Jael began setting the table for dinner in the quiet night. He went to the shelf that lay in the far end of the room, plates were stacked neatly and a tablecloth sat at the bottom. He grabbed the tablecloth and began to lay it over the table. He dutifully smoothed out the old table cloth running his hands over old patterns.
The table cloth had been a wedding gift for them and had shone beautifully with red and gold leaf designs. Now the colors had faded from their original vibrance and it was covered in stitches where he or Azalea had attempted to fix any holes over the years they had it. Jael had wanted to throw it out, but Azalea always refused. It had what she called “personality”.
Jael went back and grabbed two delicate china plates that had gold leafs as decorations similar to the cloth and one glass. He set both carefully down at opposite ends of the table and the glass where he would sit.
He had already set out everything he needed to make dinner in the kitchen. He began chopping up vegetables, sliding the knife down making even slices. He matched his breathing to the sound of the knife on the chopping board. He was always second in command in the kitchen. He was almost always stuck with vegetable chopping duty.
No meat. He smiled fondly remembering when his wife had taught him how to make kapunata.
“This is my favorite meal.” She had said chopping up vegetables fluidly. “Even you could do it.” She teased.
“You offend my talents. I read the recipe and is there really no meat?” He asked innocently. “I really would have pegged you as a meat lover.”
Azalea stared at him wide eyed, her mouth gaping like a fish gasping for air. “No! I would never eat an innocent animal-”
She was cut off by him laughing. Azalea had thrown a pepper at his head. “Jerk!”
Meat was the only thing Jael knew how to cook at the time, but spending time with Azalea had opened him to foreign, no meat, recipes.
He slid the vegetables into the pot with satisfied thuds and moved on to garlic.
“You need to make sure to do this well.” His wife had said, showing him how to crush garlic. “Otherwise it just doesn’t taste as good.”
He held his knife horizontally above the garlic before using his weight to press down on it. The garlic crushed with a satisfying smush.
With the food all simmering, Jael went back into the dinning room and grabbed two candle holders from the shelf. He closed the shelfs door with a click and opened the drawer that was below the shelf. The drawer was old and you could hear wood slide on wood. Two candles rolled to the front with a thud. One was red with gold streaks and the other was gold with red. He placed the red with gold closer to where he was going to sit and the other near the other place lighting only the red and gold.
Jael felt satisfied at the scene in front of him when he smelled the familiar savory wafts that came from the pot. Jael tossed in cappers and dropped in a few olives with resounding plops, he then grasped the handles of the pot and headed back into the dining room.
He paused for a second. Azalea would always put in whatever extra herbs that she could get from his garden. She rarely put in the same herbs twice, and yet somehow the dish always turned out tantalizing.
She had tried to grow her own herbs but… he started to laugh. Azalea had the worst case of black thumb that Jael had ever seen!
Even with the constant lack of success, every week his wife would come home with a bag of new seeds and refreshed hopes that these ones wouldn’t die…
Jael warmed at the memory.
He went back to the kitchen putting down the pot and sifted through Herbs. He decided to toss sage in to top it off. Jael could never dream of making the dish as well as her, but this would be close enough.
Jael took a bottle of pomegranate juice with him this time as he went to set the down in the center of the table gracefully. He took the spoon that was resting in the dish and gave himself a healthy serving and poured himself a glass.
“For you, my love.” He whispered softly, raising his glass to an empty chair.
He took a sip, then he set down his glass taking a deep breath letting the smell wash over him. Jael picked up his spoon and began to eat. Jael’s hand suddenly started shaking. He dropped the spoon on the table making a dull clatter.
The sound was followed by sobs. Wet cries wrenched themselves from his throat. His head sunk slowly into his shaking hands. All these feelings had washed over him like a tsunami and were just as surprising. He had been doing well the entire night until that moment. Tears fell from his eyes onto the tablecloth his wife had loved. His sobs subsided into quiet tears. He lifted his head from his hands and picked up the spoon. Sadness marked his face as tears continued to roll down. He slowly took a bite of kapunata, chewing softly. Slowly but surely his tears dried and he made it through dinner. Jael dully put up only the food and his own place setting. He blew out his candle and the room darkened. He reached for the other but hesitated. Just for tonight, he would leave it out.
Jael made it to their- his room.
His eyes wandered to his desk. He smiled bitterly at the wedding picture that he kept on his desk. His wife would stay smiling ever more, wearing colors of red and gold with her face lit in joy in the picture.