One more ring and the call would've gone to voice-mail. Perhaps I should've let it go, but it was my boss.
I'm her right hand, but also her number one flunky.
Being the assistant manager isn't all its cracked up to be, especially at this particular convenience store, but at least I don't have to drive far to work. It's only a half mile from our house. The back and forth there is sometimes unbearably different from my life at home with my wife. Susan is the one who restores my heart when I've lost hope in the world.
As I pick up the phone, I barely notice that Peggy's voice sounds like someone barking an order to a waitress at Denny's. I guess I'm just so used to it by now.
What I am surprised about, though, isn't a gruff request to come fill in for another worker who called in (or didn't, which is more likely), at the last second. This time it's a different order.
"I want those piggies your wife makes that everyone's been raving about. Have her make some up for me. I'll pay you for the ingredients later."
"What's the occasion?" I ask.
"Got a little celebration going on at my house at 7. Yall can come if you like."
" I don't know if Susan has time now for that, but I'll check with her," I answer, knowing I really should be saying no. This is so last minute.
"Honey," I holler in the direction of the kitchen where my wife is peeling red potatoes. Theres no answer, so I leave the bedroom and start walking to where she's standing with a purple handled-paring knife in hand. She's preparing those delightful bacon-wrapped potatoes that tickle my taste buds every time she makes them.
"Can you whip up some of those piggies for my boss by 6? She's got a thing this evening at 7 and we are invited if we wanna come. I'll run by the store for the ingredients. She's gonna reimburse us when she gets here."
" I guess, " my wife replies. "You know I'm making your favorite meal, right, and I'll have to put that aside til later if I do this for you. "
I nod. The phone goes back against my ear.
"OK, it's a go. She said yes."
"I'll be at your place to pick them up around 6," is Peggy's reply.
The phone clicks.
No goodbye. No thank you. That's just my boss's style.
The recipe has been in my wife's family for generations. Pigs in a blanket, but not just weiners in a croissant wrap...something much more special. Something in the sauce and the way my Susan seasons them brings the humble cabbage and hamburger to life. It amounts to much more than the ingredients themselves.
"You know those things take between 4 and 5 hours to make, right?"
I start to speak, but Susan's voice collides with mine.
" It's a very simple word, honey. Only two letters. An "n" and an "o." Why can't you say it when you need to?"
A cute little smirk unfolds between her beautiful pink lips.
I chuckle, hoping to keep things light.
"You know you're the best cook in the world..and she's heard about it, honey, or she wouldn't demand your piggies for her party tonight."
Better than the most skillful fencer, she parries my compliment.
"Nah. My cooking is certainly not up to fancy restaurant standards."
Wiping the sweat off her brow, she smiles and continues.
" I appreciate the way you try to look out for us, honey, by not quitting the store even though its seeping into our time together. I know you have to keep that job a little longer until something better comes along, but that doesn't mean I like it at all. "
" I wish I could say "no" more now about working so much more, but Peggy's started downsizing again, and I'm trying not to ruffle her feathers.. We're short-handed up there and both under a lot of stress."
Susan tilts her head to stare at her hands, looking uncomfortable for a few seconds before looking back up. She beams at me and sweetly takes my hand in hers
"Your boss is just awful, yet you have to jump every time she says so. It's not fair."
Her voice drops to meek tone as she says the last part.
She releases my hand to place hers on her hips the way she does when about to say something unfiltered through that smart brain of hers. Her eyes widen, expanding to the size of quarters.
"Ya know what? I can't stand your boss. She's mean. The way she treats you and your coworkers, I don't know why you all just don't quit. I don't even want to cook for her tonight, but I will."
"Just for you, though," she adds after a 3 second pause.
"Yeah, I know. You're right, honey."
Peggy's a real b--- I almost say, but stop myself.
My wife continues.
"After this, I don't know if I'll be able to do it again. When someone truly needs my help, they show up, though, so maybe there's a reason."
"No problem, honey. Baby, you're just the best, you know that?"
But I know why she's so reluctant.
