Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHILL (10/27/16)
TITLE: A Steady Accumulation of Minor Irritations
By Jan Ackerson
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Wisely, Pete had left the house for a while. Beverly knew he’d be back; the argument had been minor, after all. It wasn’t even an argument, really, but a steady accumulation of minor irritations that had ended with Beverly saying, “And your mother gave me a meatloaf candle last Christmas!” Pete had just narrowed his eyes at her, then he took out his keys and drove away.
Back home with the cookie ingredients, she slammed them enthusiastically into a bowl and stirred with vigor, then checked the back of the recipe card for baking times.
Chill 3 hours in refrigerator before baking.
Beverly snorted and imagined following that instruction literally. There had been summer days when she would happily have chilled for three hours in the refrigerator, her hind end wedged into the bottom shelf, sipping a cold drink.
But this was springtime, and not a warm spring by any means—Beverly was still navigating her days in sweats and socks, her legs unshaven. In fact, that had been one of the accumulated irritants: She’d been curled on the couch, her legs tucked to the side, when Pete sat beside her to watch the morning news. Idly clasping an ankle, he’d crept his hand up her calf, then made a comment that included the word sasquatch.
Pushing the memory of that comment to the corners of her brain, Beverly covered the bowl of cookie dough with plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator, glancing at the clock to calculate when she could anticipate the first warm cookies from the oven. Three hours was plenty of time to do any number of chores—she could even shower and shave her legs—but instead, she grabbed a book and went out to the screened-in back porch. She felt too warm, probably from incipient menopause and lingering irritation, and she welcomed the coolness of the porch on her slightly sweaty neck.
She wasn’t really reading—just thinking about cookies—when she heard Pete pull into the driveway, and then some clatterings and clankings in the garage. Determined not to let go of the annoyances of the morning, she added all that noise to her list and bent more intentionally toward her book, planning to say “Do you mind?” when Pete made an appearance.
But he didn’t come to the porch—instead, she saw him head toward the backyard with a wheelbarrow. He’s been spending money on another harebrained project, she thought, and closed the book around her index finger to watch what he was up to.
He set the wheelbarrow down and started to dig. One hole, two, three…even though the morning was still cool, after the third hole, he stripped off his sweatshirt. Beverly took a deep breath.
Shirtless, he walked toward the house and disappeared into the garage. When he reappeared, he was carrying three small, flowering bushes.
Forsythia! thought Beverly. They were her favorites, but they didn’t really register on Pete’s radar; he’d lived in forsythia-less southern Florida most of his life. She didn’t remember ever mentioning them to Pete, but she must have; after he settled the third bush in its hole, he looked toward the porch and met her eyes, then grinned, nodding toward the plants.
He thoroughly doused the bushes, then pulled his sweatshirt back on and walked to the porch. “Hey,” he said. “Whatcha’ doin’?”
“Just chillin’.” She shivered a little, looking at Pete’s smiling face.
He held out his arms. “Well, I’m kinda sweaty, but…”
“You planted forsythias.”
“Yeah. That’s the right kind, right? The kind in your backyard when you were growing up?”
“How did you…?”
“You told me once. A while ago.”
“Pete…I was kind of terrible earlier.”
He shrugged. “I knew you’d get over it. You always do, if I just give you some time to—”
Beverly jumped out of his arms and ran to the kitchen, pulling the bowl of cookie dough from the refrigerator. She swiped one finger through the mass of dough and held it out to Pete. “The thing about forsythias …” she said as she pulled her finger from his mouth, “…is they can survive…” She leaned in. “…spells of intermittent chill.”
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