Sue pressed the blade to the skin, applied the slightest pressure and slid the knife, splitting the little orb. Its moist kernel shined. She pinched the two halves with the puckered tips of her fingers and dropped them in the pot where the ham bones boiled.
She took the next pea from the bowl, lined it up, and flicked the knife. The skin burst at the side, the perfect circle ruined. Her swollen knuckles brushed the wet wood of the cutting board as she swept the crushed pea into the trash. She steadied her breath, added the salt, and washed the knife.
Sue shifted her feet, velvet kitten heels sliding on the damp linoleum, and grasped her right wrist in her left hand, holding it steady. The loose skin of her arms trembled. Her hunched shoulders strained in spasm, knocking her aim askew.
The peas were no good crushed. Linda Melby crushed hers—the lazy hussy—no wonder her family scattered to the four corners of the world. Sue hissed through her teeth, added the salt, and washed the knife.
The pot filled with perfect half-spheres that bobbed in the roil of broth. Not much longer, it’d be fit to eat. Sue’s stomach churned. She muffled the sound with her apron. Perfect soup took days of work, and Carl wouldn’t come to the table for anything less than perfect. And he’d chosen her to be his. She smiled, dropped another perfect split-pea into the pot, and added two teaspoons of salt before washing her knife.
The steam cloud over the stove frazzled her hair, sending curls off in wild directions, like Linda’s. Careless. She wished she’d remembered her net, but it was nothing she couldn’t fix.
Her split fingernail chimed against the bottom of the china bowl. Just a few more. There’d still be enough, even without the ones she’d butchered.
Sue dropped in the last morsel, added a quart of water, added two teaspoons of salt, covered the pot, and washed the knife. The smell of hot bread rolled from the oven as she tipped the door to check it. A stick of butter softened in its crystal dish.
She scaled the stairs to the spare room and changed out of her damp velvet dress, laying it over the other frocks stacked high on the back of the vanity chair. Maybe if she pulled out something special this time, something that used to make him smile, he’d come down. She stepped into the lilac crepe she’d worn to Linda’s third wedding, and cream satin heels. She tamed her silver curls, spraying them in place, and wiped the melted lipstick from the creases on her chin. Trails of apricot tinted talcum encrusted her face as she patted her cheeks with the cotton puff. She switched the berry-blue sapphires for milky pearls.
Tip-toeing past the master bedroom, Sue went back down the stairs, gripping the hand rail, knees snapping like cold pea pods at every bend. She did fine on stairs, really. She’d rather crawl than mess up her wall paper with that ugly electric lift chair.
In the dining room, she lit the candles. The flames sputtered along the trails of web stretched across the dusty dishes she’d set before she started cooking: the apple Franciscan she’d collected piece by piece since she was thirteen, saving it for best.
She ladled the soup into the tureen, sliced the bread, each piece equal, and set it all out steaming in the candle light.
She climbed the stairs, pulling at the banister. She sat on the top stair to gather her breath so she wouldn’t stumble into the bedroom huffing like a tart. When she could breathe without a hitch, she stood, dabbing at the damp white curls at her hairline.
She pushed the bedroom door open and squinted into the dark, eyes stinging. She pressed the back of her hand to her lips, breathing in the smell of pea-soaked skin, masking the smell of the room. Carl lay stretched out under the sheet and bedspread, lying beneath the white cotton diamonds she’d crocheted as a girl. She’d tucked each one away with lavender sachets in her trousseau. Between the tall stitches of the lace squares, she could see the dark stain spread further across the mattress. A soak of peroxide and soda, it should come clean.
“Dinner,” she whispered. She said it louder. “It’s good this time, just like I used to make…” She twisted a Bakelite button at her collar till the threads snapped.
His wide blue eyes stared dully at the ceiling, their fire gone milky. His mouth gaped, frozen like the cod in the icebox.
Her knees shook, tipping her on her tall heels. Her chest and throat constricted, forcing out the anguished mewl rising from her gut. Her eyes burned and spilled.
No sense in fussing. She pressed her lips together and bent to collect a piece of shattered Tiffany glass from the floor, letting her tears drop into the red-spattered carpet fibers.
She pulled the door shut behind her and rubbed the blade of olive green glass in her hand as she teetered down the stairs, leaning heavily on the rail.
The soup would keep. She could heat it over when Carl was ready. Sometimes it was better reheated—Carl always said so. Yes, he’d like that. Give the flavors time to blend.
She’d focused so hard on those peas, she hadn’t even thought about what to have after. Why come down for a special dinner without something special for after?
She pulled a basket from under the reeking tower of corning ware in the fridge and washed her knife. Tart cherry pie goes best after the soft, smoky mellow of pea soup. And the baking might help clear that smell in the house.
She pressed the blade to the tender skin. Juice burned in the chapped fissures of her hands. The smallest incision to get the pit and only the pit, without breaking the meat.
Perfect. She added the sugar and washed the knife.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Sarah Read writes upsetting things late at night after long days of editing, knitting, reading, and building LEGOS with her son. Her work can be found in the upcoming Exigencies anthology from Dark House Press and in the Dionysus issue of Pantheon Magazine
Read “Pomegranate Wine” in Pantheon’s DIONYSUS issue.