She had not peeled a potato in over ten years. Even the purchase of a new peeler that everyone told her was the Porsche of peelers did not spark her to action. The canning equipment sat dusty in the pantry; the pantry was now the mud room and graveyard for mismatched phone chargers and dustpans without handles. Boots, most of them left-footed for some reason, choked the side-door entrance to the kitchen. There was a bottle of perfume on the kitchen sill and a pepper mill in the bathroom. Also the business card of a young woman who had said she would come help her put things back together but the dog had gnawed off the last two numbers and Belle was not one for emailing. There were two people who could text message her and expect a reply; no one else had her cell phone number.
She had been the Queen of Scalloped Potatoes in her family and was equally famous for her jam; notorious for her spinach soup and a celebrated maker of macaroni and cheese with jalapenos for the boys when they came home.
Now the peaches were coming in and the markets were popping and she should want to cook and bake. She would ordinarily have flown into a panic of pesto when the basil bloomed but not this year. Not for some years, who was she kidding? It was a lost language.
And then Aaron called to explain that all he wanted, all he really fancied at this point, was a dish of canned peaches. Not from a tin, but the bottled variety, perhaps with a smidge of brandy smuggled in. Only Aaron could slide through a crack in the fortress, she realized as she went to market and bought up a basket of perfect Red Havens.
Alone in the kitchen, she gazed at the brandy bottle and at the peaches and tried to remember what to do with either. One memory fresher than the other, yet just as unwelcome. But Aaron. She could hardly turn down a request sent by text that likely took a good half hour to type. And he was part of that other time when things were luscious and promising, when life was fecund, not fallow. The field metaphor, the playing field back in the game insinuations: she’d walked away from it all, and with it went cooking and wisecracks and all of it. But tonight she was peaceful as the aroma of the peaches began to fill the kitchen. As she began to warm to the idea of just one more effort, if supposedly for Aaron, lying in hospice with his simple request and his big grin. There was no delaying such an ask, you got to it and delivered. It had once been the way of her life to be that prompt and that decisive about everything but not lately. Not for a long time and she had no idea why, what had caused it. Divorce was not the end of the world, and people lost their parents every day. It was something else.
She canned the peaches while listening to Pablo Casals, the window open and the neighbour’s cat in full August voice. Aaron would have no more such mundane evenings at home. She eyed the brandy then dumped it down the sink after sloshing a half-snifter into the peaches. A near miss in the name of love: she had been sober for nine months.
The next morning Belle hurried into a clean shirt and drove down to the hospice where he waited for his peaches as if he had set a stop-watch by her reliability. This pleased her and then she felt ashamed of her own ego under the circumstances. They sat in the dining room overlooking a bird-covered bright-green lawn as he nibbled at the peaches.
“Red Havens,” he noted as if tasting a vintage Cab. “Fabulous.” She caressed his thin hand and held her breath against the aroma of the brandy wafting between them as he sipped the syrup, smacked his dry lips.
She wished someone else had been chosen but that was never how it worked. She leaned in and kissed him full on the mouth and he grinned. A first, and now of all times, his dancing eyes seemed to say.
“I love you,” he said, swatting at her as she stood to go. She kissed him again with less force, then drove home feeling spied into and sad. The kitchen was scrubbed, David Bowie’s “Letter to Hermione” poured from the stereo speakers and her daughter sat waiting at the table with a bushel of tomatoes from the farm stand.
“Peel,” her daughter directed. “There’s three more bushels in the garage. I’ve been doing without your pasta sauce for long enough now.”
The text message came about an hour later. She winced at the effort it must have cost him. “Now get on with it, you. One basket’s worth doesn’t count.”
(c) Marnie Woodrow 2013