Julie places cutlery, plates and a lighted candle onto the kitchen table. She looks at the clock. Ali will be home soon, after closing the shop and locking everything up for the night. It will be just the two of them for dinner tonight—the girls are already in bed. She sits and closes her eyes for a moment.
She stands when she hears him come in, and starts to spoon food onto the plates. He comes into the kitchen, tells her that he is going to wash his hands, change his clothes. It’s always been this way, with him washing and dressing for dinner. Of course he’s not really dressing for dinner—he’s dressing down; but she imagines for a moment, each time, that he will reappear in the kitchen wearing something that will surprise her.
He comes back and sits at the table. She joins him, they start to eat. The table is in the corner, and his right elbow almost touches the wall at his side. He clears half of his plate, then says, “There’s a man who comes into the shop each afternoon.”
Julie has been watching the muscles flexing in his cheek as he chews. They don’t have the opportunity to sit and talk much these days, so that when he says something like this, it grabs her, takes her back to the days when they seemed to talk all the time. She wants him to see that she’s listening, but he’s looking down at his plate. She places her fork against her plate (it clatters) and laces her fingers. Her hands feel paper-dry, raspy: one of the girls was sick this afternoon and she’s been washing her hands repeatedly in scalding-hot water with a cake of olive soap, so that she won’t spread the sickness to the younger one. She hasn’t told any of this to Ali. She folds her hands into her lap, out of sight, as if he might be able to see the dryness. She feels the arch of her back against the chair, and wants to slump forward and lay her head on the table, like she used to do at school, while she listens to what he has to say.
© Barry Lee Thompson and ‘Stories, by Barry Lee Thompson’, 2013.