Chapter 9: Susan
I keep telling people on my show that they can write, and in early December, I’m ready to revise my tenth book.
I’m careful this time.
After I’ve seen Martin off to work, I wash up the breakfast dishes and do any urgent housework, and then I go into my office.
I set two alarms so that it’s harder for me to turn them off, and I do non-urgent housework from two until Martin gets home.
I save heavy chores for us to do together on Thursdays.
On Sundays, I do any urgent housework, and then we relax together, well, not quite, but at least we’re in the same room.
When Martin is home, I shut Tina completely off. I don’t allow myself to think about her books or I’ll want to run to my office and work. I’m keeping the peace and doing what I need to do.
By the third week of my show, I’ve received two stories, but neither are from Cecilia, and I feel as though I’ve promised her she’d be the first to be read on the air, so I save the others and hope Cecilia will send hers in soon.
My last show before Christmas is on December 22. Martin’s taking a week off, and I tell everyone that I’ll see them next year.
I drive home, already missing them, but there’s no way I can do my show if Martin’s at home.
On Christmas morning, Martin’s up at four. I want to sleep for another hour, but he wants breakfast and then presents, so I drag myself out of bed.
Hashbrowns. Bacon. Eggs. Pancakes. Coffee. Hot chocolate. Eggnog.
Martin wants it all.
Never mind that it’s ridiculously early and making all that is a huge amount of work.
Work for me, while he sits at the table with a goofy look on his face.
He’s never usually like this on Christmas. Sure, he likes it, but I’ve never seen him act like such a kid.
Everything for him needs to be piping hot. God help me if I should serve him up a cold morsel.
God help me if I should ever serve him something at all burned.
It has to be perfect. Every bite, or God help me.
I need some church. I’m thinking too much about how God should be helping me right about now.
I guess he’s too busy being the Father to the Son to care much about this unholy ghost of a tired wife.
Maybe going to bed earlier would be better for me than church.
“Can you make some apple pie please?”
Do we have any apples?
My head starts to pound.
If we’re out of apples, he’s going to get mad at me for forgetting to buy them.
There’s a ten-pound bag of apples.
“Wow. Can you make a few apple pies? I can take some to work.”
“Yes, I can do that, but probably not until . . . um, until later.”
“Oh, sure, that’s no problem. Can you make any other kinds of pies? I just remembered Connie doesn’t like apples.”
“I’ll check as soon as I dish up these pancakes.”
They’re perfectly done and pipingly hot.
He even makes me warm up the syrup.
I’m too tired to eat much, but he doesn’t seem to notice.
We have the ingredients to make several kinds of pies. Predictably, he wants all of them, but he says it’s “okay” to wait until after we open presents.
Well, ain’t that just ever so kind of y’all, Massa, I think in Jeff’s great accent.
While I clean up the kitchen and wash the mountain of dishes, he goes into the basement and I hear him carrying things up to the living room.
I’ll have to plan today carefully. He wants a full turkey dinner, even though nobody else is coming. His mom would, but she’s volunteering at a women’s shelter today, so she’s coming tomorrow.
Why can’t I be more like she is?
I’ll have to make the pies before lunch, otherwise the turkey and trimmings won’t have enough room.
He probably won’t mind if I cook some of the pies after dinner, so that means I get to stay up late cooking while he does whatever he feels like.
I might as well start boiling up the cranberries now.
When I walk into the living room, he’s sitting on the floor in front of the artificial tree he set up a couple weeks ago. Good thing, or I would have forgotten all about doing Christmas.
I really should go to church, but then there wouldn’t be time to make those pies.
“Is this one for me?” he’s holding up a box with his name on it.
He grins at me and rips off the paper.
It’s work clothes. I’m tired of washing them so often, so I’ve gotten him a whole bunch more. I also bought more towels, but I didn’t wrap those.
“Thanks. A few of mine are a little faded and a tiny bit worn. Maybe I’ll throw the worst ones away.”
No, please don’t do that, I think. I pray he’ll forget.
My parents have sent us presents, and his mom will bring something tomorrow.
Debbie, my friend from high school back home, has sent a card.
I forgot to send her one.
I’m a terrible friend.
My parents have sent us two romantic movies. Well, I’m sure Mom picked them out, and Dad’s written the card, all except for Mom’s flowery decorations and signature.
The first one I open from Martin is a cookbook. I flip through it. Darn. No pictures. It’s full of long, complicated recipes that would take a five-star French chef days, and me forever.
The next box contains books about sewing and knitting, along with a huge assortment of supplies for both. In the last box, I find a sewing machine.
“What do you think?”
I think he has unrealistic expectations, but I can see by his face that he wants me to like it, so I smile more brightly and artificially than our tree is.
“It’s lovely. Thank you.”
“Want me to put it in the guest room? Or is it good here.”
I don’t want this stuff anywhere near Tina. She’s a writer, not a domestic servant to the Boy King Martin.
“It’ll be good here.”
I pick up a book and flip the pages. A colorful chart looks up at me from the center of the book.
“Hey, that’s a cool sweater.”
Yes, so why doesn’t he ask his mom to make one for him? I’m sure she would.
“These instructions look kind of complicated.”
That’s the understatement of the year, I think.
“What are you gonna make first?”
“I’m not sure.”
I look at more of the books. Among them, I find a stitch dictionary.
What on earth is that?
Stitch. Noun. Something people use to sew and knit things with, I think.
