She puts a pot on the stove and watches as the flames burn their orange and blue flames through it. She has a half-empty cup of tea beside the kitchen table. Tea, already cold and tasteless as it struggles being caged in the unwashed cup. She puts it in her lips again and lets the brown liquid slip into her sore throat.
The flames keep flaring up as the empty pot sits calmly on it. She stares at the smoke already rising up from the pot. In her mind, she tells herself she isn't ready to do this yet and then she pours water into it and settles herself on the kitchen floor.
The house is empty. Not for the chairs that have slowly disappeared or the tv that has been taken from her. Not for the broken stairs creaking under her weight and not for the empty windows. The house is empty in the way empty houses are: proud and silent.
But she isn't sad about this. She never seems to be. Her husband will come home today and eat rice and stew and drink wine and tell her stories about the war. He will come back, she says.
She stands up from the floor and checks the pot. The bubbles coming out from the pot tells her she is ready. She puts rice in the boiling water and closes the pot. She drains the last of her cold tea and slips the cup in the kitchen sink.
Her doorbell rings. She walks to the door and pulls it open. The delivery guy stands there with a rehearsed smile holding a bouquet of flowers. She takes it from him and hands out her bizarre signature. She closes the door after he leaves with the same fake smile and she inhales the flowers. It smells nice, she says to herself.
She puts the flowers in a vase and adds enough water to keep it fresh until her man returns with a scar or a broken wrist, maybe. He wrote a letter last week to her telling her about the watery meals and the screaming and she wrote back to him telling him that she would wait for his return.
She walks back to the kitchen and leans against the wall, watching as the flames weave its way around her pot. Out of the corner of her eyes, she sees a man come out of his house. He is wearing one of those shirts bought as an afterthought. She watches him for a few minutes and then turns her attention to her hands.
She stares at her hands, at how coarse it has gotten since she heard he would be coming back home. Four years, she whispers. She leaves the kitchen and hurries to her room where she retrieves the letter Barry sent to her a week ago. She looks at the writing again. She imagines him crouched inside a room, writing hurriedly about how he wishes to kiss her. She imagines him blowing kisses at it as his excitement grows into dozens of glorious pieces. This is exactly what she feels now.
She goes into the bathroom, peels off her nightdress and lets the cold water wash the sweat from her face. I miss him, she says again and then because she feels like it, she screams the words. Then she turns off the shower and slowly steps out. She wears a blue gown that she knows he will like and applies lip gloss. When she goes back to the kitchen, the rice is ready so she takes it off the stove.
A new pot is placed on the stove and the same process is started all over again. She puts oil in it and then pours in her grounded tomatoes. She closes the pot, telling herself that it only has to bubble a bit. I love you, she says again.
The smell of curry wafts in the air and soon she begins to whistle a tune. Faintly. She shakes her head while doing this procedure, excited in the simple way her hands flex as she turns the stew cooking on the stove. Her brown hair which she tied up on her head in a loose knot comes tumbling down, spilling itself over her eyes and face and back. But she doesn't care. It doesn't make her feel any less excited that her husband is coming home finally.
She removes the pot of stew from the stove then turns it off. She doesn't see the orange and blue flames anymore, and oddly she feels nostalgic. Like she's lost something that once had been very valuable. She sighs deeply, leaning over the empty kitchen window with a frown. Not the kind of frown that sinks one's heart but the kind, the simple kind, where one is deeply in thought. Just simple.
She rolls her hair again to a single ponytail and smiles at her reflection on the window. She checks the time through her cheap wristwatch and nods her head in approval. Not a minute late, she hears herself saying. The time is 6:30 pm, dinner is ready and all she has to do is wait. He will be here, she says.
In the meantime, she opens the little cupboard and brings out two plates with flowery designs. He loves flowers, she mutters to the silent house. In response, the kitchen speaks to her of days left in a part of her memory. Little silent details that made half sense to her but which the kitchen felt was the truth.
Details such as June 24.
"You are still waiting? He's never coming back, Beth."
"He will. Don't say that, Huey. Don't, please. He sent a letter last week. He said he was coming back home to me."
"Last week! He sent the last letter a year ago. You should probably accept that and move on."
"I can't, sister in law. He'll come home. He promised."
"I know. But he isn't coming back."
Details such as August 6th.
"I'm going to send him a letter. Just like old times, I'll tell him I love and miss him."
"Don't do that. There isn't going to be a reply. Barry is gone for good." Huey whispers as tears fill her eyes.
"I'll write to him."
She sits on a chair in the kitchen and begins to write:
I miss you. Funny how I start a love letter like this, with words that seem so sad and yet so full of promise. I love you then. I love the little things that make my heart beat like your skin on mine and your...
She stops writing to him but she writes about him in a journal she keeps underneath her bed.
She keeps the plates on the table and then fetches the spoons and knives, keeping it alongside the plates. Then she serves the rice first and sits on a chair waiting for him. He'll come home with a scar or a tear in his eyes but he'll come home, she tells the table.
"He won't." The table replies.
She waits and waits and keeps waiting as the food grows cold and then she sighs. He will walk through this door and he'll meet me waiting, she tells the door.
"No, he won't." The door says.
She sighs again, knowing before anything else that she will repeat the same procedure tomorrow and the next: cooking his favorite diner and waiting for her man to come back home.
Tomorrow she will prepare rice and stew and sit and wait for him and he will come home then. He will come tomorrow, Elizabeth Davis whispers to her reflection.
"No, he won't." Her reflection says and the door and windows all agree.