Mr. Faraway and I have spent a lot of time together since that party in April, or at least, as much time as possible for two working single parents who live four hours’ drive apart. He must do all the traveling, and so he does, always with flowers and without complaint.
We have fondue together a few days before my birthday, and Thanksgiving together at his aunt’s house when my plans fall through. Christmas together will not be possible, so instead we plan a small Christmas in mid-December, when he will be at my house for a few days for some meetings in town. I plan to make dinner the night he arrives, and have some chicken thighs defrosted for this, but I forget to tell him so he eats on his long drive instead. I put the chicken thighs back into the refrigerator and say, It’s fine. I’ll make it tomorrow.
The next night, we head over to the Christmas Tree stand, where I overpay for a tree, rationalizing that it’s worth the price because they will deliver it and set it up. I put Mr. Faraway and The Child in charge of locating Christmas stands and ornaments while we wait for the tree delivery, as I’m going to cook dinner. I set about slicing lemons and chopping shallots, but have to keep stopping to answer questions and give directions. The tree arrives and everything stops, and then Mr. Faraway joins me in the kitchen as The Child takes over at the tree.
He opens the package of chicken, and says, that’s odd, it smells like eggs. I notice it too. It’s not overpowering, just a light smell, like first-grade paste.
The Child stops our discussion with a demand that we admire the lights on the tree: She’s hung all the large, white, outdoor lights, which overpower the room and have me seeing spots. After some discussion about our lack of indoor Christmas-tree lights that actually work, we return to the egg-smelling chicken. It looks okay, and a little bit of googling mostly convinces me that bad chicken should smell much, much worse, or be off in some other noticeable way, like being slimy or off-color.
While the chicken roasts in a cast-iron pan, I show him how to shred and pan-roast brussels sprouts in another. He tastes the sprouts and pronounces them delicious, taking small forkfuls of them out of the pan while waiting for me to finish the sauce for the chicken.
After cooking a sauce of lemon, shallots, oragano in the kitchen – and with a large fresh pine tree in the family room – there’s quite a lot of delightful scents in the house, but the odor is still there too, just a hint, a mildly off note in the midst of it all.
I taste a small piece of the chicken. I spit it out. He tastes a small piece and does the same. It’s off, and not just by a slight hint.
In the evening I planned, the three of us would sit at the table, eat pan-roasted chicken, then finish decorating a delightful, twinkling tree and open our gifts to each other. Instead, we order pizza and try to figure out why we don’t have any indoor light strings that work. Mr Faraway pours a glass of wine in an effort to soothe the situation, which is beyond help, though I appreciate his optimism. We’re up to the gift-giving part of the evening, and several of his are still on order: I have shipping notifications and that’s it.
We can open gifts on Christmas, he says. We’ll do it on Skype.
I do not like this plan. This is the only Christmas we will have together, and I have one gift that I want him to have, today. We finally agree, we’ll open one gift tonight, and the rest on Christmas Day, on Skype. He chooses one for me from the pile he’s brought, and I give him the only one that arrived in time, the only one I’ve wrapped. It contains a small antique glass jar, made by a glass school in the Bohemian village where his ancestors lived. The village is famous for this glass, and he’s mentioned that fact a few times, and when I research it I discover it’s quite elaborate, and for the most part, well beyond my budget.
Except this small glass jar, just right for a man.
He opens the box, and I can see the flicker of recognition as he sees the lid: I’ve included various items to identify the piece, so he will know exactly what it is and that its provenance has been meticulously documented. He doesn’t need it, though. Just a glimpse of the lid, not even completely unwrapped, and he knows exactly what it is.
He holds it up, admires it, and looks at me in unconcealed amazement.
Then he takes back the gift he’s given me to open tonight. No, not good enough. He and The Child discuss the various possibilities, and finally he settles on something he considers suitable, which turns out to be an Inch-High Private Eye lunchbox, a relic from my childhood. He’s filled it with goodies, and then insists I open another gift, because I’ve outdone myself with this one small glass jar, noticed a conversational detail and acted on it, for him.
He seems dissatisfied with his own offering, but I’m mesmerized by his own attention to a detail I don’t remember ever mentioning: A bit of my childhood, returned to me.