|Phot by Deborah Tilley via Wikimedia Commons|
Carol wasn’t prepared for the day to break into sunshine. She had already completed her daily Sudoku in front of the sunlamp, taking her daily dose of St. John’s wort with a cup of green tea. Her walk to the post office chilled her through layers of wool, down, and Gore-Tex, a walk that took her through the cloying gray world of snow, salt, and sun-blotting clouds. Custom demanded she wave and nod at the other bundled souls she met along the way, recognizable only by context. That man with insulated coveralls with the shovel in front of Earl’s house was most likely Earl, nobody but Tina would ever wear purple hat and peach scarf. The whole town could have been taken over by aliens and Carol would never know; not that she cared. Maybe an alien invasion would be just the thing to keep her distracted until spring.
When she got home, she stared at the blank computer screen, waiting for a story to come. She wanted to walk away, rummage through the cupboards for something to snack on. Household chores suggested themselves, including the idea that today was the perfect day to clean the oven burners. She remained seated and frowned at her empty teacup. She was blocked, but walking away from the computer wouldn’t help. She typed and erased, typed and erased, completing a whole paragraph in two hours.
A car honked in the driveway. Carol looked at the clock and put her torture on hold. How was it eleven o’clock already?
Her son drove her to the Chinese place run by a family from Guatemala.
“You know, this place always reminds me of London,” she said.
“I know, Mom.”
“I went to an Indian curry house and they sat me back by the kitchen. Must have been because I was a Yank. Anyway, while the staff all looked like extras from a Bollywood movie with the men in embroidered kurtas and the women in patterned saris, I happened to see the back of the house when the servers went to the kitchen.”
“They were all white guys cooking the food,” her son said. “I know.”
“And they wore French chef’s shirts with checked pants – and berets!”
“But how was the food?”
“Good, but pricey. I didn’t go back.”
“Well, I was never in London,” her son said, “but I’d put Emiliano’s Moo Goo Gai Pan up against anyone’s. What are you having?”
“I don’t know,” Carol said. “I’ve been craving something these past few weeks, but can’t put my finger on what it could be.”
“Hot and sour soup?”
“Well, I’m out of ideas,” he said.
Carol sighed and looked over the menu. The room brightened, forcing Carol to shield her eyes.
“Did they just turn on some lights?”
“No, the sun came out.”
“So it has.”
The sun’s glare, bouncing from the snow to the laminated menu, rippled before hitting her in the eyes. It sent Carol’s memory to a day in Missouri.
She looked away from the sparkles on the fishing pond. Insects buzzed in humid air as she walked down the row of trees. She pulled at her t-shirt’s collar to let the breeze cool her skin. A hawk broke off its lazy circle and dived, unfurling its wings just before it disappeared into the tall grass. In the branches above her, green pods clustered in threes and fours. The orchard’s owner assured her that they wouldn’t fall on her head, though several pods lay on the ground.
She was still looking at the menu when her son ordered, and the waitress, Lupa, asked if Carol needed more time. She scanned the menu one more time, waiting for something to jump out to her.
“Cashew Chicken,” she said.
Her son took a sip of Diet Coke. “How’s the SAD?”
“Fifty-two days until spring.”
“And that damned rodent in Punxsutawney was no help either. I wonder what they do when one of them dies? You ever wonder how they pick one rodent over another?”
“No. I just assume it’s eeny-meeny-miny-moe.”
“No, small towns wouldn’t be that sensible. They’d either get some self-appointed expert from out of town or form a committee to do the picking.”
“Maybe they just take the firstborn or next of kin and prop him up.”
“A groundhog monarchy? Now that would be interesting. How would that have started?”
“I was just joking,” her son said.
“It would make a great story.” She could kill a few people off in it too. The postman had asked and she had promise she would kill him in one of her stories, something suitably gruesome. That would be easy. The trick would be to also kill off the high school girl’s LaCrosse coach without the woman recognizing herself in print. Anyone who walked around in the dead of winter telling people to just smile their way through the season deserved a death worse than the postman’s.
Their food arrived, and Carol knew after one bite that the cashew chicken was not going to satisfy her mystery craving. She sighed and looked at her son’s plate.
“That’s not Moo Goo Gai Pan, “she said.
“General Tso’s chicken,” her son said. “I felt like something a little spicier.” He smiled and rolled the orange breaded-coated lumps in his rice.
“Your trees have bumps on their leaves,” she told the farmer.
“That’s the gall,” he said. “Bugs like wasps come in and lay their eggs under the surface of the leaves. It’s my own fault, I didn’t spray early enough in the season and some of the trees got those tumors.”
“Does it hurt the trees?”
A shrug. “Little bit, but they’ll bounce back next year.”
“What about your harvest?” she asked.
He smiled. “Nah. Plenty of pie for everyone come Thanksgiving. Why don’t you come up to the gift shop and have an early slice? Comes with coffee too.”
“I got it,” she said.
“Does Emiliano make desserts?”
“No, just the fortune cookie with the check.”
“Then we’re going to Brother’s Bakery after this for some pie.” And then she would go home and crank out a story. She could feel it forming in her brain.
“That was your craving?” he said.
Carol smiled. “It turns out I’ve had pecan on the brain all this time."