Kitchen Chronicles is a weekly series by Barbara Sibbald, a novelist and award-winning journalist and long-time contributor to Ottawa Magazine. Visit Kitchen Chronicles every Sunday for a new instalment — and a tested recipe.
Over the fence
— It’s a bit strange, inviting Don over for a drink. I mean we hardly know him, says Luc.
— He’s given us tons of plants, says Fiona, as she finishes brushing olive oil on the thin slices of ciabatta. All those hostas. Remember?
— Plus, I’m getting to know him, we chat over the fence all the time. He’s my gardening guru, he knows everything.
— Not more than you? teases Luc.
— Way more, she says smiling, ignoring his teasing.
All the years they lived in an apartment she subscribed to Garden Making, clipped out articles on plant combinations and composting and duly filed them in an accordion file. For her, the good-sized sunny back yard off the kitchen was one of the big selling points of their new house. All fall, she’s been out there every chance she gets, putting in perennial offerings from friends, weeding, cutting back plants. Once, she even planted bulbs by flashlight after reading that the daffs had to be in before October 12th. Luc helps with the hard stuff — wheel-barrowing dirt about and moving rocks — but basically it became her turf. And she’s happy with that, especially since he now wants an equal say in the décor and whatnot inside the house.
— Don’s mother was from England, continues Fiona, and her father, or maybe grandfather, was a gardener at some mansion on the Eastern Coast. Somerleyton Hall? Something like that. Don tells stories about the grounds: knot gardens with herbs and hundreds of roses, all in pink. If a rose reverted to red, they’d just rip it out. Imagine the extravagance of that.
— I guess it’ll be a good chance to ask him about pruning that Manitoba maple, says Luc, clearly bored with the gardening talk. It’s blocking the sun.
— Yeah, says Fiona.
She turns the crostini* in the oven, then spoons the store-bought tapenade into a bright red Fiestaware bowl. There’s a tap at the back door. She looks up: Don’s there, brandishing a bottle of wine.
— Hi there, says Luc, opening the door. Come on in.
— Thanks for the invite, he says. What a wonderful kitchen, I love the kitschy touches. He points to the smiling tea pot faces.
— Thanks, Don, says Fiona. We’ve collected for years.
— The wall colour works well, especially with that red floor. What is it?
— Marmoleum, says Luc. That old brown linoleum was the pits.
— Literally, says Fiona. It had holes worn right through it. Sit down, sit down, make yourself at home.
She takes the crostini out of the oven and slides it into a basket lined with a lime green cotton napkin, then she places it and the tapenade on the kitchen table.
— Help yourself, she says. Is Patricia away on business again?
— No, no, says Don. He pauses; Fiona looks up and is astounded to see a tear dribbling down his face.
— Don! What’s wrong? She says, handing him a Kleenex.
Luc goes to the counter, begins opening the bottle of wine.
— I’m sorry, says Don, giving his nose a resounding honk.
The tears stopped as quickly as they began.
— I’m such a wreck. It’s, well…Patricia’s left. She wants a divorce.
— Omigosh, I had no idea, says Fiona. I’m so sorry to hear that Don.
— There was no warning, he says.
Luc hands him a glass of wine and he takes a big gulp.
— I can’t tell you how much I miss her. It’s not home without her there. She just up and announces she doesn’t love me and then she leaves.
Affair, thinks Fiona instantly. No one leaves that quickly, without resolution, unless they have someone waiting in the wings. Like her father. He was supposedly single for a couple of months in Vancouver, but Fiona always suspected he left for Lorelei. Her mother thought so too.
— That’s terrible, she says to Don. You must have been so shocked.
Don doesn’t seem to have heard her; he continues.
— She’d already packed. I hadn’t even noticed.
How could he not notice? Fiona wonders.
— When did she leave? she asks.
Luc is wiping the counter, tidying up from the crostini. He’s embarrassed, thinks Fiona.
— Yesterday. I don’t even know where she’s gone. She said a clean break was best and her lawyer would be in touch.
There is a pause. Fiona wants to ask why he thinks she left, but knows that would seem nosy.
— Help yourself to the crostini and tapenade, she says.
— Thanks, he says, but doesn’t move toward the snack. I haven’t been eating. I keep wondering why, why would she leave me? Especially like that. And then I come here and see your home and how nice it is, and the two of you. I’m sorry for burdening you.
— No burden, not at all, says Fiona. You’re going through a huge trauma. Do you have family in town?
— No, but I’ve got an appointment with my psychiatrist tomorrow. That should be quite a session.
He smiles half-heartedly.
— I’m afraid I’m not very good company. I shouldn’t have come over.
— You probably need some company. It’s not good to be all alone. These things have a way of replaying in your head, says Fiona.
— You’re right there. We were together 14 years and I keep thinking, was it because we couldn’t have children? It was her, but still…Didn’t I do my share around the house? Should I have let her mother come and stay with us that time? Did I ignore her? Dismiss her? Make her feel bad? I just can’t figure out the why of it.
Fiona notices another tear trickling down his face, toward his meticulously clipped beard. He’s a handsome man, she thinks. He won’t be on the market long. Not in this town.
— I’ve had a couple of friends who went through a divorce, she says. Sometimes there’s no big why. Sometimes it’s a lot of little things accumulating. Some have nothing to do with what the partner did or didn’t do.
— Like what? he asks.
— I don’t know. Like her new job, for example. All the travelling. Maybe she felt distant from you. Maybe…
— Oh nothing, I don’t even know her.
— But you were going to say something.
Luc sits back down at the table.
— Maybe there was someone else, he says rather aggressively.
Fiona glares at him.
— Oh, no, no, says Don. I would have known.
There is a pause. He didn’t even notice she’d packed her bags, thinks Fiona. He could have missed the affair too.
The phone rings and Luc grabs it.
— Mama! Comment ça va?
He walks into the living room, leaving Fiona and Don alone.
— She’s the love of my life, Don mumbles.
— Give yourself time, Fiona says softly.
She reaches across the table and squeezes his hand.
— I know it’s a cliché, she continues, but time does help you heal. Be good to yourself. Hang out with friends. Go on a trip to visit someone you love being with. Garden.
— Yes, yes, he says. I now you’re right. I’ve got to go, Fiona. I’m in no state for company.
— Thanks, he says. I’m sorry to have bothered you with all of this.
— No bother, she says. That’s what friends are for. Call me if you need anything.
— Okay, he says.
She knows he won’t. This was a one-off, an out-of-control moment of desperation.
— See you over the fence, she says.
Makes about 20 slices
Loaf of ciabatta bread or a baguette
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 °F.
2. Slice bread on an angle, about 1/8 inch thick.
3. Place in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet.
4. Brush with oil on both sides and season with salt and pepper.
5. Bake 10 minutes, rotate the cookie sheet, and bake another 5 to 10 minutes or until golden.
6. Let cool on sheet.
7. Serve with tapenade, bruschetta, or other dip.