I wrote a story. As many of you know, I’m a writer, but most of my writing has been for corporate stuff and my fiction stories are largely piles of paper and files on laptops and a 300-page novel that I am revisiting right now. I don’t send them out to get published, I’m not sure why, but I am thinking I will change that. Anyhow, if you’re wondering what a story is doing on a gardening and farmhouse food blog, notice that I have clearly delineated a space for myself to do this here in that little upper “Stories,” link that I added a bit ago along with my fancy schmancy logo. This is a work-in-progress one I wrote last night and this afternoon and maybe I’ll regret posting it without editing it, but that’s not what this space is about. It’s to reignite my love of writing, one word at a time, and hopefully bring you things you enjoy reading–whether they are food, garden, home, fiction or non-fiction. This one is just a little whimsical story that popped into my head on a walk yesterday. If you like this one, drop me a line and let me know and I’ll post the next part of it soon. Thanks.
Lily was not by nature a categorically difficult person. In fact, she worked to be as agreeable as possible. She kept things between the lines. She had decided that was the best way long ago. She dealt with tangle by ordering it: Clean cupboards, organized clothes, pantry items lined up, labels facing out. She did her laundry on Sunday and folded everything following the T-shirt and jeans board system she had learned at The Gap when she worked there in college. She ate low-calorie, high-protein meals. By following the formula, she was certain she would win the contest. She told herself this while walking up steep hills carrying her groceries in well-balanced bags in either hand. She told herself this while running 5 miles each morning at 5 a.m. before coffee. She told herself this while sitting at her desk writing emails and editing papers. And she told herself this every night when she showered, brushed her teeth and washed her face, and opened her book to the bookmark from the night before. It wasn’t rigid, she told herself. It was formulaic but designated for success. If she just stuck with it, she would reach her destination with arrow accuracy.
At night, before putting herself to bed, she would pull tarot cards from a deck she blindly chose, from a stack of tarot card boxes beside her bed. Therein was the tangle: There were at least eight boxes of mismatched tarot cards, oracle cards, goddess cards, and spirit cards. She would close her eyes, plunge her hands into the pile, and withdraw a missive. Then, deciding whether to listen to the advice or not, she would digest or toss out the advice, go to sleep, and start the routine again in the morning.
But day after day nothing made sense. Not in her heart anyway. It wasn’t anything specific. It was a constant pressing in on her chest, a longing for something, but she didn’t know what. It would be what her girlfriend Jill would laughingly call “her mid-20s crisis,” but she didn’t care if it had a label, it was real and while she was sure it was tied to some kind of ancestral fitting in, it was some kind of ironing out of all the things: Want, Intensity, Wanderlust, Going Someplace.
She basically existed in a constant “Going Someplace” zone inside her head while outwardly going through the motions of a settled existence. At 25, she was proud of her career as a consultant at a big-name accounting firm. She wore suits every day and liked it. She drove her car to the same parking garage at nearly the same time every morning and parked in the same spot. Most days she packed her own lunch and at the end of the week she would transfer the amount she had saved on lunch into a special account she had set up for the precise purpose of monitoring her lunch savings.
The reason everything changed was because one day Lily read an article in The Atlantic about climate change and the simple impact of taking the bus instead of driving to work, which would result in a net reduction of carbon emissions of nearly 5,000 pounds per year. This calculation made so much sense that Lily was immediately ashamed of herself and the very next day she put on walking shoes and carried her heels in her handbag, walking the quarter-mile to the bus stop. And this became her new routine. She instantly liked it. First of all, she could people-watch, which was one of her favorite pastimes. Also, she could read, which was her most beloved thing to do, always. She sped through books, munching them down like grapes, one juicy morsel at a time. That’s the other thing that happened. She ran out of books, so one day during her lunch break she went to the old newspaper stand and picked up the New York Times, Sunday edition. It was a thick offering that she read cover to cover during her commute home and well into dinner, finally flipping the last few pages in bed before tucking into the Entertainment insert. And that’s when it happened. She turned the page and there he was. It wasn’t just his photo, it was a light in his eyes that went straight to her chest. It was a lightning bolt to her heart and that was that, no turning back now, she knew.
His name was Thomas Green. He was a chef. He owned his own restaurant in rural New York. He had eyes the color of a green meadow filled with sunlight above a slightly jagged nose that turned a bit to the left (a boxing injury?) and a mouth that looked as if it was perpetually considering something. His dark hair was mussed up and a bit cockeyed and truth be told something about his jaunty posture reminded her of a rooster strutting. It wasn’t that he looked egotistical, it just looked like he was confident and took himself seriously. Like maybe he got up every day and did just exactly what he wanted to do. That was her first impression from the photo, but then she read the article and devoured the words like chocolate.
“Food for me is a love affair, and I know that sounds so cliché, but it’s the only way to put it. I grow everything I serve at the restaurant, so I love to grow interesting things. Every day is a new day and every menu is different. I rarely do full repeats, but I do plenty of riffs on old favorites. It’s always fresh. It’s just a single menu each time with limited options, and that’s been just fine so far,” says Green. There were photos of the small restaurant that looked like a little Italian cobblestone alleyway joint, so small and decadently decorated that she wanted to sit down immediately and eat everything. Another photo showed the chalkboard with the day’s menu—dill flower and fennel salad with amber pear tomatoes; toasted sourdough baguette with roasted zucchini and shaved Parmesan and butter churned that morning; pickled red peppers and a pine nut puree; Italian pesto wedding soup; purple pansy and plum sorbet; blueberry and sour cherry latticework pie with vanilla ice cream made with milk he had collected that morning; sparkly champagne from his small vineyard; deep-red claret; brandy. His farm was a dotted with sheep and several cows, and he had horses. “I like to ride the trails in the morning before I start the bread,” he said.
