portrait of a sunday [a short story]

“You always smell like dirt,” he said. His back was turned to her, but he’d heard the creak of the screen door and he’d also been expecting her. She’d been in the garden for hours and usually resigned around this time, when the summer air turned syrupy with heat and salt.

“The sunflowers are opening up.” She did smell like dirt. Hyacinths and rosemary, too. Sometimes cardamom. But always dirt. The garden was her happy place. Her lonely place. Her productive place. It was her haven and it always had been, and any time she had an extra moment, and even when she didn’t, she spent it in the garden.

“What about the snap peas?”

“Close, but not yet. Friday.”

She grew the best snap peas in the neighborhood. They were perfect in a spaghetti carbonara. The whole pod. Sweet and crisp. They balanced out the salt from the pancetta and cut through the rich, creamy parmesan. She was planning to make the dish for dinner on Friday using the first snap peas of the season. She’d thought about inviting James and Em over to enjoy the meal, but had decided against it for no particular reason.

She joined him in the kitchen. It was hot. Open windows weren’t enough to tame the heat of the oven which was set to a fierce 425. With her she carried a basket, overflowing with garden goods. Cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, arugula, mint, shallots and four kinds of peppers.

“Wash these for me, babe?”

She handed him the basket and he kissed her gently on the forehead.

He’d already started the polenta, it had thickened up nicely over a low heat. She could smell the extra romano he’d used. A staple in his recipe. A rare occasion where they agreed upon romano over parmesan. She grabbed a baking sheet and lined it haphazardly with parchment paper. Smiling to herself, she spread the polenta across the baking sheet, a quarter of an inch high, and popped it in the oven. She loved Sundays. Savored them. The sun took its time as it set, its reds richer, its pinks warmer.

“White or red?”

“White,” she surprised him.

He grabbed two glasses and found a bottle opener in the top drawer next to the sink.

“The Gavi?”

“That sounds delightful.”

He handed her the bottle and the opener. She never struggled opening wine and with him it was a crap shoot, plus he liked the way her brow furrowed with the first tug of the cork.

She poured two generous glasses, handing him one as she assessed his progress on the sweet onions.

“Smaller,” she whispered in his ear. She couldn’t stand poorly chopped vegetables. One of the few things that could set her sour on a dime.

She checked on the polenta. She knew it wasn’t done, but felt obligated.

“Another ten minutes.”

“Rest, love.”

She sat down and felt the weight of the week run off her shoulders. She enjoyed the wine and the stillness, something only afforded to her on Sunday evenings. Closing her eyes, her other senses heightened. Green apples and soft minerals with a long finish. No oak. She hated oak on wine, didn’t matter if it was red or white. She adored the rhythm of his knife on the weathered wooden cutting board. He was cutting smaller, more precise. The sticky air was dancing with the windchimes they’d brought home from their last trip to Puerto Rico in June to visit his mother.

“Do you remember that dish we had in D.C. last fall?”

“The tartare?”

“Yes,” her eyes still closed. “I was just..,” she trailed off, licking her lips.

It was a tuna tartare in a miso and sesame cone. A perfect blend of ginger, soy and lime. The crisp cone added texture and sweetness to the fresh ahi. Green onions on top. Used more as a garnish, but incomplete, flavorwise, without. They both agreed green onions were underrated.

“This would go nicely with that,” she nodded to her glass of wine and took a sip.

“It would, babe. Yes.”

She rose and met him by the counter. The sun had just passed the horizon, its reds and pinks six feet under, but it had left a glowing gold stain on the Phthalo blue sky. She reached for the arugula he’d washed and also a bowl then made her way to the fridge and took out a jar and a shallow dish from the freezer.

He moved past her on his way to the stovetop and planted another kiss upon her forehead. Reaching for his phone he put on a playlist that started with The Fugees and featured Frank Ocean, A Tribe Called Quest, Daniel Caesar and The Internet. He lit a flame under a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a cast iron skillet and let it heat before adding the sweet onions and shallots.

The arugula was tossed in a kale and walnut pesto she’d made earlier in the week and set to the side after passing a taste test. She was happy she used a whole lemon instead of just half, it came through nicely keeping the earthy blend of greens and nuts bright. She’d made a parmesan gelato earlier in the day. Despite it sounding laborious, the recipe was quick and simple: heavy cream, garlic, Parmigiano-Reggiano and nutmeg. Bind together over medium heat and let cool in shallow dish.

“Babe, can you?” he’d already found hot pads to retrieve the polenta from the oven. Golden brown. Crisp on the outside and tender on the inside. She shot him a smile that said both thank you and I love you.

As the polenta cooled, the onions and shallots finished browning. She diced the cherry tomatoes carefully and let them soak in a red wine vinegar with a pinch of sea salt and a pinch of sugar.

“You think?” he nodded to the polenta.

“I think,” she smiled back.

He plated two square slices and handed them her way. She spread a generous layer of the parmesan gelato on top each piece, followed by the shallots and onions, browned almost to a butter. Delicately and with precision she placed a cluster of the pesto’d arugula on each plate and finished both with the tomatoes.

Frank’s voiced cooed in the background. ‘Good Guy’ was playing. Her second favorite Frank song, at least at the moment, but it wasn’t even in his top 5. He poured them each another glass.

She loved Sundays. Slow. Steady. Full.

Jennifer Universe