such a scenario is more comfortable than confessing to loved ones, such as Auntie. I could never understand this paradox. But, I can live with it, and once again: this is not my purpose here.
An attachment to antiques is by no means seductive to me. It is curious how the butter dish escaped this norm. One day, two years ago, the knob of the lid broke off. It had been secured in place by a rivet. I fixed it, to do which I had to buy the proper tool. I was proud of my accomplishment. As I said, Auntie no longer reacts enthusiastically to my repair work, but I know that she speaks of my ability with her friends. I suppose she must appreciate them. I show my bricolage to the few visitors that come home for lunch on Sundays, once in a while. I realize I’m being ridiculous in making an exhibition out of such a minor thing. It’s interesting how I can write about an embarrassing situation, while postponing the focus of the text.
I remember well when I dealt with washing up liquid for the first time. I had just started at university. I was given the task of washing the dishes, in the dorm where I lived with three companions. I was fascinated by the scene, in which the chemical compound displaced and dissolved the fat, against the backdrop of the white plate. I can look back on the movement and think of it as a dance. I stood there frozen, contemplating the changing forms, almost in meditation. It may seem absurd to those accustomed to daily burden of housework, like Auntie, but the moment was seared into my mind in that way. Perhaps here the root of what I intended to speak about is showing itself.
Lunch at half-past noon, with no concessions to the schedule. Auntie is so systematic, as am I, and so this is what life is like in our house. We don’t talk so much, when we do it is generally about politics, Auntie is well-informed; our personal lives stay out of the conversation. On the rare occasions when we do speak of them, we address historical facts, and no comment is added to the description of the scenes. Note that we are seeking, in vain, a sympthetic gaze from each other, an emotional reaction. We are good performers, in this regard. It is another meal, however that all my musings are heading towards.
I get up at six forty five. I exercise for one hour and then bathe. At eight I sit down for breakfast, along with Auntie. A quarter of an hour later, she goes to the porch to read the newspaper. On days when we finish the butter, I linger for about two minutes more at the table, to be sure I am alone, that nothing shall draw Auntie back to the kitchen. Then I go to the sink to examine the butter dish. For an indefinite time, I contemplate the precious metal, sullied by remnants of fat. With restrained gestures, remaining attentive for the return of my housemate, I boil water in a kettle on the largest ring of the stove. I wait, on my feet, and now the passage of time is abolished. I am unable to look at the clock. At the first sign of steam I grab the handle, turn to the sink and slowly pour the liquid on the yellowish patchess. The matter dances, glides, spreads, I feel the dissolution. The brightness of the base of the object reemerges, even under its blanket of water. I use a fork and lift the butter dish to an angle, emptying out the translucent but still impure contents, to at last reveal the silver mirror, restored to its original state. Assailed by the fear of Auntie’s arrival, I see myself, in ecstasy, reflected there. At that moment it was all worth it, life takes meaning once again. Every day I await, anxiously, for the next packet of butter to finish. Sometimes, I consume it excessively. I’m getting obese, despite the gym.