33. She’s Not There

A lot of women, if you asked at this moment, You hungry? would reply, How can you think about food at a time like this?

Doris finally removed her hands from her eyes.

I said the first thing that came to mind. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“I had lunch,” Doris said.

“Anything good?”

“That gorgonzola. Some bread. A salad. A few olives. Glass of wine. Okay. A little light.”

“You hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“Let me check the fridge.”

This is how I operate. I open the door. Stare into the cheery brightness. Take inventory. This, that, the other thing. Let my thoughts congeal. Those potatoes, sure, sliced paper thin, the moisture squeezed out of them, pan-fried in butter with garlic and onion. A couple beets in the vegetable bin, grated, uncooked, the regal color thus preserved, dressed with vinegar and honey, brightened with lemon zest and a sprinkle of parsley. An omelette with a hint of that gorgonzola.

You mind this again, baby? I said, holding up the cheese, taking in the whiff of decay.

Whatever the chef prefers, she replied, this being an old joke between us.

Thwack, thwack, blade against the cutting board, melted butter sizzling, the happy dance of eggs in a pan. Pop, there goes the cork, a chardonnay courtesy of Duke.

Doris sat with her elbows on the marble countertop, chin resting on her fists, her expression softening as our supper cooked, until I could almost pretend that we were back in our Frogtown shack, the hammer of wealth not yet fallen upon us, our pleasures still simple, easy and all but free.

“That enough?” Doris asked. “If you didn’t have lunch. Maybe two omelettes. One for each of us.”

I poured a glass of wine for Doris and slid it toward her. She looked at me in a way that I found impossible to decode.

She cornered the last scrap of egg and potato, then gathered up our plates. “You go and wash off the underworld,” she said. “I’ll take care of the dishes.”

The water ran gray onto the shower floor. I dried myself, climbed into bed, waited for her to join me.

I waited. And waited.

And then, before she arrived, I fell asleep.

I woke up I don’t know when. Banging. The basement. The portal.

I lifted the duvet quietly, tried to slip out of bed without waking Doris.

Wasted effort. She wasn’t there.

I couldn’t think straight, not with that pounding. Instead of searching the bedrooms for her, I hurried down the stairs.

Tomorrow: Let’s press some flesh

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