The Man Who Becomes a Flower
Henry refuses wine insisting the waiter bring him a Shirley Temple. The young guy squints. “I’m not familiar with that drink.”
“Just ignore him, he’s yanking your chain,” I say.
“It’s a legit drink made without alcohol,” Henry says.
“You mean you want one of those ginger ale and a cherry, like they used to serve underage kids in old movies? I think Mickey Rooney, or was it that kid who played Katherine Hepburn’s little sister in the Philadelphia Story?”
“Yeah. Yeah, Lucie, OK, that’s what I mean.” He sounds more than mildly annoyed.
The waiter trots off. A few minutes later returning with my glass of Merlot. “Have you decided?” he asks Henry.
“I decided before. A Shirley Temple.”
In a low voice I say, “Henry, you’re making a fuss.”
“I want what I want.”
He could want me once in a while. He could do that.
Meantime, the small red checkered tables in the Italian bistro are beginning to fill with hungry people. A bottle of Chianti in a straw basket is set on the center of each. I think mostly for charm. Lately Henry has been severely lacking in that area. I don’t recall seeing any of those bottles ever uncorked. We’ve been coming here a long time. By now that Chianti must be straight vinegar.
“Ready to order?”
“I’m ready!” I announce it brightly. Why should the waiter think we’re both crazy. “I would like the veal picata, please. Slightly browned on the outside.”
Henry makes a pig sound through his nose.
“Is that OK, about the browning?” I ask the waiter.
“Of course. What would you like for sides?”
“Hm. Sides…Well… I think I would like mashed potatoes and sauteed spinach. Without a lot of garlic. But, some garlic.”
“Very good,” the waiter says nodding. “And, you?” He’s avoiding looking at Henry.
“Not until I get my Shirley Temple.”
“Sir, I checked the computer drinks app and Shirley Temple doesn’t come up.”
What is his fucking obsession with a Shirley Temple? It’s starting to rile me and give me stomach pain. When I have stomach pain I can’t eat a bite. He knows this. I got stomach pain one time on vacation and Henry ended up eating both meals for a week. “Just bring him a ginger ale over ice with a few cherries chucked in.”
Henry throws a dark look my way. “In a cocktail glass.”
Somehow we make it through dinner. Though my stomach is less settled than before. However, the veal picata was so delicious, and the sides, too. Perfect on the garlic. I sit back dabbing my mouth with a starchy white napkin. “That was some meal.” Henry is silent. “So how was yours?”
“Fair to middling,” he says. When pressed he refuses to elaborate.
“You always get the same thing. Eggplant parm. After a while it must be boring.”
“It wasn’t boring.”
He pays the bill and we leave the happy noisy bistro. It’s raining lightly. The trees we have to walk under to reach the car are dripping. I don’t mind but when we get into the car he asks if I have any tissues. He wants to pat dry his face and hair. I don’t have any. He says, “Women should always carry a packet of tissues in their purse.”
“Is that god’s law or yours?” I punch the radio on to a raucous talk station. The kind he hates most.
“You can be a bitter woman,” he says.
“We all can, Henry. Artificial sweetener.”
The rest of the way the only sound is the awful voices from the radio.
The next morning at breakfast Henry makes an announcement. “I’m changing my last name to Amaryllis.”
At the stove flipping pancakes, I pause, plastic flipper suspended mid-air. “Catchy. Henry Amaryllis. Are you changing your wardrobe to match? I see fuschia and orange in the mix. Have you always wanted to be a flower?”
“Six years of marriage and you never took my name. So what’s it to you?”
“It’s your name. You can do whatever you want with it.” And I flip both large pancakes. One sticks a little to the side of the pan. I guess I’ll be eating that one. It will taste the same. I pile them on a platter with the rest. Besides, who wants to hear him complaining?
“They’re grown from a bulb, right? I’ve seen them. Very dark and twisted. Hard. Kind of ugly.”
“The Amaryllis comes out a beautiful exotic flower,” he says.
“Maybe you could get one tattooed.” On your brain, I’m thinking.
We sit at the table munching. The rain from last night stopped; a blast of sun striking the bay window. Fresh cut Montauk Daisies in a blue jug on the sill. It should be a lovely breakfast; it should be.
Henry keeps dousing his pancakes. More and more syrup. They’re like a sponge. Which I find strange since I made them all from the same batter, cooked more or less the same shade of light-brown. Mine only need a single dousing and they’re moist through and through. Henry’s batch seem insatiable.
“Look how much syrup you’ve used. That’s a lot of sugar.” I hold up the glass bottle which started out full. The sun wings off it, turning the liquid a gold shade for a moment. The amaryllis bulb crosses my mind. And, fish. Fish circling murky waters.
He eats staring down at the plate. I don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t know how to be. I always disappoint despite trying so hard. He hasn’t been able to trip me up, yet. Though Henry Amaryllis comes pretty damn close.
Susan Isla Tepper is the author of 11 published books of fiction and poetry and 2 stage plays. Her new satirical Novel titled Office is forthcoming from Wilderness House Press in September. Later this year another Novel titled Hair of a Fallen Angel will be published by Cervena Barva Press. Tepper is currently in the production phase of her play about artist Jackson Pollock in his later years.
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