by Ali Berlow
She watched him as he stood there concentrating on peeling a plum with the sharpest part of a long blade—close to the handle. The late afternoon sun beamed through the unraveling length of the red-purple skin. Juice dripped on the stainless steel counter. She didn’t remember ever seeing him peel a plum that way before and wondered when or where he’d learned it. And his blue shirt—that was new too. But she’d just woken up from a sweaty nap and knew better than to try to speak. Her thoughts were murky, her tongue was thick and words were difficult to form. Fruit and fashion would have to wait. She felt an unquenchable thirst and drank from the kitchen faucet, where she splashed cool water on her face.
He’d renovated their kitchen while she was away on “her sabbatical.” That’s what they euphemistically called their time apart. She came home to custom cabinets, a new refrigerator, dishwasher, and a six-burner stove—the kind that looks commercial but really isn’t. When they’d talked over those many months, their conversations were a kind of emotional high wire act about things like the pros and cons of gas convection ovens and when, if at all, she thought she might be coming back.
He’d made most of the remodeling decisions right down to what kind of doorknobs and light switches to install, because that’s what he had to do. She couldn’t, or wouldn’t, summon the energy nor the interest for minutiae like cabinet pulls. There was no room inside of her for details like that. And if he wanted walnut hardwood fl oors even though she felt they were extravagant and showy. “Let him have them,” she figured, “if it makes him happy.”
That afternoon she felt like an interloper—an impostor in this new kitchen that he’d created for the two of them. He’d built the space on top of the remnants of a marriage and a life that had fallen away and nearly disintegrated. She looked around for clues, any traces or odds and ends to reassure her that she did belong there, if she wanted to.
The drawers glided open and closed with ease. She found her vegetable peeler, garlic press, lemon zester, and chop sticks. Her favorite knife, the one with the broken tip, was in the holder, and it was even sharp. The kitchen towels and potholders
were all folded and stored next to the stove—her spice cabinet had been reorganized and labeled. He’d put in electrical outlets on the island for appliances like the food processor and the slow cooker. It was very clean and uncluttered. Even the sponges were new. Everything had a place, and it seemed like everything was in it, except for the corkscrew, which she couldn’t find. He watched her with curiosity as she opened a bottle of wine with only a butter knife and a knotted piece of kitchen string.
She poured two glasses of red, and he offered her a slice of the naked plum. She took it even though it looked like some kind of organ dripping blood, but she didn’t say anything. Without the skin the fruit tasted pure and uninterrupted. He finally spoke and said, “I like your hair short like that,” and she said, “You look nice in your new blue shirt.”