Seated on the couch next to his mother, the child is staring listlessly into thin air. Perhaps the horrific scene plays over and over again in his memory, from the moment the monarch butterfly flitted past his nose to that other moment, when his father was carried away under a blank sheet, and all that was left was a pool of dark blood being dragged into elongated smears by the wheels of the gurney.
“Mike,” I say, trying to shake him out of his state of shock.
He nods, but says not a word.
Perhaps the shots that killed his father are still echoing in his mind time and time again.
“Mike,” I say. “Help me. I need you.”
He lifts his eyes to me. “You do?”
I lean over to his ear and whisper, “We should prepare some food. None of us has eaten anything all day.”
He hangs his head down between his fragile shoulders. “Not hungry.”
“I understand, Mike, I really do.” I bend over and kiss the top of his head even as he turns it away. “But now, look at your Mom. She looks as if she’s about to faint. Help me take care of her.”
He slips out of the squashy cushion and we go to the kitchen together. “I don’t think she’s ready for a big meal. It’ll get stuck in her throat. I know it. I feel the same.”
“How about soup?”
“Yeah,” he says. “Soup.”
I open the refrigerator. In addition to some leftover clear broth, there are plenty of vegetables in the drawer. I take them out, rinse them, and set them next to the cutting board. Then I put a knife in his hand.
“Go ahead,” I say. “Slice away.”
At first he chops the leeks with bursts of anger, to the point that I begin to doubt myself, doubt the wisdom of entrusting him with a sharp tool.
But then—once I sauté them in butter in a large stock pot, once they become golden and the kitchen fills with their aroma—his mood seems to soften. By the time he gets to the last leek, his moves are more controlled, which results in precise cubing.
I cut yellow-fleshed rutabega by myself, because this root is too hard for him, and peel a few potatoes and parsnips. These go into a bowl of water, so they don’t brown by the time he’s ready to cut them.
“Here you go,” he says, as he adds them to the pot.
I set the cover on top of the pot and cook the vegetables for a few minutes, before sprinkling a dash of salt and bit of flower to thicken the mix. Then I add chicken stock and a bit of fresh dill. He takes a curious peek into the pot and sniffs the piping steam. His eyes begin to regain their shine when I ask him to fill the pepper mill.
Mike makes the peppercorns bounce, most of them into the mill, some all over the kitchen counter. “I didn’t think I was hungry,” he says. “But now I am.”
“Well,” I say, while grinding the soup in the blender. “You’ll have to wait a bit longer, it’s not ready yet.”
Mike watches impatiently as I blend cream with egg yolks in a small bowl, ladle some hot soup mixture into the mix, then add it back to the soup in a steady stream.
“Is it ready now?” he asks.
“Almost,” I say. “How about some croutons?”
“Mommy is the best at making them.”
Mike runs to Tracy, who is still on the couch, still cupping her face in her hands. He touches the tips of her fingers ever so softly, till she removes them from her puffy eyes.
“I need your help, Mommy.”
“Yes,” he says. “Croutons.”
Tracy rises up and drags her feet into the kitchen, her face awfully pale. Somehow her hands know what to do, even if she seems absentminded. She cuts up bread and fries it in butter with Italian herbs, garlic powder, and onion powder. Then she spreads the croutons over a cooking sheet. Meanwhile, Mike unpacks his backpack in the living room. He bites the apple she tucked inside this morning. Boy, he must be hungry.
“I don’t know why I’m taking all this so hard,” she says to me, under her breath.
I take the cooking sheet from her hands and set it in the heated oven. “You loved him.”
She looks out the kitchen window at the TV crews, then turns her back on them. “I did, but then I stopped trusting him. He had an affair and wouldn’t admit to it.”
She waves her hand, tries for a smile. “Ed and I separated two years ago. The divorce took effect last Valentine’s Day, at which time I turned our wedding picture to the wall and thought it was over. I was done with him. Why am I so brokenhearted? Why am I missing him so?”
Picture by Aaron Paul Lazar