Me, Irene, and the Radio King of Albuquerque by Ian Anderson

In the Kitchen Department at Macys, the sales associate, Debbie, shows me the KitchenAid stand mixers. They’re lined up on a display table in three lines of six—each row a step higher—so that, together, they resemble a chorus line of robots. They come in colors like Empire Red, or Aqua Sky, or Majestic Yellow, or White.

Debbie is excited to tell me about the features and attachments available, but all I see is the price tag. I think someone accidentally added a zero at the end, I tell her.

She pushes on her spongy, yellow hair. What you have to understand, she says, it that a mixer is an investment in a better life. A stand mixer announces that this is a house that gives, that this is a house that loves. You can’t put a price on that. I say: Okay, but you have put a price on it, and I can’t afford that price. I’m an adjunct professor. STEM? she asks. English, I tell her. You poor thing, she says. There is another option, she says. We walk to the back of the store. I think, Debbie says, that this might be better for someone…in your situation.

On the wall, there are three rows of six hats. The hats come in colors like Empire Red, or Aqua Sky, or Majestic Yellow, or White. Below the hats are silver spoons, whisks, hooks, and bowls laying loose in a cardboard box. While not what I had in mind, I have to admit, this option is more in my price range. Did you have a color in mind? Debbie asks. Pistachio, I tell her. Excellent, she says, should I wrap it up, or will you wear it out?

* * * *

I sit cross-legged on the kitchen counter and wait for Irene to come home. A high-walled bowl sits in my lap. In my right hand, I hold a whisk. The pistachio-colored cap fits snuggly on my head. This isn’t where I thought I would be in my mid-thirties. I thought I would, at least, be tenure track by now, but colleges aren’t hiring; and if they are, they aren’t hiring me. Irene’s father, The Radio King of Albuquerque, told me more than once that I could work for him, selling airtime to advertisers. He says I’m smart. You have to be smart to sell someone air. Irene would never let me take the job, though. She says The Radio King of Albuquerque just wants me to make more money because The Radio King of Albuquerque hates that his daughter has to work. But she likes her job. She likes working. She likes that I teach, and that I still read books. She says if I quit teaching she’d probably divorce me. My back is stiff. I feel like a semicolon.

The front door opens. Irene unloads her bag and coat and comes into the kitchen. She’s going to the refrigerator when she sees me sitting on the counter. She approaches and reads the note I taped to my forehead. It reads: Happy Five Years. Thanks for keeping me in the mix.

She smiles. She looks at my wisk. She pulls flour from a cupboard, eggs from the refrigerator. She measures the flour and dumps it in my lap. She cracks eggs. She pours olive oil. She adds salt. She’s making scratch pasta dough.

It is my favorite.

Irene replaces the whisk in my hand with a flat paddle and lowers my hand into the bowl. She tugs my ear, and I start mixing. The first minute is fine, but as the ingredients come together, my arm begins to ache. I keep going. This dough will be perfect. I mix and mix and mix. My forearm starts to cramp. My elbow is on fire. I don’t think I’ve given stand mixers enough credit. Their price starts to make more sense. Irene tugs my ear again, and I gratefully come to a rest. She replaces the paddle in my hand with a hook. Sonofabitch, I think. But when Irene tugs my ear, I start again with automatic loyalty. I mix until my arm is numb, until sweat drips down my neck.

* * * *

While the dough rests in the refrigerator, Irene sets the table for two, lights candles, and puts a record on the turntable. The Ronettes hum softly to life. Irene sways her hips to the music as she walks back into the kitchen. She pours wine. After years of marriage, I thought I knew everything about her, but I never knew this: what she’s like when she’s alone. She possesses a quiet tenderness. A confidence. It’s sexy in a way that I didn’t know could be sexy.

Irene takes the pasta dough out and cuts it into slices like you would a cheese log. She sets up the pasta maker—a gift from the The Radio King of Albuquerque. He would buy her anything she wants with all his air money, but Irene never told The Radio King of Albuquerque about the stand mixer. There are secret desires that only a spouse can know. It is intimacy, and it is good.

Irene rolls the dough out and cuts it into linguini with the pasta maker. She makes a simple tomato sauce and boils the noodles to al dente. She sends a text. She’s asking where I am, but I turned my phone off hours ago so it wouldn’t give me away. I’m smart enough to sell air if she wanted me to.

Irene ladles the sauce over the noodles. She sets the plates on the dining room table. From my place on the counter, I can see her sitting at the table through the doorway. She is beautiful. The pasta smells delicious. She sends another text. She waits. There are things that I can give my wife, and there things that I cannot. Not at the same time anyway. That’s just how it is. Dinner is getting cold. I wish she would just start eating.

 

Ian Anderson is a writer and designer living in Baltimore, MD, with his wife and daughter. He is the founder and Editor-in-Chief at Mason Jar Press, and his work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Wigleaf, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Five:2:One Magazine, Baltimore Fishbowl, and elsewhere. When not writing, designing, running a press, being a husband or father, he is listening to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. He tweets about that and other things from @ianandersonetc.

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