Francesca doesn’t expect a man with only one leg to play football or operate a shrimp boat, but why can’t he pick up after himself? She doesn’t expect him to be happy, but why can’t he be grateful it was only a leg?
By the time she arrives home, Brian is passed out on the sofa, the TV showing re-runs from last week’s UFC Fight Night. Magazines are strewn about and empty beer bottles overturned. Before waking him, she picks up his empties and changes out of her work clothes. Her fingers, skin, and hair smell of garlic, and no amount of scrubbing will remove the scent.
She turns off the TV and calls his name from across the room. She knows better than to startle him with a shake or even a kiss. He keeps a loaded handgun always within reach.
He sits up. “I didn’t hear you.”
He hasn’t shaved in days, hasn’t changed out of the same t-shirt for a week.
“Yeah, we ran late.”
She sits next to him and rests her head on his chest. It would be nice if he slipped an arm around her shoulders or offered to massage her feet, but instead he picks up the TV remote and says, “Every night’s late.”
Behind the words is a question, not quite an accusation, but a question. Maybe screwing around with the fat and balding executive chef? Maybe partying with Javier, the handsome line cook, who is most likely gay but might turn for a woman as beautiful as Francesca?
She met Brian just out of high school. She shucked oysters at a restaurant on Dauphine Island. He shrimped out of Pass Christian with his father and brothers—why, everyone knew the Boudreaux brothers, famous for their fishin’, fuckin’, and fightin’, especially Brian, the former all-state quarterback. After Katrina blew in and swept their shrimp boats away, he swept Francesca away with a marriage proposal. Then, six months after the wedding, he joined the army, and she found work at one of the few restaurants in New Orleans then remaining open for business.
Now, she’s the sous chef at Noveau! and he is this.
Where there once was flesh and bone, now there is titanium. Titanium doesn’t tire, sprain, or break, but neither does it feel a caress or offer warmth. With a little effort, he could run again, work on a shrimp boat again, but all he’s interested in is watching TV and drinking beer. Once a week, he goes through the motions of rehab. Once a month, he talks to a shrink about his PTSD that manifests itself in listlessness punctuated with fits of violence.
After a few minutes, she slides off the sofa and kneels before him. She removes his prosthetic, and using a soft cloth and tooth brush, begins the daily process of cleaning this metal that does not heal or rust. She fetches a bowl of warm, soapy water and washes what remains of his real leg from the knee down, the hairless stump. While she cleans and washes, he flips from one station to the next, catching a few seconds of each offering before moving on.
“Did you eat today?” she asks.
“Are you hungry?”
He continues to flip. “Yeah, I could eat.”
The refrigerator’s contents are sparse—beer, eggs, cheese, bacon approaching its expiration date, a yellow onion, half and half, and a stick of butter.
Julia Child described the omelette as the perfect food.
While frying the bacon, she whisks eggs with a dollop of half-and-half, minces a tablespoon of onion, and shreds cheese—not exactly Gruyere, but this less expensive Swiss will do.
Waiting for the bacon to drain on a paper towel, Francesca melts butter in a pan. When the butter foams, she sautés onion, then pours the egg mixture into the pan. She waits for the eggs to firm around the edges, shakes the pan to loosen the omelette, and then tilts the pan so that the un-cooked egg on top rolls to the side. After a few moments, she flips. She salts and peppers, crumbles bacon, and tops with cheese. Using a spatula, she folds the omelette in half and slides it onto a plate.
She pours herself a glass of white wine and opens a beer. She carries the drinks across the room and places them on the coffee table before returning with the steaming omelette, forks, and napkins. The table neatly set, she sits next to her husband, their shoulders brushing. She forks a bite and offers it to him.
He sniffs. “What’s in here?”
She wouldn’t have minded a splash of truffle oil, maybe a pinch of arugula, but he’s a meat and potatoes’ guy. Early on, she found his lack of sophistication endearing and looked forward to converting him from a man who eats to live to a man who lives to eat. That was before ten years of marriage and two deployments to Afghanistan.
“Bacon and cheese,” she assures him.
“What kind of cheese?”
“Whatever you had in the ‘fridge.”
He accepts her offered bite. “Not bad.”
Francesca forks another bite and places it on his tongue. Then another and another until the omelette is gone.
“Yeah, not bad,” he says.
She sips her wine, kisses him, and says, “I love you, Brian.”
He nods. “Yeah. me, too.”
She rinses the plate and her glass. By the time she’s finished, he’s passed out again, his bad leg splayed to the side.
She cleans her trusted chef’s knife, the one she’s owned since working in her first gumbo shop. It’s made of Japanese steel folded and forged and folded and re-forged hundreds of time, not as strong as titanium but strong enough to penetrate bone and sharp enough to cut gristle. She hones it on her steel before carrying it into her bedroom.
She places the knife on her nightstand where it lies always within reach.