Broccoli, Brie, and an Anniversary Diamond
by Suellen Wedmore
I knew I was having a bad day when I couldn’t escape the vegetable aisle.
I’d driven all the way from the other side of town to shop at Bruni’s Market, and now I stood helpless under the fluorescent lights, mesmerized by a dozen broccoli--each emerald-shiny stem bedded separately on crushed ice, tender fists reaching up and out, but never quite touching its neighbor.
Outside, a brash sun promised romance and the idleness of summer, but in here the insipid scent swirling though the market wouldn’t let me go. Are You Lonely Tonight? murmured an orchestra of bland violins.
Of course, I understood that Jack wanted to celebrate our anniversary at home. “How’s about that veal piccata you do so well,” he’d suggested. “The quiet of our own dining room, a fire blazing.” He was up for reelection again (wasn’t he always running for something?) and he’d been out every night for a month.
“Home-cooked meal” translated to Kate-cooked meal, and a white tablecloth implied Kate-pressed linen. Work for me, but then he was a generous guy. Didn’t he give me a new red Pontiac every year on my birthday? Didn’t Sallie and Nicholas go to the best private schools? Didn’t he load up my Christmas stocking with Estée Lauder and Chanel No. 5 ?
When we first married it was a different story. He was assistant district attorney then and his salary was hardly enough to keep us in hot dogs. Oh, we were happy then, but my engagement ring was a chink of zircon so small you could mistake it for lint. Last year he made up for that, slipping a diamond as large as a doorknob on my third finger, left hand. Even in the market’s cold light, the 45-carat ring flared like an alien star.
My gaze turned toward the artichokes: handsome in an amphibious sort of way, but each--separated as they were on their shredded paper carpet-- as lonely as a tenant when the boarding house lights go out. I was inwardly reviewing my recipe for Artichoke bruschetta when a jaunty voice called out, “Katie! Is that you?”
A plump face appeared over a pyramid of rutabagas. “Who…” I began. Then the woman smiled: a grin wide and white and full of mischief. “Haley! I thought you’d moved.”
“Did. But you know us Yankees can’t hack that Florida swelter! Tom got a deal on a service station in town.” Haley swung around a mound of potatoes to give me one of those crack-your-ribs hugs I remembered from college. “Hey, Roomie. How’d we lose touch!”
“All those good times. Bridge games. Walks in the park.” Then I remembered, “You married Tommy Reston. Sorry I didn’t make the wedding. Jack had to be off…somewhere.” In those days, I went everywhere with him.
“Hey! I understand. Even my mom, a hard-nosed Republican, voted for him in the last election.”
“He’s done well.” There it was again, that idiotic Muzak whining Love is All We Need.
“Can you believe Tom and I have been married ten years? We’re going to Sicily next month to celebrate. His mom’s taking the kids.”
“That’s great, Haley.”
“'Course you and Jack probably get abroad so often you’d find it dull.”
“Actually, we can’t get away much. He’s always got something important on his calendar. The kids and I do a lot together, though.” I find myself studying the asparagus A dozen stalks banded together with thick red elastic. It’s silly the way they stand them up, just for show. You can’t eat asparagus that way.
Haley gave me another hug. “I’ve got to pick up the little one at preschool. But Katie, let’s get together! Soon.”
Something welled up inside me. “Miss you, Haley. We…I was different then.”
Haley began to turn away, then looked back at me with an apologetic smile. “Until I met Tom, how I envied you, Jack--the perfect man, I thought: handsome, smart. Ambitious. God, Katie, we all envied you.”
“Perfect?” Muted brass whimpered a honey-sweet version of Cry Me a River. “ I guess nothing’s perfect.”
Haley handed me a card with her address and phone number on it. “Call me,” she said.
“Oh, Haley, I will.” Her grocery cart squeaked as she turned toward the check out counter.
I slipped a bunch of asparagus into a plastic bag and made my way to the dairy department. I’d begin the meal with a Brie en crout, I decided. Jack loved a good cheese. I sorted through the bin: Gorgonzola, Muenster, Swiss, Colby. Suddenly I felt dizzy. Exhausted. What was wrong? Wasn’t it great, seeing an old friend after all those years? I reached down with my right hand to stabilize a wheel of Cheddar so I could tunnel under the other blocks of cheese with my left. Success! From the tangled disorder I plucked a triangle of Brie.
But when I lifted my left hand there was a crisp ping. And four gold prongs were all that remained of my 40-carat anniversary ring.
“Oh, no,” I said out loud. But then I found myself doing a most unusual thing--something I’d be explaining for years to come. I put my hand in my pocket, patted the card with Haley’s name and phone number on it, and walked away from the cart full of groceries, through the vegetable aisle toward the store’s automatic double doors.
Outside there was the honest sound of traffic, the warble and buzz of urban birds and bees making their way in a complicated world.
Suellen Wedmore, Poet Laureate for the small seaside town of Rockport, Massachusetts, has been published in Green Mountains Review, College English, Phoebe, Larcom Review, The Cancer Poetry Project, and others. Recently she won first place in the national Writer’s Digest rhyming poem contest, first place in the Byline Magazine annual literary contest, and first place in the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum annual writing competition. In 2003, she retired after 24 years working as a speech and language therapist to enter the MFA in Creative Writing program at New England College in Henniker, New Hampshire. Contact Suellen.