Monday, August 23, 2010

Chapter One

Not sure exactly where I'm gonna go with just kinda happened. I'm like to never get around to transcribing and editing older stuff....

It was the day my world caved in; the day of the big rain; the day I burned the cutting board. My sister Laura had stopped by to comfort me. On the phone, I’d told her not to bother, so she claimed she'd just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought she’d stop by and return the shoes she’d borrowed for the wedding. It was a pathetically transparent excuse. As if I would believe in a million years that she’d had the shoes tossed carelessly behind the driver’s seat of her immaculate little black Mazda Miata for days, just in case she happened to be in my neighborhood. Still, I was glad to see her.

She hugged me, murmuring I’m sorrys, and I greeted her in an automatic sort of way. She frowned at me, concern making a thick wrinkle between her eyes, but I only blinked at her silently, not trusting myself to speak. “Why don’t we have some tea and chat a bit?” she said finally in a forced cheerful voice, pretending it was an ordinary day. As if I could think of tea right then. But tea is Laura’s solution to all the ills of the world. I swear, if someone were to show up on her doorstop at two in the morning, missing an arm and dripping blood everywhere, she would cluck her tongue, guide them into the kitchen and say, “Now, you just have a seat for a sec while I make us some tea.”

Laura has one of those fancy electric tea kettle jobbers at home: there is a stand that plugs in, and you set the kettle on top of the stand, press a button, and wait almost no time at all. It makes a noise like a tiny little steam engine—or so I imagine, never having seen or heard an actual steam engine—and hey presto, your water’s hot. Me, on some level I cling to the notions my father drilled into us as we were growing up. He scorned most kitchen devices aside from plain pots and pans and plain honest knives, especially those that were really only good for a single purpose. Although he’s softened up in his old age and now has things he wouldn’t have allowed in the house when we were little, like a garlic press and a toaster, I still hear him in my head whenever I shop for kitchen accoutrements. So even though it takes forever, I still use a regular old tea kettle: a blue enameled one that whistles frantically when it reaches the boiling point, so I don’t leave it to boil dry. Since I’m not a real tea maven, it works for me.

Laura sat down and waited, letting me play hostess, and I rummaged through the cabinets looking for the kettle. When we’d moved in less than a month before, Mark had been the one to put away the odds and ends we didn’t use every day, things we only needed within reach but not within easy reach, so it took me awhile to find it. As I searched, I thought numbly, “Mark was the last one to touch it.” Finally I spotted the blue of it, in the cabinet up above the fridge. We had a cabinet in the same spot in the house where I grew up. My mother never put anything in it but birthday candles and Christmas ornaments: things you practically never needed to get to. But Mark is almost a foot taller than me—six-foot five in his stocking feet—and his idea of “within reach” is a little different from most. It was so him, finding it up there, that it made me momentarily dizzy, and my eyes stung. But I didn’t cry. I gritted my teeth, steeled myself, got a chair and got the blue kettle down, trying not to think of Mark’s big hands setting it up on that shelf, of Mark so close and yet so far. I filled the kettle from the sink, feeling Laura’s eyes on me all the while. I was determined not to fall apart. It wasn’t me. I, Sharon Peters, had never been one to fall apart. I’d never been one of those women who cry at work because someone looked at their dress funny, or one to mope for ages after a break-up.

Sharon Young, I corrected myself suddenly, swallowing hard. I still wasn’t used to my new name. And maybe it was just as well.

I put the kettle on the front left burner, which fit it best. My new green cutting board, the one I’d bought to go with the soothing green and white colors of our kitchen, was laying across the back burner behind it: a bad place for it. Mark had done that as well, I thought, just the night before: he’d put it aside after using it while he used the counter space for something else. I laid my hand on it for a moment, but left it where it was. It was well back, not in the way of the kettle. I think a part of me felt that if I left it alone, he’d come back to wash it and put it away. I switched on the burner to heat the water and turned away from the stove. Laura still sat expectantly at the table. “Well,” she said, “are you OK?”

“No!” I wanted to scream. “Of course not. I’ve been married just over a month—a month!—to the most incredible man I’ve ever met, and this morning he was gone, just like that. How could I possibly be OK?” All of a sudden, despite the cutting board, despite the tea kettle’s high-rise storage location, the house felt so empty, so full of Mark’s absence that I couldn’t breathe. “Let’s go outside,” I said. “The water will take awhile to heat.”

Even the weather had betrayed me. After weeks of gorgeous early summer—all sunshine and blue skies and big puffy clouds—that day dawned cold and grey. It was the day of the big rain, I said, but the torrential downpour hadn’t started as of yet, didn’t come until evening. In the early afternoon, it was just a dense drizzle. We stood on the porch where it was dry, but were still surrounded by the cold breath of the rain. It clung to our clothes and pulled our hair down, plastering it to our cheeks; it made me shiver even in my heavy blue cardigan—the oversized square-shouldered one Mark used to tease me about. He said it made me look like a big US Mail Box. “Tell me again what happened,” Laura said, though I had told her all I knew twice on the phone already.

I took a deep breath of the misty air, clutching my elbows. “There isn’t much to tell. Last night everything was just as usual, so far as I can remember. Mark made stir fry for supper. I dished up raspberries and vanilla ice cream for dessert. We sat and read for awhile. We each had a glass of wine. At eleven, we watched the news.” It was too much detail, but I couldn’t escape the feeling that I’d missed something. I must have missed something. If I thought hard enough—

“And then?” Laura prompted gently.

I shrugged. “And then we—we went to bed. There weren’t any phone calls or anything that I know of. I don’t remember Mark getting up in the night. But when I woke up—” I had to stop and take a deep breath again. “When I woke up he was gone, with just a few of his clothes, and there was a note on the kitchen table.” Held down by his wedding ring. I couldn’t bring myself to reveal that fact. Not yet.

Laura looked distracted, which made me angry. If she was going to insist on my telling the story again, she could at least have the courtesy to listen. Her nose wrinkled. “What’s that smell?” she asked.

“What smell?” I said, but then I caught a whiff of it too: a thick, waxy smoke smell, like extinguished candles. It came from the kitchen. I rushed in, and found the cutting board smoking. Everything was still so new to me, I was still so unfamiliar with my new house and my new kitchen that I’d turned on the back burner instead of the front. Without stopping to think, I switched off the burner, snatched up the cutting board and ran outside with it, holding it out in the rain. In my mind, I revisited the day Mark and I, just back from our honeymoon to Nova Scotia, picked out the kitchen things. We went to a big box store that had everything you could think of: the usual pots in pans in prices from ground level to the stratosphere, knives in every shape and size and material, towels and pillows and curtains and comforters, grapefruit spoons, cutesy covers for spare toilet paper, place mats shaped like slices of fruit. We went through every aisle, picking out what we liked, ridiculing some of the sillier items, laughing, laughing. I remembered how I’d fallen in love with the color of this particular cutting board, even though it wasn’t the wood board some fancy chefs recommended. It was a pale green plastic, like new leaves, with little golden-brown speckles. It made me think of springtime, of new beginnings. In my mind, in an odd sort of way, I suppose it represented our marriage. I pulled it in out of the rain, dripping wet. One side was still OK, but on the back, there was a spiral-shaped scorch mark melted into the plastic, an enormous blemish.

“Well,” said Laura, “At least you didn’t burn the house down.”

I burst into tears.

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