Lily couldn’t sit still. She couldn’t sleep. She felt like she had just met Mr. Darcy in real life. There was no going back. She read the article eight times. On the bus in the morning she found herself drawing infinity symbols on her wrists, and she took the article out of her purse, unfolded it carefully, and read it three more times. “Nasturtium flower salad is my favorite because it’s a battalion of color on every table and people know they’re eating a slice of the rainbow and it makes them happy,” Green says. The restaurant was named Green’s, and that was that. Jane Austen would have been flummoxed, she wouldn’t have known how to properly paint Thomas. Lily sized up Thomas alongside the kitchen counter. He didn’t appear too short. His hands were worker’s hands, she could see that because there was a close-up of him wielding a knife to chop purple-flower-topped chives for his chive butter. He was dressed in jeans and a grey T-shirt. He had a deep scar on his left arm and a tattoo of an infinity symbol on his wrist. He wore brown leather work boots that looked like they’d taken a beating.
At work, she missed questions in her meetings and she flubbed her presentation, trailing off in the middle of a sentence and wildly trying to find her way back, feeling herself go hot with frustration. She got several calculations wrong and had to rework everything. On the bus ride home she read the article three more times.
At home, trying to sort through dinner, she was disappointed with everything in her refrigerator. Everything was in plastic or came in a bottle. She was an okay cook, or so she had thought, but really the summation of her true talent was in making good scrambled eggs and that felt so deeply pitiful that she found herself crying on the kitchen floor while thumbing through canned goods in her lower cupboard reserved for the stockpile Costco items—canned tomatoes and beans and dry pasta and the like, even Saltines which seemed so precisely bland that she suddenly realized she, herself, was a Saltine, and she was going stale. When was the last time she’d gone on a date? Oh, right, she remembered, it was a blind date with a man named Pilot and it turned out he was a pilot and it was everything you might imagine with a double dose of that. He didn’t stop talking about himself the whole time, never asked her a question, and ordered an overly rare bison burger that dripped red on the plate every time he bit in. He had the incredulous, ugly sarcasm of a braggart, placing himself on his self-built podium and talking ugly about everyone he knew, and he flirted with the waitress. She hadn’t bothered going on a date again. That was 10 months ago. Lily got up off the floor and settled on strawberries. They looked red and ripe but tasted like pesticides and water and she set them aside and turned on Pandora.
It wasn’t long before she was looking at flights from Seattle to New York. Then she stared at maps. Maybe she would drive there. She looked through YouTube videos hoping to hear his voice, but he wasn’t online. His Instagram account was woefully bare. She sorted through her Human Resources links and checked her PTO, which was at 100 hours. She never took time off, she never went anywhere, nobody would miss her, and she could do most of her work remotely anyway, so the report due on Friday would be done by Friday, no worries there. She didn’t have a pet. There wasn’t much to toss out of the fridge, might as well do that now. She settled on a plane ticket, purchased it, and started packing. Tomorrow, she thought. Tomorrow I will step into his restaurant and taste his food. I will hear his voice. I will see that his neck is covered in warts and when he takes my order I will notice he has halitosis and the food will be so obscure that it will give me gas and I will sit there in agony and distention the whole time trying to nosh down pine nuts and ghee and I will regret wasting my time and my money and I will be stuck in rural New York wondering how I got there and why I lost myself in the process.
She went to bed and slept for the first time in two days.
On the shuttle in the morning she stared at her packing list with everything crossed off: Undergarments, summer dresses, sandals. Jeans jacket, lightweight blazer, jeans. Jogging bra, jogging shorts, running shoes, ankle socks. Lotion, makeup, shampoo, chapstick. She phoned Budget from the road and booked a compact car. While she had debated it several times, she had left the article at home. What if she failed to put it away and it was in her purse when she arrived and he saw it? Would he know? Would he see how hungry she was the minute she walked in the door? Would it be painted on her face, shooting out her eyes, making her hands shake? Thank God I won’t have to hold a menu, small mercies, she mumbled. How would she manage it? That’s when she realized she’d forgotten deodorant. Deodorant, she penned on her list, circling it for emphasis. She e-checked herself in for Delta. So that’s that, just cross your legs and wait, she muttered, staring at her phone and trying to muster up the gumption to text someone about where she was going. Business trip to New York, going to be in Poughkeepsie, she texted to her mom. Done. Fine. If she is killed en route someone will know where her body is. She’ll keep her driver’s license in her pocket in case anyone needs to ID her.
When she finally boarded the plane, she had begun to shake from hunger. She ate the peanuts and listened to podcasts about climate change and organic farming, and periodically sipped mineral water and tomato juice, remembering too late that all the sodium would make her retain water. Maybe she should wait a few days before going to his restaurant, get her bearings first, drink lots of water and arrive radiant and rested instead of hungry, brined, and exhausted. The thought depressed her. She ordered a cup of black tea, gloomily dunking the Lipton bag in the Styrofoam cup and wishing for soymilk. In the restroom she stared at her reflection: Pale face, wispy blond hair, tiredness revealed in the shadows beneath her eyes. Despite the tea, she slept most of the remainder of the flight.