The frost date has passed. I know this because Isabel is planting rosemary and lemongrass when I come home from work. My wife is full of seasonal rituals, making a calendar for the marking of time unnecessary.
“Hi there,” she calls, motioning with a spade for me to join her. She’s working in the circular herb garden, surrounded by embedded stones. A six foot post, topped with a birdhouse, towers above her.
I set my gym and computer bags on the deck and step down onto the lawn in my wing tips which will now need polishing as the yard has grown unruly. Should’ve started mowing several weeks ago—maintenance is truly the bane of man’s existence. I sit myself in the middle of the concrete bench so it and I won’t topple over. Made that mistake before.
Isabel’s attention has returned to hole-digging. She’s wearing a sun-yellow wrap skirt with lavender colored ties and pockets, one of her creations. I remember sighing last November when she pulled out the sewing machine—time for storm windows to go up.
“How was your day?” she asks.
“Oh, goodness—anything but that!” Not a trace of malice touches her smile. She scoops fertilized soil from a bag that’s been ripped haphazardly near the top and sifts it into the waiting holes, picking out a few dark clumps, breaking them apart. The dark spray landing on her skirt looks like Oreo crumbs. Her oval face is also dusted with potting soil mix, yet she’s beautiful.
The rules said I could only have one woman, so I chose carefully. But what would our pastor say if I told him the routine, the responsibilities of life, of family, pressed daily upon my chest? The incremental accumulation just now noticeable.
I know what he’d say, so I keep quiet.
“What’s wrong, Thad?” Her body shifts back toward the heels of her green, plastic clogs. She stabs the spade into the ground.
“Nice try. Now what’s got you down?”
I lean sideways and pinch off a sprig of the rosemary waiting in a pot. She’s close to planting it, burying it in the ground—never to be moved again.
“I miss having smorgasbords,” I say.
“You know—that awesome variety of hot and cold food spread out on one table. I'd alternate between something hot to warm me and something cold to cool me. Nothing ordinary about smorgasbords.”
“Your mother made those, didn’t she?”
“The last one the Easter before she passed away. Then you and I got married . . . and well . . . the smorgasbord stops at marriage.” I roll the rosemary between my thumb and finger, practically tasting lamb chops. “Where’s the dill?”
“Behind the birdbath. Why?”
The following afternoon, there’s no Isabel in the herb garden when I come home. Instead I find her and a hundred competing smells coming from the kitchen. “Close your eyes,” she says, bobbing in front of me, her form bringing new appeal to one of my mother’s old aprons, teal daisies faded. “Don’t you open them,” she warns.
It’s obvious what she’s done. She kissed me goodbye in the morning, bee-lined to the Internet, then shopped for and prepared everything listed under Smorgasbord. She didn’t get that I wasn’t really talking about an array of food. That’s not what's wrong.
She leads me to the dining room before releasing my hand. “Wait a sec,” she says. “Okay, you can open them. Ta-dah.” She’s holding an oblong platter, her prize—a congealed salmon. I think that’s dill under the gelatin.
We’ve been lying in bed ten minutes; I can barely move. I’m regretting the caution I smacked out of the park when I gorged on bread, headcheese, sour cream herring, steaming potatoes with white sauce, peas, cabbage rolls, and rice porridge. And, of course, the aspic. I’ll be amazed if I survive the night. A moan squeezes past my distended diaphragm.
“You don’t sound like you’re doing very well,” says Isabel, rollling to my side. She kisses my forehead several times. Her fingers feel cool at my temples. “Gee, honey,” she whispers, with what may be a trace of malice. “Who would’ve thought indulging one’s appetite for smorgasbord could cause such pain?”
I’m glad it’s dark and she can’t see the frozen expression mapped across my face. Couldn’t be satisfied with a woman of beauty alone—could I? This is what I get for wanting brains, too.
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