I am preparing aioli at the island in my sunny kitchen, one of my favorite things to do. It’s a recipe that requires both muscle and love in equal parts. The muscle is in the whisking of the egg yolks, with the bowl and the whisk held just so, a warmth spreading to my shoulder as the yolks turn foamy and pale. The love comes with the addition of the other ingredients: chopped garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, each added to the mixture with only my practiced eye to measure them. I’ve made aioli a thousand times, I’m sure, and it’s never failed to be perfect.
I sprinkle the sauce with salt and pepper and set the bowl in the refrigerator. In an hour, Dan will spoon it over grilled salmon. My attention is now on the salad greens, the baby asparagus, the meringue shells that will hold raspberries and fresh cream for dessert. So many things to keep track of, but the kitchen has always been my kingdom, where I can spin my magic with homely ingredients toted from the market in canvas bags.
Midway between the range and the refrigerator, I pause with the nnnnnnn of white noise crowding my thoughts. I stare at the polished wood bowl on the countertop, the curious implement in my hand, and I have no idea what I was about to do.
Dan appears in the entryway, grinning. “Olives in the salad, hmmm? My favorite…” I squint, tilt my head; he indicates the device I’m holding and says, “Olives, darling. In the salad. Been sampling the wine already?”
It’s a pitter for the kalamata olives. Of course it is. I return to the salad, shaking the sludge from my brain. Dan has wisely slipped away; our marriage flourishes because he stays away from my domain and I avoid his workshop in the basement. Dan’s hands made the salad bowl, mine will make the salad. I run my fingertips over its satiny surface and it seems that I can feel every molecule, my senses more acute than ever, the earlier blurred moment gone and forgotten.
At dinner, I happily wait for Dan to take the first bite. His eyes always tell me the degree of my success in the kitchen—if they widen with pleasure, he has experienced a new and seductive taste, and if they slowly close, he’s reliving some previously discovered delight. Tonight, his eyes narrow at his plate of salmon as if it has just said something offensive. He holds his fork in midair. “Sweetheart?” he says.
I taste my fish. The aioli is horrible—too much olive oil, not enough lemon, grossly oversalted.
A rush of heat spreads over my scalp. “I—I was distracted,” I say. “There was a…a wasp in the kitchen. And…” I stammer, my cheeks tingling. “It was…a wasp.” I stare at my plate, at the offending sauce.
Dan is silent for a few moments, then he stands and takes my hand. “Let’s go to Pietro’s,” he says. “We haven’t eaten out in months.”
In the car on the way to the bistro, Dan pulls my hand to his lap. I think about my mother.
She was playing a Chopin polonaise, the E flat minor. It was her favorite, and she knew it so well that her fingers seemed to play it in any idle moment: on her lap during the sermon, on the arm of the chair while she watched the news. But she was at the piano now, and when she reached the crescendo, I put down my book, ready for my heart to be filled. Inexplicably, the music stopped. She backed up a few measures and approached the crescendo again—again stopping mid-measure and looking at her hands as if they had betrayed her.
After that day, the music slowly spun away from her spirit, leaving her empty, puzzled, agitated. My father, also a musician, played the Chopin at her funeral.
When we return from the restaurant, Dan trots down the basement stairs, whistling, to his lair of tools and hardwood, and I stand in my lovely kitchen with the sun’s rays slanting over every surface. I am not ready to give Dan instructions for my funeral meal. With the polonaise playing in my brain, I start to unload the dishwasher and begin planning tomorrow’s dinner: a quiche with caramelized onions and feta, a minted fruit salad, crisp ginger cookies.
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