At first all he could do was lie on their sofa fist-scrunching her brick-red wool blanket to his nose inhaling the lingering traces of her linden soap, the amber warmth of her body. He’d stare at the solemn gray of the idle television where most evenings they had watched Jeopardy her shouting out “Who are the New York Nets!” or “What is Monrovia!” before he’d even opened his mouth
He got up only for the bathroom or to open the door to well-wishers who thrust enameled pans of lasagna or potatoes au gratin rich enough to turn a stomach into his hands, and he’d shove them into the fridge or freezer alongside all the others
He’d sit on the wooden stool in the kitchen, exhausted from so much kindness, from the sharp winter air roaring in before he could click the door shut again. He’d stare at his knuckled and creased hands–the ones that had turned these kitchen table legs on the wood lathe in the basement, sawed and beveled and lacquered this table top where she’d chop onions so fast and fine he’d say that if she was a lawyer in the courtroom taking down an opponent she’d get 500 bucks an hour.
She’d eye him slyly while her palms circumnavigated the globes of twilight-purple eggplants, smack them firmly to elicit some deep mysterious sound that told her if they were ready to be sliced spiced fried crisp and bubbled in parmigiana and garlic-basil-fragrant sauce. He’d smelled felt seen it all from a distance since she’d snap “Out Out” if he dared enter while she worked
He pressed work-roughened hands to his face, hands that had plumped the heft of her—breasts, buttocks, thighs, belly when it was round with the fruit of their love
He uses them now to open the rattly Frigidaire as she always called it, even though it’s really a Whirlpool. He grips each casserole, coaxes its contents cold, rubbery, stinking of grease and garlic into the garbage, runs the water steaming and harsh over red raw hands, scrubs each pan to gleaming then dries and sets it aside
He pulls her apron with its neat row of orange-billed geese over his head, hoping for a hint of her but it’s too crisp and clean to bear any of her scent. Still it curves around his body as it curved around hers the strings pulling tight around his midriff
With trembling hands he pulls out her favorite Wusthof knife—the taking-down-the-defendant one, carves away the bad parts of a miserable old onion then chops. Slowly at first, eyes stinging, then faster and faster, tears flowing freely now. One day he’ll master that 500-buck-an hour dice but for now this will have to do. This will have to do, Gerty, he whispers, this will just have to do