Chloé Viva stood in her kitchen, looking at food that didn't appetize her, but cooking it anyway.
Her brain was checked out. She didn't want it to be, but it was. All she could concentrate on was the step right in front of her, which at the moment, was stirring a roux. It wasn't a difficult recipe, a simple primavera with a creamy sauce. It had more steps than she was prepared to handle at the moment, though she made it anyway, because it was what got her through the day.
There were three timers in her head that she kept track of, as best she could in her current state. One was the béchamel whose roux was cooking; one was the vegetables steaming in a pot; one was the pasta simmering -- not boiling. The starch in pasta gelatinizes at a temperature below 100C, so boiling is superfluous. The timers weren't clear and precise like when she felt better, but blurry, ambiguous, as if she was looking at them through frosted glass.
She sought a golden blonde colour in the roux before she continued, albeit one less yellow than the spoon she used to stir it. Its head was stained from a time six months ago when she didn't have the energy to clean up a curry she'd made, and the saffron and turmeric had indelibly dyed the wood over three days.
As she stirred, she hypothesized that this might be the wrong order to do things in, that there could be a problem in a few minutes when she tried to get everything combined properly. She ignored the feeling, even though she knew it was probably right, because she was already making the sauce. She was committed now, and it would turn out badly if she tried to pause it to align its timing. She'd just have to turn the burner off and try and hope for the best.
The spoon felt heavy, like her legs felt heavy, like her eyes felt heavy. It wasn't that she'd done anything particularly strenuous today; she got up, had breakfast, showered, went to work, had lunch, went back to work, got a tea at Gong Fu, came home. But in the state she was in, everything was strenuous and exhausting. She only got through the day with the expectation that she would be able to treat herself to a good meal.
This wasn't the result of anything she could point to, and say that she was depressed because of that event in her life. If anything, she had a decent, albeit routine, day. This was simply a function of her existence: Her unique provenance included an in-vitro disruption of a tryptophan hydroxylase gene, which gave her permanent major depressive disorder. There were two genes responsible for this, which meant that her serotonin production varied depending on factors nobody was quite sure of, not even the geneticists who made her the way she was. Some days were better than other days. This was a day Chloé would classify as an 'other' day.
When the roux resembled what she thought it should, she added the milk to the pot, and watched the lumpy flour-butter mixture begin to dissolve. Stirring, stirring, stirring, and now she had a finely choreographed dance to perform to make sure everything was right; there was no waiting any more, the rest of the recipe was all active preparation. She set the sauce to the side and went for the pasta, bringing it to the sink -- no. The pasta needed the colander, which was currently steaming the vegetables. Vegetables first. She put the pasta back and took the colander with the vegetables in it, shaking them into a bowl on her kitchen table. A pod of peas and a carrot missed the bowl to land on the table. She left them. She'd pick them up later, when she had time.
With the colander now available, she took the pasta and arranged herself in front of the sink, which was full of dishes. Between the height of the dishes and the low cabinets, she had barely enough room to manoeuver the colander under the pot, holding it up awkwardly as the boiling water sluiced through it. As the pasta fell into it, the added weight began to make her hand slip, and she had to put the pot down -- but not on the counter, as a cutting board took up most of the available space, full of carrot peels and bell pepper seeds and other bits of plant matter she'd trimmed from the vegetables. Instead, she stretched her arms out to hold the dripping colander over the sink as she put the pot back on the stove for a moment, and then used her other hand to adjust her grip.
Each of these actions took longer than it should have. There was a moment's pause after each involuntarily self-inflicted setback as her brain tried to recalculate the queue of actions that would produce the meal she wanted, and that took a great deal of effort. She felt her stomach acidify with the stress and frustration of it, not to mention the hunger. She felt like she was frowning, though she knew neither her face nor her emotions rarely conveyed information about the other.
She eventually got the rest of the pot drained, and shook the pasta out into the bowl as well. One piece of penne joined the vegetables on the table, but she'd get that later too, as she was already thinking about her next step. The colander had done its job, and she dumped it in the sink, turned, and grabbed the sauce--
Oh. No. No she didn't.
She stood there, frozen with indecision, furiously recalculating and getting errors every time, as she watched the sauce bubbling a lot more than it should have been.
The burner light still cheerfully glowed amber. She forgot to turn it off.
She pulled the pot off the burner and dragged the spoon along the bottom, and it made a horrific grinding noise, exactly what she dreaded, as the sauce had already burned to the bottom of the pot. Not only was it overcooked, nearly glue, by this point, the acrid flavours of the blackened milk solids at the bottom would have permeated the whole sauce. Thinning it out would not work. It was indelibly, inedibly, ruined.
She thought about making it again. It wouldn't take too long, though the pasta and the vegetables would be cold by the time she did. But she looked at her sink full of dishes, the complete lack of counter space to put anything, and the pot full of sauce she would have to rinse out, scrub, and reuse, and the time of actually completing the recipe again stretched out into an unacceptable duration. The first step, of clearing out the sink to give herself enough room to wash the pot, was so far removed from the actual cooking she wanted to do, that it stopped making sense to her depressed brain. She was hungry, tired, and increasingly numb to the idea of cooking at all, and she simply shut down.
The pot went on top of the carrot peels, and she had the pasta and vegetables with olive oil instead, poking at the lightly-dressed penne as she sat at her tiny table in her cramped kitchen, pointedly not looking to her left to see the results of her involuntary inattention.
The bowl remained on the table, with a pod of peas, a carrot, and one piece of penne beside it, by the time she went to bed.