It’s probably also a verb.
I stitch. I stitched. I am stitching. Am I going to stitch and please Martin?
I keep looking through the books. He must have bought every single one the store had.
I find one for beginners. Good, I might need that.
I leaf through it.
The easiest project is a scarf.
I show it to Martin.
The picture shows a little boy standing outside in the snow, wearing navy mittens, a jacket as blue as the ocean, and a bright, sky-blue scarf.
I try not to let my fake smile fall off my fatigued face.
I spend the rest of the morning making pies. First I have to make a ton of pastry, and then I have to prebake some of it. After that, I make fillings and fill the crusts. Then I have to bake some of those. The kitchen smells great, but I’m too tired to enjoy it.
Martin has pie for lunch. I have a sandwich, not because I don’t like pie, but because I’m tired, so why waste good pie?
After lunch, it’s back to the kitchen for another round of dishes.
When that’s over, it’s time for me to work on cooking dinner.
Turkey. Gravy. Potatoes, both mashed and not mashed. Dressing. Cranberry jelly, which I’ve already cooked. Vegetables, lots of them.
Martin calls from the living room, “What should we have for dessert?”
“How about some pie?”
“Naw. How about a cake?”
“What kind of cake?”
“Um, how about chocolate. No, maybe vanilla. Can you make both? Oh, and carrot cake. Karin loves that.”
“Oh, and Mom loves strawberry shortcake. Can you whip up one of those too?”
Four cakes? I’m gonna be up until breakfast tomorrow.
“I can make one in time for dinner. I’ve never made a carrot cake before, so I need to look that up, and I think your mom would enjoy the shortcake more if I made it tomorrow. Would you like the chocolate or vanilla one tonight?”
“Vanilla, please. Also can you make some dinner rolls to go with our dinner?”
He’s never asked for those before. He’s always just eaten the store-bought ones after asking me to toast them and melt some butter.
“Um, I’ve never made them, and I have no idea how long it takes.”
“Your new cookbook has a recipe for them.”
Great, just great.
“It says they’re basic.”
If I ever meet the author of that cookbook, I’m gonna give them a huge piece of my mind. Basic!
I go into the living room and Martin hands me the heavy book, which I almost drop.
It’s open to the relevant pictureless page.
Basic Dinner Rolls
I scan the recipe. I don’t think we have yeast. In fact, I know we don’t. I’ve never baked with it in my life. How can I tell Martin this fact without unleashing a full-blown temper tantrum? He’s being such a kid today, I wouldn’t be surprised if he rolled around on the floor kicking and screaming if I say we don’t have any yeast, not because I forgot to buy it, but because I’ve never needed to purchase the stuff.
“I guess we don’t have any yeast, huh?”
I don’t trust my voice, so I shake my head.
“Mom does, and she won’t mind if you go and get it.” He reaches into his pocket and hands me the key.
“Um, would you mind coming with me please? I don’t feel right going into her house without you when she’s not there.”
The real reason is that I don’t think I can drive safely in my current state of complete exhaustion.
I almost fall asleep in the car.
I look through her tidy cupboards and find the yeast right away.
He writes her a note saying that we’ve come for some yeast and that we’ll replace it, and then we drive home.
Once we get there, before I start making the so-called basic dinner rolls, I write down that I need to buy yeast next time I go shopping.
A few minutes later, I’m up to my elbows in flour.
By the time I’ve made the rolls, the cake, and the rest of dinner, I’m so tired, I have to consciously put one foot in front of the other just to make it to the table with the huge serving plates that Martin has not offered to help me carry.
“Wow, these are great!” Martin finishes off one roll and grabs another. He dips it in the melted butter I’ve provided, and takes a big bite.
I haven’t even worked up the energy to pick one up.
I look at him. He’s a mess. There’s butter all over his face and even on his shirt, which I’ll have to wash and it had better come out stain-free, or I’ll get the wrong end of his tongue for sure.
What have I married?
And why have I married it?
“Open your heart,” the minister said. “Open your heart to God, and problems won’t last.”
That minister has obviously never needed to cook a perfect dinner while mortally exhausted.
He eats and eats and asks for more and yet more.
I serve him and eat very little.
Finally, I bring in the cake. I’ve put red and green icing on it. It doesn’t look great, but Martin smiles and says how delicious it is. To me, it tastes like sweet cardboard.
He wants coffee, but I know it’ll make me jittery, so I make myself some hot chocolate.
He leans back in his chair. He’s smiling and has a dreamy look. He’s not looking at me, but at the cupboard where I keep things like food coloring, icing sugar, and candles.
I feel like I’m on autopilot as I go to it and take out a candle.
I look at him. His smile is like the baby Jesus’s smile that I’ve seen in paintings.
I put the candle in a holder and bring it and a box of matches to the table.
I flick off the light.
“Would you like me to light it?” he asks. His voice is soft and gentle.
He takes out a match and his hands are shaking just a little.
Well, I’ve heard that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, so this must be fact.
He strikes the match, and the candle glows.
There’s a million dishes to do, and cakes to be baked before bed, but for now, I sit with Martin in the romantic light of the candle and watch him as he watches me.
After a while, I notice that there’s something expectant about his expression. He’s not, after all, just sitting with me in the romantic, lovely light of Christmas. It’s not our special look, but what is it?
After a few minutes, he says, “Do you have something to tell me? Or maybe something to show me?”