The Kitchen (Version II)

“That’s too much salt.”

“It’s not.”

“It is.”

He hung over her shoulder like a new pupil in a gourmet kitchen. He loved food. But with all his culinary admiration, cooking was one of the few things he hadn’t been able to master. That’s why he loved when she cooked. It didn’t matter what she made. He loved everything.

“I’m making it the same way I always make it.”

“And you always put in too much salt.”

She looked up from the pan quizzically to say, “Was that not you who said I need more salt the last time I made this exact thing?”

He pursed his lips out answering, “I know not of what you speak dear lady.”

He smiled, hard and magnificently. She smiled as well, shaking her head in gentle laughter. Turning her attention back to the pan, she sprinkled in more seasoning. First, a few twigs of Rosemary. After a minute, she added oregano. She gently turned the meal with a wooden spoon. Tasting it, next she added a large pinch of Saffron.

“I want a taste.”

“No.”

“What? Why?”

“You know why. We had this talk already.”

“Lady, you are really mean.”

“Yes”, she said in a monotone manner. “Yes I am”.

There was love there. It had always been there. They met in high school; dated and grew apart in college. Fate would see them meet again as both became interns for the same company. They dated again, later marrying and producing a daughter: Helena.

He left his job with company while she remained. He became the only house-husband on their street and in their combined family. Although most saw this as weird, it worked for them. She worked and cooked. He took care of the home…and ordered pizza.

Throughout her creation, he paced back and forth through-out the house. He was blasé at the moment. There wasn’t much to do until dinner was ready. Getting bored easily was his way. If Helena was at home, he’d have plenty to do. But this wasn’t one of times.

He was ready to give up when she called from the kitchen. “Babe, could you set the table, please?”

He scurried like an overly excited puppy.

“Just three place settings”, she insisted.

“Gotcha!” he returned.

Around the table he went. Plates, bowls, forks, spoons, knives, drinking glasses; everything needed for a family mean. Just as he put the last glass in place he heard a car in their driveway. He moved to the window to look out. It was the forest green Subaru that belonged to her dad. The engine ceased and out stood a a silver-maned lady from the drivers side. From the passenger side, all he could see was two feet, clad in a pair of tennis shoes that lit up intermittently. The passenger door closed to reveal Helena, backpack slung over her shoulder and her usual ponytail in place.

She walked in behind him and looked over his shoulder and out the window. “Good timing”, she began. “Dinners ready and they’re here at the same time”.

“Ooo…Time to go.”

“Sam, no! Stay…just this once. They’ll both be happy to see you.”

“Helena? Yeah. Totally happy to see her dad. You mother? Meeeehhhh…Not so much.”

“She hasn’t seen us together in over a year. Neither has Helena.”

“And for the first part of your sentence, not seeing me is a good thing. Not until we get my… ‘visitation guidelines’ ironed out.”

“But…just this once? Just for now?”

“I don’t make the rules Nora. We’ll get through this trial period in no time. We just have to be patient. They can’t know I’m here. No one can know…for now.”

She sighed softly. Although she didn’t like his answer, she knew he was right. He touched her cheek lightly. She closed her eyes and let her head slip into his hand. Behind her, the front door opened. She turned to see Helena bound in, cheerful as usual. Her mother came in behind her, trench-coat draped over her arm.

“MOMMY!”, Helena screamed as she streaked across the living room and into her mothers arms.

Helena’s mother walked over, saying, “Why is it so cold in here? Is the AC on full blast or something. And what are you cooking? It smells great.”

“That’s Paella”, Helena interjected. “It’s daddies favorite. I know that smell anywhere.”

“That’s my smart girl. Such a brilliant mind…just like her dad.”

“Speaking of Sam… Nora? We need to talk.”

“Lightning-bug? Go upstairs and put your bag on your study desk, then get cleaned up for dinner.”

“Okay mommy.”

Helena bolted out the living room and disappeared up the stairs. For a second, neither woman said a thing. It was like an old western showdown. They faced each other attempting to size the other up. It was the matron of the family that spoke first.

“Sam was here again, wasn’t he?”

“How…? How did you know?”

“You made paella. You only make it for Sam. And its colder than a nuns habit. Do I need to call father Thomas for an exorcism?”

“Mom, don’t start.”

“Don’t sta-”, she stammered. “Nora, he can not be here”, she said sternly. “You know that. I know that. HE knows that!

“I don’t want to talk about this”, Nora posited. She moved hard around her mother and headed for the kitchen. Her mother followed close behind.

“Nora, we have to talk about this. This isn’t normal.”

“Nothing Sam and I ever did was normal, mom. This will work out. He promised me that and hes never lied to me.”

“How can having a ghost inn the house be work out to anything other than…heartache and danger.”

“Mom, you’re going to have to trust me. Don’t tell anyone about Sam, especially Helena. I promised him I wouldn’t tell anyone. So keep quiet.”

Nothing else was said. Nora went about grabbing the food and putting it on the dining room table. Her mom stood by and watched, trying to think of a way to broach the subject again. She didn’t get a chance. As Nora placed a pot of rice on the table, Helena came strolling back in. She sat in her customary seat, facing the big window, looking out onto the porch swing.

“Mom? Lets just eat. We can talk later, after Helena has her bath.”

The eldest of the ladies walk to sit at the far end of the table. Before she could sit, the youngest stopped her.

“Grandma, that’s daddy’s seat. Sit down here with me.”

She paused. Sighing, she walked slowly to the opposite end and sat down. Nora passed out the food in complete silence. As they ate, the porch swing began swinging gently in the autumn breeze. Helena noticed and started a new conversation.

“Mommy, Father Thomas told me that daddy is always with us because he loved us so much.”