Susan is singing Evergreen in such beautiful tones that would put Barbara Streisand on notice. As she prepares the piggies, her voice rings out as beautiful as the lark's when it is extolling the fresh gift of a new day.
When we were dating I told her I wished she could be the bird sitting on a tree singing to me through my window each day, though I could never fire the lark who had done that for me for the past five years. The lark's song is beautiful, but my wife's voice makes me gasp. There's a huge difference..
"I don't wanna go to the party. You can if you want to," she says, interrupting her song.
My wife avoids the public, and it has nothing to do with shyness. The many emotions at large gatherings of people surround her, becoming overwhelming. It's enough to deal with one person's, and life hasn't been so easy for me of late.
So I just nod, not really knowing if I'll go either. I'm hoping to make an excuse if I can get away with it. I've got a test tomorrow night and a paper due Friday.
All the women in Susan's family tree possess the same ability, to heal hearts with food. Six months ago, my Benji died. Then I found out I had a lump that needed removal and chemo. I was the saddest person on the planet. It had been the worst year for us both. Our joint bank account was messed up by an online scammer.
But something happened when Susan prepared her piggies for us one night. I felt whole again. Within a week of the meal I signed up for college to become a physical therapist.
So, when's the last time you got that kind or inspiration just from a meal?
Its 6 p.m. and the piggies are ready. I can smell the delicious aroma from the kitchen. About ten minutes later, I hear Peggy's car pulling in the driveway. I grab the tray of piggies and have them ready at the door so she doesn't have to come inside.
"Thanks you're a lifesaver, Ally," she says, " Give Susan my thanks, too. How much do I owe you?"
"The total was 25.66 but I'll settle for a 20, " I answer.
" No, I won't have that," Peggy responds, " Here's a twenty and a ten. Keep the change. I gotta dash. My friend Leigh Ann needs a ride to the party. Are you and Susan coming?"
I answer, "I don't think so. Susan's about to finish cooking our supper and I'd hate to leave now. "
"Bummer." Peggy answers, then dashes to the car, tray in hand. I make my way over to hold the door open so she can more easily slide the tray in the car.
"Thank you," she says, cranking the Mustang. The engine revs a couple times before she takes off.
It's the next day and I'm back at work. Peggy is smiling all over the place and going out of her way to be kind. Not at all like her usual work persona, the all-business one I often fear.
The evening comes and it's nearly time for me to punch out to go home. She pages me to come have a talk in the office. At first I don't know whether to think that's a good thing or a bad one.
As I enter, I notice near her desk is a box filled with small gift bags. Each one has a red frilly ribbon taped neatly to it and a tag with each employee's name. I've never seen her do anything like this for the workers, though she's obviously more generous with her friends.
"Did Christmas come early this time and no one thought to tell me?" I say. A mischievous smile has crept over my countenance.
" No, but something happened. I feel amazing today. "
"I don't know what was in those piggies, but I need the recipe," she adds. " Look over there in the corner. There's a little something for you and your wife.
In the corner, I see a huge box wrapped in beautiful gold paper that's so brilliant and shimmery it looks like it should be worth about 50 bucks in itself. I thank her as I make my way out after she confirms that is all she called me there for.
I'm on my way home now. Nothing I want more than to see my wife and hold her now.
As I pull into our driveway, I see my wife peeking through the living room blinds at me. A grin passes over her face and she disappears, later opening the door before I can even ring the doorbell. I note that she is dressed in a long, white collar shirt, her beautiful legs pleasing to my eyes.
"Honey, you're so gorgeous," I say, surprised that I can even still speak. This has taken me by surprise.
" I know," she answers with a teasing smile, then takes the gift from my hand. " What's this?"
" It's from Peggy," I answer. " You should see the change in her. "
Susan answes, " You'll have to tell me about it later. You have some make-up work to do, my love."
I smile at my wife as she takes hold of my hand, leading me into our room.
Eager to oblige, I kiss her lips, preparing to show her that I cherish the gift of a wonderful, magical wife.