Leanne searched around in the back of the van, looking for her new soil knife. She moved aside kneepads and seed packets, a box of condoms and several paperbacks from the Goosebumps series, ridiculously overdue. She could swear she had tossed the knife back here when she loaded up the van for carpool, but it had been a hairier morning than most; Mondays always were.
The old soil knife would work. The field basked in March morning light, cool and silent except for the hum of dragonflies darting among her crops. The Red Russian kale called to her. The rows stood like green soldiers, their spines purple, darker than her usual strains of kale, and arcing toward the sky. The kale was experimental, something requested by two of her clients. Chef Anton wanted a hybrid for a spring salad, and the new Thai restaurant was going to pan fry it with garlic.
As she harvested, the soil sang to her nose, tangy and rich. She never listened to music while she worked. There was too much noise in the rest of her day: children shouting in the morning, NPR as she drove, leaf blowers and the neighbor’s broken pool cleaner whining in the back yard.
Hours later, the van brimmed with freshly washed greens. She made her stops at the restaurants and then drove to her mother’s house. She smiled as she pulled into the driveway, appreciating the tidy front yard and the wicker rocking chairs idling on the porch. Her mother’s house always looked ready for company, like the covers of Southern Living she displayed on the coffee table.
“Hi, darling,” her mother said as Leanne came in with her basket of greens. “What have you brought me this time?”
“A hybrid kale. It’s fresh out of the ground this morning.”
“Lovely. Would you like some tea?” Her mother was still wearing her housecoat but her hair was coiffed and she had on her pearl earrings.
Her mother filled their glasses with iced tea while Leanne perched on a barstool in the kitchen.
“Let me taste this kale.” Her mother leaned on the counter and pulled a leaf out of the basket. “It’s washed?”
Her mother chewed and then smiled.
“Wonderful. So what else do you have going on today?”
“I’m on my way to get a trim.”
“You should stop trying to hide those grays, the blonde highlights do nothing for you.”
“I thought you liked my hair this way?”
Her mother wrinkled her nose. “I don’t care for it, no.”
“But you’ve always said I looked younger this way.”
Her mother tilted her head. “Have I?
Leanne started to speak but stopped herself, sliding off the barstool with a frown and a sigh. “Never mind. I need to get going or I’ll be late.”
“Okay, darling. Thanks for the greens, they’re just delicious.”
“You’re welcome.” Leanne gave her mother a peck on the cheek.
After the hair appointment and picking up the kids, she toted the basket she’d brought home for the family into the kitchen. The kids wouldn’t touch the kale, of course, but after they cleared their plates of lasagna and went outside to practice kick flips and soccer, she made a nice side salad for her and for Chris, drizzled with the homemade balsamic vinaigrette he liked.
He took a bite and grinned.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s great.”
He loaded up his fork with more greens and had another taste.
“Really good,” he said.
“Great,” Leanne said, pleased, taking a taste herself. He was right, the kale was crisp and sweet. A breeze wafted through the open window and past their plates at the same moment that a calmness came over her.
He set down his fork, and wiped his mouth with a cloth napkin.
“So I got an e-mail today,” he said. “The twentieth reunion is coming up.”
“Yep. May 2nd.”
Leanne widened her eyes. “That’s only six weeks from now. Crap, I bet that stupid Jennifer Mulgrew will be there, and I’ve gained so much weight since the last time I saw her. Do you think I look okay, or should I go on a crash diet?”
“If you think you can lose it, it’s probably best that you do.”
Leanne stared at him. Chris continued eating.
“Really? You think I should lose weight?”
Chris held his fork in midair and assessed her.
“I’d probably be more attracted to you if you did. Maybe just fifteen pounds.”
“Chris!” Leanne put down her napkin and glared at him. He frowned at her while a piece of kale slowly made its way into his mouth.
“How can you keep eating while saying things like that to me?”
He put down his fork. “What did I say?”
“Seriously?” Her eyes started to smart but she was too angry to cry.
“Leanne, I am completely at a loss here.” His green eyes looked sincere and for a moment Leanne wanted to believe him.
Leanne gazed at the green leaves on her plate and their purplish spines. She speared a bite with her fork and put it her mouth. The flesh was sweet and earthy, all the flavors of the soil and springtime circling her tongue at once before she swallowed. She had a strange sensation, as if her brain had just been washed in sunlight.
“Ask me something,” she said to Chris. “Ask me something you’ve been afraid to ask me.”
“What on earth?”
“Please. Just do it.”
Chris reflected. “All right. Why didn’t you answer the phone when I called Saturday night? Was your phone really dead?”
“I was having sex.”
Chris’s face drained of blood.
Leanne dropped her head into her hands. “Ten baskets to each restaurant – what am I going to do?”
“You were having sex with someone Saturday night and you’re more worried about your clients than about our marriage?”
Leanne’s gaze was sober, her response unvarnished. “Yes.”
Mandy Foster lives and writes in New Orleans. When not writing, she bakes cakes and chauffeurs her two young sons.