BY JILL MALLECK
Copyright is held by the author.
SHE’D LEARNED that the main thing about living alone was you had to be really, really careful not to hurt yourself. Sarah was making her famous peach pie for the kids. Since the funeral they took turns coming over for dinner and it was Glory’s turn tonight. The peaches were over-ripe, perfect actually, and then the knife slipped in her juicy hand and her stomach dropped into her legs and she felt afraid. She dropped the knife on the counter and had a look. Just a scratch. Gordie had kept all the kitchen knives sharp for her, and the tiny paring knife, least used in the drawer, was holding its own. Her stomach trembled. All the danger in the world was available in her neat, tidy cottage kitchen; stabbing, banging one’s head, a fall off the stool, third degree burns – even pestilence and botulism.
Out of her own mouth, Gordie’s steady voice: “Afraid of a peach pie — nonsense!”
Smartly she dried her wet hands on a clean towel and turned to the iPhone to open a new album. Might as well let Babs belt out her grief. Although Gordie hadn’t done himself in (not on purpose, anyway). And, truth is, he never quite took her breath away like Kris Kristofferson did.
She covered the pie and trusted the parer again to slice vents in the top. Once it was in the oven, Sarah turned to the red-skinned P.E.I.s, taking up the just-as-sharp peeler. She spread yesterday’s Sports section into the sink, and quickly calculated how many fewer spuds she’d need. Seemed like she was always calculating her reduced needs. Came almost naturally to expect less.
Out the kitchen window she saw Diane trimming the grass along her driveway’s edge. Why does she bother? She knew why. Since Bob left, with the gorgeous mother of one of the kids he coached no less, Diane had taken up the yard work. In the 16 years they’d been neighbours, it had always been Bob mowing, and trimming, raking and shovelling. She’d never seen Diane so much as glance down at the grass. The woman had become meticulous about the yard, at the same time she’d let herself go. Sarah had seen Diane crawling across the lawn, pulling dandelions one-by-one and pouring salt in the wounds. She wondered if Bob was mowing the baseball mom’s lawn today.
Babs sang it. Are you watching me now, Sarah asked Gordie? See Diane? See what he’s done to her? What a jerk. At least you didn’t humiliate me like that. I’d rather have this then that any day.
But it didn’t matter what she’d rather. She knew that. It wasn’t even up to her. Not something she’d ever considered. This losing Gordie so soon, so fast. They had never talked about it (yet). Gordie had been as chagrined as she was to see Diane suffering. Guilty on Bob’s behalf. I’d never leave you, he’d said. I know, she said.
The potatoes were peeled, and she set them in cold water while she got out the big (no, medium) pot. Filled it with fresh water, poured in the salt. Gary had been over last night, and it had been him who’d needed comforting, not her. Gary preferred pasta to potatoes, so she made spaghetti and sausage. One nice thing about grown kids, you could cook what they wanted instead of insisting they eat what you made. No more having to be the bad guy. Gordie was always the easy one, the fun one. Except when he wasn’t there.
Gary was worried about Emmy. She was in Edmonton, at the university, studying Political Science. It wasn’t going well, she was homesick he said. How sick, Sarah asked. She was depressed, but not wanting to come home. He thought there was a boy involved.
Emmy was always a sensitive soul, I reminded him. She used to cry if you raised your voice even a notch. Remember the time she got the splinter running on the deck. She’d only let your Dad near her. It took him twenty minutes to pry that out with my tweezers. Telling Emmy a story the whole time. God, he was a patient man.
She’s cutting herself, he’d said. What? Sarah thought he meant she’s cutting classes. Everyone skips classes when they have a break-up, she’d said. No, Mom, cutting herself. They do that now. Actually, cut their arms and their wrists. But it’s not to kill themselves. We talked to a psychologist on campus. It’s common now, especially in girls. In some way, when their emotions are too high, or stuck inside them, they cut themselves to release it. What it does to the nerves is give some sort of relief. Like a physical release. It works. It becomes a habit.
He’d seen her startle. Chewing, listening, she’d bit into the side of her cheek, was all. It woke him up then, her blunt face reminding him who he was talking to. It’s okay, Mom, the school has it under control. Let’s talk about how you’re getting on. Is there anything around here you want me to look after?
The water was at full boil now, time to chop the potatoes. Out the window, she saw Diane had moved to the sidewalk. She had the special spade that Bob used to slice the edge of the sod. It was annoying how he’d leave a good inch of empty space between the cement and the grass. What was so attractive about that tiny gap? What was so unattractive about Diane?
Sarah found the grand French knife. Such an impressive tool. Gordie’s favourite for almost everything. He liked the heft of it in his big hands. Liked to get things done, fast and efficient. Always rinsed the blade, wiped it dry and put it safely right back in the drawer.
Sarah hadn’t really spoken to Diane about Bob. She’d come over when she heard about Gordie, of course, right away. She’d have been at the funeral (can’t say, but of course). Sarah watched Diane pound the flat of her shoe into the shovel. Press her shoulders up to her ears. Diane’s car was parked in the drive, pointed toward the street the way Bob had always backed it in.
Sarah reached over and turned off the potatoes. Set the oven timer to switch it off in 45 minutes. Stepped up to the sink and slid the window open as wide as it could go. Poked the phone screen to stop a star from being born. She laid the clean French blade across her open palm, felt the cool steel resting there.
“Diane,” she shouted. “Diane . . . can you come over quick? I’ve cut myself.”