The last time I cooked dolmades, you told me that for years, out of consideration for my feelings, you had avoided mentioning that dolmades were no longer your favourite dish. That you were so sick of them that it was hard to swallow even the first few mouthfuls.
I realised that our meals had become dull and repetitive, so I stopped cooking dolmades, and found new recipes, using unusual and exotic ingredients. You read a book at the table, leaving the food to get cold, or sometimes eating distractedly. You offered no comment.
You seemed tired. To re-awaken your interest, I wore a daring dress. You told me it was too tight, and that it was time to embrace the dignity of middle age.
How right you were. It is ridiculous for a woman of almost forty to be masquerading as a twenty year old.
I took the new dress to a charity shop, and studied the style of attractive women of my age. I imitated it, and was impressed with the result. I dressed carefully after my morning shower. You glanced in my direction before sitting down to breakfast, and with a frown on your face, you asked me what I had done to my hair.
I hadn’t done anything to my hair. Perhaps that was the problem. I resolved to get my hair cut and blow-dried at the first opportunity.
You mentioned that you were rather tired this morning, as I had kept you awake again, while I thrashed around, trying to get into a comfortable position.
It explained a lot. You had been distant for some time, not paying much attention to the things around you. I saw now that this was because my restlessness was exhausting you. So now, on those wakeful nights while you lay dreaming on the other side of the bed, I slipped carefully from between the sheets, and went downstairs to the kitchen. I sat on a stool drinking cocoa, while looking out of the window at the white picket fence, which had gently enclosed us for so many years, protectively drawing a line between our home and the rest of the world. Even by moonlight I could see that the paint was peeling, exposing the wood beneath it to the elements. I kept reminding myself that I needed to do some work on it to prevent the rot from setting in. Should it stay white, I wondered, or would another colour feel more intimate, more cosy?
One Sunday morning after another sleepless night, I was just about to broach the subject with you, so we could make a decision about colour, when you started talking about Evette, who had come to us for dinner the previous evening.
You said that you couldn’t stand her, that you had never really liked her very much, and that you would be happier if I didn’t invite her to the house when you were there. I was secretly grateful to you for this, as I had noticed a silent tension between the two of you some time ago, and had been unable to disperse it. On the rare occasions when you responded to a remark made by Evette, she would stare disapprovingly into the middle distance, as if you had whipped your trousers off and plunked them on your head. And yet sometimes she would commit a similar faux pas, by speaking to you. That would be your cue to talk over her head, as if you hadn’t heard her.
As Evette and I had always been open with each other, I saw no reason to use tact to avoid collision between them. It felt better to be honest, so, three days later, when I made my usual Tuesday afternoon visit to her after shopping, I explained the situation. She was in the middle of making coffee, and something must have distracted her, because she knocked the cafetière, causing its contents to spill over her, and scald her hand. It fell to the floor, where it shattered, and splashed coffee up the oak cupboards. Tiny fragments of glass dispersed, to lurk, invisible, dangerous, ready to slice into a searching hand or an unwary foot, unless a chance shaft of sunlight caught them.
I jumped up to help Evette, but she backed away. It must have been due to shock from the sudden pain. With her back to me, she stood at the sink, running cold water over the burn. When I commiserated with her, she muttered that she was fine.
As I cleared up the mess, I asked her if she was offended by what I had said about you, and she stridently told me that the feeling was mutual.
As I left, I almost asked Evette if she would help me repaint the picket fence, but a thought skidded across my mind, and was gone so rapidly that all it left was the hint of a tyre mark. For whatever reason, I stayed silent.
The weeks passed. You became more attentive towards me, sometimes bringing me flowers when you returned from work. You said you were sorry for your recent bad mood, and that, as I had suggested, it must have been due to exhaustion. I told you I blamed myself, for all of the times I had inadvertently kept you awake. For an instant, I saw a trio of emotions on your face; pity, melancholy, and the kind of love that is felt for a familiar, well worn teddy bear. Then you held me close and I could no longer see your face. It had been a long time since you held me like that.
Although your appetite had diminished over the past year or more, you were putting on weight. You joined a gym, and went out twice a week, coming back late, energised by your workout, but somehow less accessible.
The extra pounds had cleaved tight to your body, and were refusing to shift, even after you had increased your attendance at the gym to four nights a week.
On those evenings when you were out, I sometimes rang Evette, but she never picked up. She would remind me later that she was having trouble with her phone, or that she had been in the shower. The night before last, while you were out, exercising, I rang her, and got the usual lack of response, so I called her work number yesterday, and when she answered, she said she had been making lemon meringue pie, and she didn’t hear her phone because she had inadvertently put it on silent mode. Then she had gone to bed early without checking for calls.
I thought hungrily about those cakes she made. We both loved to create food. I liked to produce savoury things, while she preferred making cakes and puddings. We had been friends since we were both nineteen. We first met when she moved into the flat adjacent to mine. I had only moved in a few weeks previously. I invited her across for coffee, and it wasn’t long before we discovered we shared a passion for cookery. Our different specialities made us ideal companions. Very soon we were eating together several times a week. I would prepare the main course, and she would come up with the dessert. We pooled money for the ingredients, to make sure that neither of us were out of pocket.
By the time Evette moved out to go and live with the first link in a chain of boyfriends, we were very close. We met frequently, and she still came over a couple of times a month to cook and eat with me. When you and I first met, I told her about you. I told her I wanted you for keeps.
She giggled, and switched to a bad imitation of Dolly Parton’s accent, and she said;
”You got all the ingredients you need to cook up a large spoonful of lovin’, darlin’ Jes’ do as I done; win that man with a big mess of home cooked food.”
And then she added ”I cornered Chris with my lemon meringue.”
This morning you announced that you were leaving me, because you felt I was suffocating you and you wanted to be left alone.
Deep within me, I felt a box open, spilling its contents over me. Chunks of coal black obsidian, covered with signs and symbols, words and actions. Secrets which I had found, and hidden from myself.
While you went upstairs to pack, I rang Evette. She didn’t answer. I texted her.
Then I went to the garden shed, grabbed a mallet, walked across the lawn and demolished the white picket fence.