Housework is always a drag...
by Erin Halfelven
Chapter 1 - Joy of Cooking
Aaron came in early, mid-afternoon really, and found me in the kitchen, peeling and cutting up onions under running water. I glanced at him but I didn't say anything. If you open your mouth while cutting onions that way, it makes you cry anyway and I’d had enough of crying recently.
He took in what I had on, a simple black shirt dress with green placket pockets, low-heel green pumps, and some costume jewelry including a strand of fake pearls around my neck. "About the Beav, dear," he said.
He had his topcoat over his arm and his briefcase in the same hand. He propped the satchel on a dining room chair and dropped the coat over it then walked to the other cutting board and stole a handful of sliced carrots. "Can't get over how good you look in that stuff," he said, stuffing his face with carrot slices. "If you wore your long blond wig, no one would know you weren't Donna Reed's kid sister."
I snorted again. I let him raid the carrots because I could quickly peel and chop enough to replace what he ate. He'd probably had no lunch, he often didn't but now I started to worry about just why he might have come home early.
"What happened?" I asked, sliding the peeled and quartered onions onto a pile of paper towels to drain. I moved my head away from the fumes and kept my nose closed while I spoke. The last thing I needed was to start crying again.
"You first, Willie," he said. "I bet it's more dramatic." He grinned at me, showing a few flecks of orange carrot he hadn't swallowed yet.
"If you're hungry, I can make you a sandwich," I offered, stalling. I made motions at my teeth and nodded toward him.
He considered it while cleaning carrot off his teeth with his tongue. "Poof, I’m a sandwich? Actually, a sandwich sounds good," he said. "Give me time to put this stuff away.” He picked up the topcoat and briefcase again. “Are we having pot roast for dinner?"
"You guessed," I said, deadpan. I already had the meat browned and slow-cooking in my big, deep, stove-top, cast iron oven thingie; the smell filled the room even with the heavy lid in place and I realized that I hadn't had any lunch myself.
He laughed, made a kissy-face at me and went on into the apartment to put his things away. I stuck out my tongue at him but he didn't see that.
While he was gone, I made myself a salad of spinach, cucumber, sliced boiled egg, grated carrot, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I slid half of the same ingredients, plus some cheese and ham cubes, into the food chopper to make sandwich filling. I slathered Dijon mustard on two slices of wheat toast from a Pullman loaf, filled the sandwich and sprinkled the inside with fresh ground pepper before cutting it carefully in two, diagonally. Then I put it on one of the blue-and-red earthenware plates with a pickle spear and some raw spinach and carrot curls for garnish. I poured a glass of 2% for each of us and had my salad half-eaten before he got back.
I had to laugh when I saw him. He'd put on black slacks, a sport shirt, a baggy cardigan and had a pipe in his mouth. He'd even slicked his hair back, hopefully with water and not that oily goop they'd actually used in the fifties. He had the pipe in his mouth bowl-side down and he said around the stem clenched in his teeth, "June."
"Walt," I said, trying for that plastic sitcom brightness but we couldn't hold it--we both cracked up. He looked like a frame from an old Mad magazine. I pulled my phone out of my pocket and snapped his picture. I didn’t think I had smiled all day and at that moment I loved him for making me laugh.
“If you’ll go put on your wig, I’ll take yours, too,” he said. I made a face at him and shook my head.
He sighed and shrugged and mimed his regret then sat at the table and admired the sandwich for a moment. I'd overfilled it slightly and it sat on the plate, almost three inches high, oozing a bit of mustard and cucumber juice. "Willie, I've always known that someday you'd make someone a wonderful wife--I just wasn't thinking it would be me."
I sneered at him. "You thought up that line in the bathroom, I can tell--it stinks." I ate my salad.
He munched on the sandwich and made faces to show how much he liked it.
"Don't try to get out of it," I said. "You write all your best stuff in the bathroom."
He had to take a drink of milk to be able to laugh. "This is really good," he said.
"Where'd you find the pipe?" I asked.
"In the sweater pocket, don't know how it got there. Didn't you use it as a prop once in some theater piece?"
"Probably," I said. I finished my salad and milk and put the plate, glass and utensils in the sink with other things to wash. Then I retrieved a big turnip from the veggie bin and began removing the harder parts of skin, top and point. After I chunked the turnip, it and the onion would go into the pot with the meat and some red wine. I'd turn down the heat a bit, planning to time the meal to be ready around six. The carrots would go into the pot for only half an hour or so, and some fresh snap beans for even less time. Then I'd move the contents to a serving dish and make gravy with the stuff in the bottom of the cooking pan.
I knew Aaron loved gravy, All American Midwestern boy that he was. I planned on bashing the neeps with some garlic to serve under the gravy with spinach salad and hot dinner rolls and the rest of the bottle of cheap red wine. Vanilla bean ice cream and sliced banana for dessert with coffee.
I cook up a storm when I'm depressed.
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