Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Still Life

The tomatoes were beautiful.

The piece itself was a rather stark, consisting of only a wicker basket on plank with dark gradient background. But, tomatoes were the color of arterial blood.  They looked like Easter eggs that had been set out for Good Friday.  The time and care the artist used in selecting the palette was obvious.  It was almost unworldly. In all her years studying and teaching painting, Mary had never seen an image quite like it.  And it was making her hungry.   Food, wine and celebration shouted from the walls of every building in the village.    Mangia!   Mangia!

Invitations to dinner were shouted from house to house in that odd Tuscan accent.  Everyone was family and they embraced every night, unlike Upper Saddle River where other people looked like threats. Romantic warmth rose in her for the first time in years.  Too bad Michael wasn’t with her to enjoy it.  His meetings were so much more important.   Bah!  All he knew was selling and money.  He never once took the time to notice the simple beauty of a tomato, or the delightful fragrance of basil foliage.  His world was computer screens and numbers that were of no use to anyone.  

The next painting was a bottle of Chianti rendered in a very similar style.  Mary glanced at the signature.  Yes, it was the same artist.  The straw bottle had been decanted and a freshly poured glass sat next to it.  She silently recited the Kadeish, thanking Adonai for the luscious gift from the vine.  The smell of baking Challah seemed to fill her nostrils. A vision of Grampy, with his long flowing beard, appeared behind the table. Mama bustling in the kitchen preparing the evening meal seemed to come from the wall. The celebration of family and rest floated blissfully in her mind.   

So many years have passed since then. The old fables she left behind to make her way in this world.  Michael came and they married.  Children and business followed.  Shabbat was only a memory.  It took too much time.  Time they need to live the life they had chosen.  It wasn’t a bad life.  But there was emptiness.  They only returned to synagogue for the holidays and even then not every year.  Of course, they did send in their contributions to keep up appearances.  But little of the tradition remained.  

 A lorry rumbled past and the wine began to ripple.  Without thinking, Mary reached for the glass and fell inward through the wall.  

When she turned around, she found herself facing a sunny window.  The basket of tomatoes from the other painting sat on the table, along with the bottle of wine and glass.  A gingham apron was draped over the chair.   The smell of a fresh loaf of bread came out from the old wood stove. A large pot of water slowly coming to a boil sat on top.  She had landed in an old kitchen.

Picking up the glass, she sees a piece of paper next to the tomatoes.   Sipping the wine, Mary read slowly.  On one side was written “In Vino,Veritas”.  Mary mused.  “In wine, there is truth." She thought, “Ha! Wine only made men fools.” Memories of Michael’s drinking began rising in her mind, days of anger and rage, followed by temperance and atonement.  It made such a lie of the ancient prayer.  Things were better now, but the fear of the darker side always seemed to be on the other side of the door.  She turned over the piece of paper.  Spaghetti Alla Carbonara.”   Should she make it?  It’s vacation, why not?  Putting on the apron that was in the chair, she tried to read the recipe.  

 Guanicale?  Isn’t that bacon?”   A piece of meat like a ham hock sat on the table.  “I guess so.  Mama, may she rest, wouldn’t be happy about this.  But it seems so right.”  Picking up a knife, she slices the pork into julienne strips.   Oiling a large skillet, she tosses the pieces in.  Slowly, they begin to sizzle and the aroma fills the room.  Onion and garlic are quickly subdued and added.  Looking down at the recipe, she reads the next ingredient.  

“Vino Blanco?”   Mary looks around.  The only wine is the Chianti.  “Just have to work with what I’ve got.”  She pours a bit in and scrapes the bits off the bottom of the pan.  In the large pot, the spaghetti magically appears.  Grabbing a large fork, she fishes out a huge blob and throws it in.  Tossing the pasta, she cracks two eggs and a bit of cheese to finish the meal.  A huge smile comes across her face as she takes another sip from the glass.  Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who creates the fruit of the vine.  Amen.”   She pulls the finished dish off the fire and turns towards the table.  

Mary stops short.  Michael is at the head of the table, smiling and sipping his own glass of Chianti.  He stands up still holding the glass and opens his arms.  Putting the hot Spaghetti down, she accepts his invitation and they begin to dance slowly across the small room…

Signora?  You all right?”   The docent put the smelling salts under Mary’s nose.  “Can we call someone for you?”

Mary looks around and sees she is on a sofa in an office.  As her wits slowly come around she notices Michael standing over her with a very worried expression on his face.  “Michael?”

“What a day.  When I got back to the hotel after my meeting, I saw you hadn’t got back.  I worried something had happened, so I took a taxi.  When I got to the village, I noticed the commotion here in the museum.  They were in the process of taking you to office. ..“

The room blurs out again.  No matter.  He does care.   Let the celebration begin. 


  1. Wow..... excellent writing, the story draws me in and I'm absolutely entranced by the sparkling details. Could almost taste that delicious spaghetti and decadent wine. Beautifully done, Christopher. :)

    In vino, veritas!!! Good motto....