After ten years of a quiet, friendly marriage, Jane and Andrew divorced. When she told people it was due to “culinary differences,” everybody took it to mean that she didn’t want to reveal the real, much juicier, reason. I mean who divorces for something so trivial?
When she and Andrew were together, they had taken a very practical, economical, and ascetic approach to nourishing their bodies. They had oatmeal every morning. Lunch was ham or turkey on sourdough–his with mayo and lettuce, hers with lettuce only. Their son Judah, whose fetus was 7 months along at the marriage of his parents, used mayo too. An apple for dessert, no matter the season. Only their dinners were, in Andrew’s forgivingly infelicitous phrasing, “varietous.” They were cooked Sundays and Wednesdays (or Thursday) in a large stainless steel pot salvaged from a defunct commercial kitchen. Always beans, rice, and a slew of vegetables, fresh the first day and nuked thereafter. They drank water. She and Andrew were academics, and they had little time for or interest in the fripperies of bourgeois existence, they told themselves. Frequently, they read while they ate, sometimes actual books, but sometimes they read their phones. Judah had his own social media, but Jane and Andrew shared a single Facebook account. Jane took an aerobics class twice a week, Andrew did not. Judah was a bookworm and class chess champion. They were and were considered to be a model family.
Then, beginning late that tenth spring, Jane felt anxious. She didn’t know what it was, what would fix it, was she hot? Behind on something? Was her fly down? Had she left her bike unlocked? Finally, it dawned on her…. She was thirsty! She decided she wanted something fizzy, maybe even a little bit sour. And despite having had her eight glasses of water already and not feeling like there was really any extra room in her stomach, Jane stopped in at the local health food place and bought – feeling very rakish and looking about for witnesses – a bottle of kombucha. After that, came — as they say — the déluge….
In short order, Jane downloaded the Next Door social app and through it acquired a SCOBY of her own. She bought both expensive and lavishly marketed black tea, local honey, and a set of jars both large and medium. She thought of herself as the apostle of kombucha, sharing it with the entire English Department and doing a presentation/gifting of it to Judah’s 4th grade class. She was exhilarated by the experience of the making and sharing of a comestible, more than she ever had been by publishing that piece on the Wife of Bath’s ‘queynt’ or her reading of the Roman de la Rose as a text written by people who had never enjoyed sex, much as today we find that when people have nothing legitimate to offer the world they call themselves “life coaches.”
Jane went out foraging for blackcaps – too soon, it appeared, for there to be any– and she came home with poison ivy. She was too late for ramps; but she did find and steam some fiddleheads. She infused honey with wild violets. She was on fire! But Andrew and Judah were at best lukewarm. Some days she would come home from the office hours no one ever took advantage of to head immediately back out again, trowel and basket in hand. She made dandelion pesto, which only she ate. She dressed chickweed in homemade apple cider vinegar, to the wry and gentle mockery of her family. Andrew started making smaller batches of the rice and beans, and finally one day Jane announced she was moving out.
She bought a little place with a big yard and snagged one of Tractor Supply’s last remaining six-sets of baby chicks. She joined a vegetable CSA, a bean CSA, and a dairy CSA. She bought her own flour mill (somewhat prematurely) and put in a garden, where she planted wheat and rye beside the parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, oregano, cilantro, and tulsi. She planted flowers. Shortly after her divorce came through, she met Peter.
Peter was divorced as well, as are all eligible mid-life men, Jane told herself. He was an ex-academic who now farmed mushrooms. He did mail order and had a booth at the farmer’s market. Jane and Peter met one day in line at the credit union. She had just come from making a fresh heap of her special, mycelium-rich compost and was still in her barn boots and overalls. He had just come from his farm and was still wearing his barn boots and Carhartts. They looked at one another and laughed out loud. They started a conversation that lasted into supper time and then started it up again the next day.
That first dinner was good – she cooked for him at her place – but the best thing about it was that it served as a trigger for hundreds of subsequent good meals, each with a different piquancy of herbs or one of the dozens of mushrooms Peter grew, sometimes augmented with jerky Peter had made from venison he had taken, sometimes with the yogurty lebnah or some kefir cheese that she had let hang over a pail in a cooler in her shed.
One day Peter brought her a deep metal bucket containing a large, live catfish. The water was cold and the fish looked colder, an aqueous periwinkle with a malevolent eye and long, baleful barbels. It probably weighed 25 pounds. Jane put her hand into the cold water and picked the heavy creature up. It wagged its tail a little. Peter suggested they fry it. Jane laid it on a cutting board where it did an uncomfortable little dance, so she cut off the barbels, to help it lie flat. She sliced into the muscle of the living fish all the way down to the tail. She flipped the filet over. It was juicy and fat and she had not left any bone in it. Then she turned the body over to do the other side and the fish struggled again. She paused for a moment and then sliced off the second filet, lifting the fatty slab off the body and turning it over with her knife. The fish stopped moving. Her hands were like ice.
“You fry it,” she said to Peter.
“Do you have any buttermilk?” he asked. “We should probably soak it first.”
“Of course I have buttermilk,” she smiled.
So they put the fish in the milk and while it soaked they made long slow love in her warm bed. When they had both finished, they lay for a long time with their arms around one another and drifted off for a while. When they woke, they were hungry! Peter did the catfish up in the air fryer and Jane made some long garlicky green beans on the cooktop to keep it company on the plate.
“This is the life,” she sighed.
“Indeed,” he said, “it is.”