a weekly series of fiction to enjoy with your bowl of cereal
Igor and Spank by Kel Rohlf
I am sipping a glass of wine. The first glass since Jack and the boys left. One of my agreements with Jack before he headed to New York was to cut out the wine. I don’t know why it bothered him. He drank in college, but when we were first married none of our friends openly had alcohol in their homes. It was some badge of honor to look like they were teetotalers, but I figured some of them probably enjoyed wine on special occasions or tropical frozen cocktails when they traveled to the Caribbean for vacation. No one offered us drinks at our dinner parties. To honor the group, and probably Jack, I didn’t drink at all for many years. But after the boys were toddlers, and Jack traveled all the time, I took up having a glass of wine before bed to ease my anxiety of being alone. I didn’t see the problem with a single glass of wine, but it made Jack uneasy. And he said, it was one of the things that needed to change. It was one of the reasons, I chose not to go with him and the boys. That and my severe depression, which at the time I was in complete denial about. I started seeing my therapist about a week after the Jack and the boys moved out.
Therapy helps, but I thought why not be sociable and have just one glass of wine with Elena today. She’s rattling frying pans and checking the timer on her dessert that smells like cardamom and burnt sugar. It’s some kind of flaky honey infused dessert that her family served for years for special occasions. Of course, there is no Thanksgiving Day in Bosnia, but Elena likes to cook, and I like to eat. The Macy’s parade is playing on the television. Igor and Georgie don’t seem that interested, while they build with Legos on the floor. It’s strangely comforting to have the parade in the background.
“Have you ever tried lamb before, Gail?” Elena asks as she lathers the roast with her herb and butter concotion.
“Never interested me,” I reply, “I guess I’m mostly a beef and chicken person. I don’t even really like seafood, except for fried shrimp. But I’m trying to be a little more adventurous these days. Thanks for inviting me to try something new.”
“My pleasure, we love lamb, right boys?”
“Yes, Momma! Especially with greens and rice.” Igor answers and Georgie chortles some kind of agreement.
“Yum,” I say taking another sip of wine. “Elena, can I ask you something?”
“Sure, what’s on your mind?”
“Do you ever see Carl anymore?”
“No, why do you ask?”
“No reason, really, I’m just glad you’re not together anymore, he sounded creepy.”
“Carl was…not nice at times, and yet I am thankful he was part of my life. He helped me become stronger. Before Carl, I didn’t really know how to stand up for myself. Sure, I “bravely” came to America, but I really didn’t have any other choice.”
“But Igor said that Carl yelled at you a lot.”
“That’s none of Igor’s business, he shouldn’t be telling you these things. Carl never hit me, and he was always decent with the boys. Brought them candy and even would play ball in the backyard occasionally with Igor.”
“He was not nice! He’s a liar! And he was probably going to hit one of us, if you hadn’t kicked him out!” Igor was standing by the counter now, obviously upset by what he overheard. He was also giving me a look that pleaded for me not to tell his mother about the nightmare about Carl that he had several weeks ago.
“I’m sorry.” I felt bad that I had brought up the subject. “It wasn’t my place to ask.” I took a gulp of my wine to finish off the glass. Elena had moved around the counter to console Igor. Spank and Georgie had joined the audience. I started to get up from the stool to leave, “I shouldn’t have come, I always ruin everything,” I mumbled loudly, as I tried to hold back tears of frustration. The familiar frustration with myself for never really knowing how to be in social situations.
“It’s okay, Gail, stay,” Elena encouraged, “no harm done, Igor just didn’t like Carl, that’s all. Carl was a broken man. Igor and I will talk about it more later. Let’s just get back to making dinner. Another glass of wine?”
“No…” Igor untangled himself from his mother’s embrace, and took my hand.
“Please stay, Gail, I like having you here. I’m sorry I got upset, it’s just Carl infuriates me.”
“Wow!” Elena interjected, “Where did my boy learn such a big word?”
“At school, it was on our vocabulary list. When I read the definition, I decided it described exactly how I felt about Carl. Just thinking about him burns me up like a fire inside me, and I just want to make him go away forever. Sorry momma, but I just wish we never met him. He used to taunt me about Papa being dead.” Tears were welling up in his eyes. Elena grabbed him up in her arms again, and I had to look away to wipe the tears that were trailing down my face. So much pain, and my capacity for absorbing it failed me once again. I willed myself to stay on the stool, and not run out the front door back to the safety of my own house. Elena squeezed my arm, and continued to hug the now sobbing Igor.
After what seem like an awkward half hour, which in reality was only about five minutes, Igor pulled himself together. He looked at me with his forlorn eyes that seemed to recognize my pain, when I should have been consoling him. Elena directed the boys back to Legos, and let Spank outside. When she returned, she washed her hands at the kitchen sink, then resumed preparing the lamb.
The rest of the morning went smoothly. We talked about the chill in the air, and the colorful leaves on the trees. The boys cheered when Santa and his sleigh ended the Macy’s parade. In the evening, Elena brewed us some decaf coffee, and we sat quietly at the table eating a second helping of her gooey, honey cake. The boys had gone off to bed after Elena read them their favorite bedtime story, Goodnight Moon. Georgie curled in his momma’s lap, and Igor snuggled next to them on the couch. I listened from the rocking chair mesmerized by the scene.
How did she do it? I always felt awkward when my boys wanted to cuddle. Jack always read the bedtime stories to them in our bed, while I watched from the doorway. After reading time, he sent them to me, and I herded them into their own beds. They learned to not ask me to read to them, I guess. I would watch them climb under their covers, and each one would say, goodnight, mommy, we love you! I’d blow them a kiss and turn out the light, gently closing the door, as I left to retreat to my evening glass of wine.
At the table, I asked Elena, “How do you do it?”
“All this, cook, keep house, work all week and then have energy to read a bedtime story?”
“I just do. I keep at it one little step at a time.” Elena shifted the conversation, “Can I ask you question?”
“Do you believe everything they say in People magazine?”
“That’s an odd question.”
“I know, it’s just that on my break at the salon, I usually read the articles about the stars and famous people. And I wonder how much of it is true.”
“I’m pretty sure the magazine tells the story that they want to tell. It’s okay. No one ever knows the whole truth.”
“I guess you’re right, but one article sort of got my hopes up…about Samuel.”
“Really? What do you mean?”
“The article told the stories of Bosnian women who actually found their husbands alive after the war. The article claims that the identity of many of the men who died were not accurately documented by the Serbian or Bosnian factions. In fact, some of the Bosnian men faked their deaths in order to escape to Pakistan or other nearby allies. And some even made it to America, assuming new identities. If this is true, Gail…maybe…”
“But you said Samuel died in a fire at the building where he met secretly with the others in your town.”
“I know, but what if that was a decoy. Maybe they had a plan to escape, and that’s why Samuel told me to trust him.”
“I don’t know, Elena, I wouldn’t get my hopes up.” I remembered the dream Igor shared recently of the Christmas reunion with his father. Maybe dreams set us up for disappointment, or maybe they could reignite hope. Silence fell upon our conversation, as we sipped our lukewarm coffee and savored the cake. I looked up to compliment Elena once again on her delicious cake. Her face was glowing, and her eyes brimmed with hopeful tears despite my discouragement to the contrary.