Jessica worried for her husband. He wasn’t himself. Jim was flattened by his job, and he was eating more. His belly took-on an unusual shape. His eyes were going dead, like a comatose bear, hibernating all the time. Jim wasn’t even interested in sex, which had Jessica worried…
He woke up tired and he came home tired. They lived in a suburban Stepford neighborhood, next to a greenbelt that connected to a national forest. Jessica kept herself fit, but even she was starting to lose energy. She ran on the trail, and her pace slowed, until she was walking. She still had her looks at 32, but she noticed the other women on the trail—there was no light behind their eyes; it was like they had gone unloved for years. Her friends were older, and their husbands worked at Microsoft. She was late… It was tea at ten. She knocked on the door and waited.
“Jessica, how are you?” Lisa asked.
“You’re obviously not fine; now, tell us all about it,” Barbara said.
“Jim and I haven’t had sex in over a month.”
“Oh, is that all…? Honey, you’ll get used to that. Our husbands are like teenage boys that never grew up. We put them to work, and on the weekends, they want to play golf. There’s nothing you can do about it—we’re just different… best to find a restaurant that you like, and we’ll all take turns paying. Girls have to support each other, you know?” Lisa was wearing a leather skirt with a leopard blouse that displayed her cleavage. Even at 50, she demanded looks from younger men.
“I just can’t accept that; Jim and I had something special; I think he’s working too hard, and the work isn’t making him happy.”
“Sounds like my husband,” Barbara said. “He works all day and then comes home and complains about it. I swear, that man just likes to complain; that’s why he works, so he can complain.” Barbara laughed, a high-pitched sarcastic laugh, that didn’t disguise her disappointment.
“Where are you traveling to, next?” Lisa asked.
“Well, my daughter is learning Spanish while she lives in Panama. I’m going to visit her this summer. Aubrey says the Panamanian men are devils.” Barbara curled her tongue and her eyes went bright for a moment, as if passion possessed her, and then they went dark again. She frightened Jessica—not with her words, but with the hope that was barely hanging on. Barbara and Lisa spent money to get their husbands’ attention, and who knows what else they did for it. It made Jessica want to be by herself. “I’ve got to go,” she said.
“But you just got here,” Lisa complained. “Let me show you the video of my son singing—he’s really talented.”
“Maybe some other time; I have to switch the laundry and do some errands, and I have this headache—it just won’t go away.
“Take a Percocet,” Barbara suggested. “That’s what I do. It really takes the edge off.”
“That’s okay; I’m fine. I’ll just make myself a pot of tea.”
“Take care of yourself, honey,” Lisa said. “You’ll get used to this life, just wait. What you need is a baby.”
Jessica left the three-story house and walked the block and a half to their one-story rambler next to the woods. They were technically in the neighborhood, but their house didn’t belong. It was like the gardener’s cottage next to the royal estates, but Jessica loved the sounds of the trees when the wind blew through them, and the simple kitchen where the solution always seemed to be, but she hadn’t thought of it yet. The sun gave her cabinets a bright glow, and the teapot whistled. It was her favorite sound. Things would be perfect if her husband was happy. It didn’t matter where they lived, as long as it felt like they were alive. Tea always caused Jessica to think, and it warmed her up inside, like a fire in a log cabin. She sensed tingling in her toes, like the magic discovered in the late afternoon when the sun is setting. It was red, shining through the pine trees when she went for her second walk. The trail was wide and then it twisted into a footpath. Jessica thought it best to turn around because she might meet anybody—rapists, thieves, murderers… She was scaring herself; then she heard a conversation. It was jovial and full of life, and rather than running away, she came closer. Medieval tunes were playing, a jester was juggling torches, and the trail ended in a clearing where the most delicious fresh foods were being sold. Corn on the cob, boiling in a black pot; pink cotton candy, wrapped around a brown sugar stick; fresh strawberries, more sensual than a woman’s red lips. There were so many foods to choose from, and the farmers all had rosy cheeks and friendly smiles. There was cheese and wine; green beans that were supple and cracked with a popping sound, bringing good ideas into the head. And the Carmel corn was sweet, with glazed brown sugar.
If I could bring this food home, and feed my husband, he would be happy, Jessica thought. The prices were very reasonable.
“How do you stay in business?” She asked a balding man who ran the market. He wore a green apron and had accounting eyes.
“Well, we avoid shipping costs, because everything is home-grown, and rather than selling food for a profit, we do it to fill people up—makes them happy, if you know what I mean? And when you make people happy, it makes you happy. Everyone here has discovered that secret and keeps practicing it. Plus, the food keeps us healthy, and we barter with each other, which allows us to live within our means.”
Jessica thanked him and paid. She had four big brown-paper bags filled with produce. If one can package hope, she held it in her hands. It should’ve weighed more than it did. Jessica didn’t think she was that strong; maybe hope isn’t heavy, she thought; it’s not a burden, because it makes one lighter. And she walked through the woods and found herself in her warm kitchen again, like the market was in her mind, all the time. She steamed the green beans and cut the yellow corn off the cob. She arranged the strawberries, and poured the wine. It was all so perfect when Jim came home. He went for the couch and the TV, but then stopped, turning around.
“Did you make that?” He asked.
“Yes!” Jessica said. She bounced up and down. And Jim rediscovered his wife that night—her curly blonde hair and sensuous love. Sometimes the solution is only a walk away. You have to keep looking for it. It speaks to you in your secret spot. That place was Jessica’s kitchen, where she knew the magic would happen, if only she had the right ingredients.