Three minutes can be an eternity. Forty-five breaths. One hundred and eighty seconds. Two hundred and ten heartbeats. But when you’re in the final exam in culinary school with one eye on the clock and one eye on that soufflé that just won’t rise, three minutes might not be enough.
There was nothing more to do. It was to be the crowning jewel of my full course meal—a decadent chocolate soufflé that would get me a passing grade to get the hell out of this nightmare and into a kitchen of my own so I could start paying back my student loans and maybe be able to afford a pair of shoes that didn’t look like they’d been run through a blender. It had been four hellish years of hard work, long hours, and unwanted advances from lecherous men. My plates were ready, embellished with a perfect semi-circle of raspberry coulis dots and the most impeccable quenelles of bergamot ice cream I had ever achieved.
As the magnetic timer stuck on the fridge at my station ticked down the seconds until soufflé do or die time, I couldn’t help but sneak a peek around at my classmates. They were all in motion, hurrying through the final steps of their respective desserts. I was the only one standing still, which gave me a simultaneous burst of relief and anxiety. Wait—what on earth?
Three stations away there was a crash and a thunk. I watched in amusement that quickly turned to horror as Sebastian, the uncouth lothario of the class, collapsed backward, his bowl of whipped cream shattering even as his head ricocheted off the counter behind him. His body lay crumpled on the floor, twitching for a moment, then going ominously still. Several of the other students rushed to his aid and had to be elbowed out of the way by our resident medic.
At the beeping of my timer, I tore my eyes from the grim tableau. Sebastian wouldn’t have wanted my soufflé to be ruined, I convinced myself, as I donned my lucky flowery oven mitts and opened the oven door. It was divine. It was magnificent. It was tall and perfect and smelled like heaven . . . and was going to completely go to waste, I realized when I heard those awful words: “Call 911, quick. He’s not breathing. The EpiPen isn’t working.”
I stood there watching my soufflé and my dreams slowly deflate. By the time the ambulance got there, Sebastian was an eerie shade of grey. We got word that evening that he hadn’t made it—fatal anaphylaxis caused by almond allergy that kicked in far faster than I ever imagined it could. If I didn’t know better, I’d be suspicious that he’d done it out of spite to sabotage my grades.
Back at home in my tiny dingy flat I tucked the bottle of extract back in the cupboard and sat down to start planning the menu for my rescheduled exam.