l baked a chicken the night I left my wife. It was a chubby-thighed roasting hen I rubbed with olive oil and salt and hefted into a 500-degree oven where I left it to sizzle for about an hour. The hen’s buttery smell filled the kitchen. Soup I’d made with the hen’s neck, giblets, and feet simmered on the stove. Out in the dining room, my wife, my stepson and his wife, and two guests, chattered and laughed and complained they were hungry. Our Sabbath candles shone in their silver holders. The challah waited beneath its embroidered velvet cover to be blessed.
On many Friday nights we gathered around that big oak table where I blessed my stepson and his wife, where I sang Aishes Chayil to my wife (“Who might find a woman of valor? Her value is far beyond pearls....”), where I blessed wine and bread, served chicken soup, carved juicy hens, chanted the Grace After Meals (“Blessed are You, our God, King of the Universe, who nourishes the entire world, in His goodness, with grace, with kindness, and with mercy....”).
For a long while I thought my life was full and sweet. For a long while it was.
“He monopolized my time on my honeymoon” is what my wife told Star and Bob, our marriage counselors, by way of expressing her past and present dissatisfactions. I sat there and wondered about my wife’s use of the possessive, “my honeymoon.” But what did I know? I wasn’t sure of much. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was paying $185 an hour to a husband-and-wife team named Star and Bob to listen to my wife complain that I’d monopolized her time on her honeymoon.
“Interesting,” murmured Star, toying with her chunky ethnic necklace. Bob picked imaginary lint off his taupe corduroys. Star, eyes wide with bland compassion, turned to me, “What are you feeling?”
“I’m feeling,” I said, “that I have to go home and bake a chicken.”
I suppose every failed marriage has its own Dealey Plaza, Texas School Book Depository, grassy knoll. Its own Star and Bob. A mystery point where fatigue, despair, and anger find triangulation. Motives forever remain murky, history changed nonetheless. When I left Star and Bob’s office, I knew I would never come back.
I went home and monopolized a roasting hen’s time. As millions of Jews have done for centuries on early Friday evenings, I baked a chicken. Humming “Some Enchanted Evening,” my wife cleaned the living room. She arranged daisies in a vase. The sun went down. She lighted and blessed two candles. The guests arrived and, a few minutes later, my stepson and his wife. Our meal began.
God created the Sabbath and said, “Israel shall be your mate.” Rabbis further explained, “Accordingly, every week, Israel greets the Sabbath like a groom awaiting his bride.” The Sabbath, too, represents a foretaste of Heaven, a never-ending honeymoon. I didn’t want our meal to end. I wanted it to go on forever.
Our guests said goodbye. My stepson and his wife lingered. She got up and hugged me, “You’re the father I always wished I’d have.” She wasn’t going to wish that for much longer.
They left. The house was quiet. My wife cleared the table then went to bed. I fed the dog and went outside and stared at the garden I planted. Every seed I’d carelessly poked into the ground, every sunflower, every bean, every marigold, every gourd, every mint, every tomato, had shot up out of the earth. The tiny one- and two-leafed sprouts mocked me.
I crept back to the bedroom to take some clothes, a book I was reading, a leather satchel. My wife was asleep. Under the reading lamp, her long dark curls, her sweet pale complexion, glowed. Her lips were slightly parted. I wanted to kiss them again. I wanted to taste her breath again. I knew I could never make her happy.
The last time I saw it, our dining room was chilly. The candles in their silver holders flickered. (You don’t blow Sabbath candles out.) Our dog, an aging black Labrador, snoozed beneath the table. In the kitchen, the refrigerator hummed.
I took the leftover baked chicken with me and ate it in my motel room the next afternoon for lunch.
Most major supermarket chains — Ralph's, Albertson's, etc — carry frozen kosher chickens. However, Aaron's Clatt Market (4488 Convoy Street, 858-636-7979) carries very fine, already defrosted kosher chickens, in addition to a wide range of other kosher products.