The Fruits of His Labor
John uncorked the bottle and poured the wine, the merlot glistening like blood in the candlelight.He contemplated the thin neck of the pink wineglass. Pink. Christ. As if he were some fucking fruit. He shook his head, setting the glass back on the pristine tablecloth. The shit he put up with for that woman.
He folded the gray cotton napkin. Tonight he’d make the swan he’d been practicing with the tin foil. Maybe a rose petal for the beak.
More shit for her.
The timer sounded in the kitchen on her state-of-the-art range she’d “had to have.” It’d cost him an extra week in New York, but “everyone had it.” So he’d lined up more clients, worked more than a lawyer with a newly-passed bar exam, and logged twenty hour days, seven straight.
She’d been so appreciative.
John finished the curve of the swan’s neck. He’d have to go to her rose garden out back for the petal. Another thing she’d “had to have.” The gardener cost him more than the range and he couldn’t help wonder if he was paying in more than just cash with all the visits listed on this month’s bill.
He went into the gourmet kitchen. Why she had to have all the granite and tile and stainless appliances, he had no idea. They’d been in the house a month and she hadn’t gone anywhere near it. He wondered how much a chef would cost.
He turned the burner off and looked for the potholders. Couldn’t find a damn useful thing is this mausoleum. Hell, it’d taken him a good ten minutes to find the pot. He slammed the drawers—well, as much as they could be slammed since she’d ordered the self-closing kind. Damn it. A man couldn’t even take out his frustration on a fucking drawer.
Fuck it. He reset the timer. He still had to get that petal.
He pulled on his Wellies by the mudroom door. Two more of her “must haves:” special boots for walking in the yard, and the mandate to leave them by the mudroom door. When he’d been growing up, his mother had bitched about the muddy footprints, but she’d smiled the whole time, dancing with the mop she’d kept propped against the wall for just that reason. With seven kids, five of them boys, Mom had constantly been cleaning up after them. Careworn and haggard, scraping by on welfare and the kindness of strangers, Mom had somehow managed to keep a smile and she hadn’t had one thousandth of what he now did.
He saw that now. At the time, all he’d seen was the poverty, the laughs and looks from the other kids.
He’d shown them. He’d looked them up after the first million. No one in his graduating class could touch him for the pedigree of his wife, nor financial security. And, Mom, thank God, had had it easy in her final years. He’d assured it.
The rain had fizzled out, but the Wellies squelched in the mulch bed of the rose garden. White, yellow, orange, red, pink. More pink. Another row of pink. How many fucking shades of pink were there? No way was he going to be able to match that glass stem.
The low rumble of thunder in the distance reminded him the timer was ticking. He grabbed a petal from the closest flower, then another just in case he couldn’t get it right.
The door on the mudroom stuck when he returned. He shoved, hearing the weather-stripping screech as it swung inward. Time to call the handyman she’d found for those odds and ends the builder hadn’t gotten quite right.
More cash. Why the fuck had they bought this monstrosity?
Oh, that’s right. She’d wanted it. He’d been happy with the place in Palm Springs and the one on the golf course he’d built before she’d come along. But this place was bigger, had a better address, she’d said.
He started to take off the Wellies after he hung up his coat then decided the hell with it. He’d paid for the house and he could damn well walk around in muddy boots if he wanted.
He made it as far as the door to the kitchen when the guilt got to him. He took off the damn boots and stepped into the slippers that were his normal indoor footwear.
The grandfather clock in the hallway chimed. Damn. He was late.
He bypassed the pot and ran down the long marble corridor back to the dining room, taking the one petal from his pocket. The pointed end slid beneath the fold just as he’d imagined, covering the “beak” perfectly. Gray and pink; the colors of their wedding party. She’d insisted, of course.
He checked the placement of the silverware, the bread plate, the coffee cup and saucer. She’d left the etiquette book on her bedside table for so long he’d had no trouble setting the perfect table for their anniversary dinner.
And she said he never did anything thoughtful for her.
John took one last look at the table then went back to the kitchen. He pulled out the silver serving tray her aunt had sent all the way from England. She’d even told people about it in an English accent, as if it were from the Queen herself. John shrugged. It’s what she’d want.
He walked over to the range and lifted the lid. Their one-year celebration would be perfect.
He carried the laden serving tray back to the dining room, setting everything in its proper place at the table: her left hand he placed on the forks, her right on the spoon. Her spine, sewn together before he’d boiled off the flesh, rested against the chair cushion. Her head he propped on the plant stake he’d lashed to the chair back.
From across the table, he raised his tumbler, ice swirling his Southern Comfort, glowing amber in the candlelight. It was his favorite drink and he no longer cared if she thought it too common. A man was entitled to enjoy the fruits of his labor.
“Happy Anniversary, darling.” He toasted her. “To us. Til death us do part.”
(c) Judi Fennell
I'll be at the PA RenFaire today and hope to check in during the day, but if not, I'll try to check in during the Phillies game tonight. Go Phils!