Preserves

I didn't cry when she got sick, or at the funeral, or at the graveyard. I didn't even cry when my mother brushed the hair out of my still dry eyes and held me as the undertakers wheeled away her coffin. Mom never said it, but she hadn't approved of our relationship from the first moment I brought Elise home. It wasn't that she didn't like Elise. What was there not to like in smart sweet Elise? Mom had tried to understand us, I knew that. I guess it doesn't matter anymore. The next morning, I awoke alone. The sun moved shadows across our bedroom while I just stared off the edge of my side of the bed. I was waiting for something, the smell of her coffee I think, but nothing came to snap me out of this fog. Was I supposed to be doing something? Breakfast, I guessed, though I didn't feel hungry; I didn't feel much of anything to be honest. I went into our pantry anyways and saw row upon row of canned sauces, fruits, and preserves she had prepared for the long winter ahead. The shelves were filled with Elise's preserves and her light curled handwriting. I picked up a Mason jar and stared through it without seeing the diamond shapes etched into the glass or feeling the paper label as my fingertips absently traced the word ‘strawberries' over and over. I didn't see the bags of flour and sugar or the boxes of her favorite cereal crowded together on the mint green shelves in the cramped little pantry. I was back in July, sweating as I hauled in another tray of fresh picked strawberries. She would have picked them herself like every other year if she had still had the strength. I smiled and laughed when I thought she was looking and stole glances at the scarf wrapped around her head when I thought she didn't see. I opened my mouth to ask her again why she was doing all of this and wouldn't she rather fly away somewhere to lounge on a beach? I closed my mouth without a word, we'd fought about it enough and her answer was always the same. “I don't want some crazy trip. That's not me. I just want every day I can have with you,” she would say. I knew she just wanted her life- a normal long life- and it was the only thing I couldn't give her. I hefted the jar turning it over and over in my hand, puzzled by the weight and feel of it like some alien artifact. The jar ate away the cold numbness wrapped around me and I couldn't push away the itching burning feeling rising from the pit of my stomach. I clenched my fist around the jar as if it and it alone had taken my wife from me. I couldn't stand the sight of the wretched thing, it brought anger to a boil suddenly spilling over onto my carefully sealed up resignation. I flung the jar with all my might at the pantry wall, red exploding over a bag of chocolate chips, syrup and glass and strawberries falling to the floor. A low guttural animal yell erupted as red as the strawberries and I hardly noticed it was me spewing anguish and rage at the rows of silent glass jars until my throat grew sore. I slid to the floor completely boneless without anger to hold me up, rocking back and forth holding my head with both hands as if it might come loose without a firm grip. My whole being shook, tears making cold splotches on my pajamas as I sobbed there on the floor of our pantry. I felt like my insides had all been scooped out leaving me hollow and empty, blankly staring at a bag of dried beans as if they could anchor me to the world again. The smell of strawberries touched me tugging me gently back, not to the world around me but further back to a moment with her. The bright sweet fruit conjured up that birthday cake she had made filled with our first strawberry harvest, and how we sang and kissed that night joyfully celebrating life. I looked up at all her jars: the tomato sauce recipe we'd spent years perfecting, the peaches from her mother's tree, the BlackBerry jam she hated but still labored over knowing it was my favorite. I saw her there, all her work and planning and love, every moment of our lives together laid aside here giving me a million tiny roads back to my life with her, if only for a moment- a taste. My vision blurred again as tears flowed, gently now, onto my cheeks. I nodded my head imagining her beside me, gazing at me with that secretive smile. I whispered to her, and to myself, “I see what you did, my clever wife. Thank you.”

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