What Remains Was Always There
The old man sat at the kitchen table, chastened. His daughter lit a cigarette and threw the pack on the table. Crouching down, she rummaged through the mismatched pots and pans in the bottom cabinet under the kitchen sink looking for one with a lid. She winced through the smoke, one eye closed, the cigarette clamped in the corner of her mouth. Mouse droppings, dust and a rust-colored pool of water from a pipe that looked ready to burst, covered the old lining paper. She vividly remembered the print: a woven pattern, made to look like straw.
She found both a pot and a frying pan, but, with irritation, no lids, and plunged both into the sink which she filled with water and three squirts of green dish liquid. She sweated from the effort and switched on the fan with the dusty blades that sat on the counter top. The old man stared at her as if willing her to speak first.
“O.K., Pop. Do you want them boiled or fried?” Rosemary asked her father. Minutes before she had ranted about the dandelion greens he’d brought into the kitchen for her to cook, after scavenging all over the neighborhood for the coveted leaves to eat. Rosemary had never had a taste for them and refused to eat them. A classmate in grade school, long ago, had once mentioned that her father would have liked to get out his BB gun and take a shot at the next “wop” that snooped around his yard, even if he was only picking at his weeds. Rosemary felt the shame anew, and hated to think of the old man scouring the neighborhood with a plastic bag and the old paring knife he had sharpened so many times there was barely a blade. She looked at him in the brand new Reeboks she’d just bought him, obscenely white and incongruous with the white button shirt and brown slacks that he wore, no matter the season or the weather.
“Make sure you clean the leaves good.” He made a face, as if he was a man of highly refined taste and not a picker of weeds that sprouted through the cracks in sidewalks. Rosemary took a drag of her cigarette and blew a smoke ring. She looked at the pots soaking and thought she couldn’t bear to sink her hands in the hot water. Strangely, the late afternoon sun seemed twice as strong as the midday sun and the kitchen felt ready to combust. Rosemary stared at her father, gentle and stubborn at the same time. He’d been more of a comfort to her when her husband left than she had been to him when his wife, her mother, died. They both grieved terribly and could hardly do a thing for each other.
“You know, Mrs. Anastasio is going to kick your ass for not leaving her any!” Rosemary joked with her father, feeling less irritated and glad she could please him with so small a gesture. The old man relaxed, and she cringed when she thought that her anger probably intimidated him. She wasn’t used to cooking for him here, and if she had to cook the greens, she would have rather done it at her house, where she usually feeds him. Lately, he hadn’t wanted to leave the house for any significant period of time, not even to see his granddaughters, her two daughters, that loved having their grandfather around. Guilt, lately her predominant emotion, tugged her in a familiar place.
“This time, it was my turn, next time her turn,” he said, chuckling and raising his thick, browned hand as if he couldn’t care less about the lack of dandelions left for his loud-mouthed neighbor. Finally: “In the pan, Rosemary. A little garlic and some potato, diced up small.” He gave the directive as if inspiration had struck out of the blue. He rolled his tongue around his thin lips in anticipation. Soon the garlic hit the pan with a hiss. The old man folded his hands on the table, leaned back and closed his eyes with a smile on his face. Rosemary tucked an old linen serviette with the small purple and yellow flowers and long green stems that her mother had embroidered many years ago around his neck, like her mother insisted on doing for him all the years they were married.
After the old man ate, Rosemary cleared his plate. They sat quietly at the table, lethargic, their bodies now accustomed to the heat. While she smoked, her father worried his fingers nervously and looked contemplative.
“You know, Rosemary, once the dandelion has a flower, the green part is too tough. It’s no good no more.” He stared straight ahead, but looked at her from the corner of his eye. She shook her head slowly back and then burst out laughing. She grabbed his arm from across the table and shook it playfully.
“Don’t I know it, Pop. Don’t I know it!
(above text by Michelle Reale, photo by Karl Lintvedt)