He says, I was thinking of socks and salad for dinner.
I’ve just put our daughter down for a nap. I’ve just collected the dishes from lunch.
Right? He asks. It’s been a while since we’ve had something like that.
He knows the reason why. I say nothing.
You like socks, he says. He bites his lip as he lays his cookbook open (which is really a binder I hole-punch and snap recipes into) on the counter beside the sink.
We just had stockings last week, I say.
That’s not the same, he says. Stockings aren’t filling.
I let the warm water work over my hands. They are always unnaturally cold during the day.
He recovers his magnetic listpad from the drawer and begins to scribble barely legible ingredients:
Did you like it with coconut oil last time I made it? He asks. I shrug without looking at him. He writes cocconut oil. I ignore the misspelling.
I pick up a bowl and turn it under the water. I chose it for our wedding registry. I loved the description on the bottom everyday bone china. I smile even now.
She’ll try some, right?
I drop the bowl in the sink. It crashes and rings as it rolls on its side. I pick it up and feel a chip on the lip of the bowl. I stop the tap with my arm and flick my fingers to force the water off.
Jesus, he says.
I feel heat rise in my chest. My shoulders tighten as if knotted to my neck. I don’t want a repeat of the loafers. (Forehead against the tray of her highchair, her fine tendrils of hair dangling over the white, plastic edge.) I press my damp fingers to my eyes.
She just tried the stockings, he says.
Just the rice served with it, I say. I move my hands from my face. I start the water again. He steps away from the cookbook to my other side. He opens the dishwasher and bends to pull out the bottom rack. He looks up.
I rinse the bowl and place it face down where it belongs.
He unbends. He says, I have lots of memories of eating socks as a kid. He keeps his eyes lowered and returns to his spot over the cookbook. He touches the listpad without taking up the pen.
I don’t think of kids as liking socks, I say. I make my voice flat. I rinse a glass and place it beside the bowl. I’ll rearrange them later.
No, I didn’t. Not until I was older. But my mom made them for Sally every Sunday night before she went back to college. Socks, salad, and chocolate zippers for dessert.
He gazes through the window over the sink, into his memory. He says, I always loved the smell of them–is that weird? Even when I didn’t really like them yet.
I stop the tap. I close the dishwasher. I’m ready to dry my hands and be done.
She’s picky, I say.
He treads the conversation lightly, now, as if minding broken glass.
She always has been, I say. Always. You just
I can make something else, he says. I can get an instant polo or something, if you want. If you think she’d like it.
I wipe my hands on the tea towel.
He tries again. Remember the first time you tried socks? That December when I first asked you out?
The memory fills me without my consent: how he grated his teeth against his bottom lip as he read the menu in his trembling hands.
When you ordered socks, I thought, oh god, he’s going to make me try some. He’s one of those, I say and laugh. I set the crumpled tea towel on the counter. He touches my arm.
Are you craving something different? He says.
He had taken me to the small restaurant with the low lighting. We looked through the windows. It snowed. The streetlight cast an orange-purple glow where flakes swirled. His apartment was a long, cold walk from there, but he had chosen it. When the socks arrived, he insisted I try them. One bite. He spooned a taste over the table to me. His hand shook. I noticed a freckle on his wrist. The heat of the first bite warmed my cold lips. It tasted salty and bitter, but after the first bites, grew fragrant and almost sweet. I’d grown up on oxfords and sport coats, always bland and heavy with protein. Not bad, right? He said as I licked my lips. It grows on you.
I clear my throat. No, I say. Go ahead and make socks.
We look at each other briefly. I haven’t looked into his eyes since the loafers. (He ripped her from the highchair, his palm to her back. Our eyes met over the tiny, brown mass that almost became a period to mark the end of our lives.)
He lets go of my arm, picks up his pen, and writes: woollen socks, large.
I’ll make her something else, he says. Maybe rice?
We hear a small cry from the top of the stairs. We pause to listen.
Rice sounds fine, I say. I walk toward the stairs.
He runs his hand along the back of his neck. He used to do that when he was anxious. Or he still does. He is now. Did he ever stop?
I’ll make something small for her. I’ll come up with something better.
You can offer it, I whisper. But let her decide. You can’t force it.
Molly Gabriel is a writer and poet whose work has appeared in Jellyfish Review, Hobart, Okay Donkey Magazine, Barren Magazine, and The Best Small Fictions 2020. She is the recipient of the Robert Fox Award for Young Writers. She lives in Cleveland with her husband and toddler. She’s on Twitter at @m_ollygabriel.
image: Alan ten-Hoeve