WARNING - this story may contain adult content including coarse language and/or sexual content which may be offensive to some
ONE SWEET POTATO
a short story by Mark Kolke
May 16, 2011
Eight weeks, or was it nine?
I realized that a few joyous weeks doesn’t mean a lifetime commitment, or that we would each want that – but I thought we both wanted to figure that out.But, in a nano-second it all became clear to me.
Suddenly I understood – why we fought, had so little to do with the issue of the day, but the fact she had much higher priorities in her life than me.
All along, she was having an affair . . . and now I was certain of it.
In one phone call, not a thought about US, no discussion.
It has been a long day, and what a day it had been . . .
It began at 6AM. It was time to get up. It was time, though I hadn’t slept much, or well.
She’s been in New York on business, for the FFANY show – Brianne was a sales rep for Inamorata Footwear, Inc., importers of fine Italian shoes for women - gone just three days and I haven’t been able to sleep.
I’m confused at moments, in those wee hours - whether I miss her company, miss the sex or just miss the sleeping-pill effect of après coitus dozing.Sure, I miss it all, but which element is my driving force?
I’d been up since before dawn.
I’d scarcely slept all week.I had trouble with this strange emptiness in bed. It unsettled me.Hell, I’d slept alone for years between my marriage mishaps, between so many sections of a revolving door of women who visited my bed, or danced in my kitchen.
Lately I’d grown accustomed to Brianne’s smooth back pressed into my chest as she slept, her tiny round ass pushing into my groin. It had only eight weeks, or was it nine?I’ve lost track and, since she moved in two weeks ago, I guess it didn’t matter so much anymore.
Heady stuff this.Middle-aged madness, of lust at first sight, since the day I first met her at Francesca’s Trattoria.My friend Louise Erskine set us up – she’d met Brianne at a Women In Business fundraiser. They’d hit it off.Brianne was a travelling sales rep. for a shoe company and new to Gainesville.She didn’t know anyone and was interested in somebody to date.
Louise told her she had a friend, me, who would be perfect. He golfed, played tennis, was a great cook – he loved to travel, to ski and he was available. That’s what she told me.
Louise confirmed she’d not mentioned anything about the Louise-George connection. She said, “don’t worry, if you are half-as good in the sack with her as you used to be with me, she’ll be a very happy lady.”
My relationship with Louise – unlike any other I’d had with a former lover, was a sweet friendship that had grown steadily over the past five years.It had been a brief affair, which she broke off – unwilling to leave her doddering old husband.
She married a guy twenty-two years her senior. She admitted to being young, stupid, and having not thought it through very thoroughly.Now she was prisoner in a situation that would likely cost her a fortune if they divorced; she’d have to give him half of everything AND pay him support due to his advanced years.She just wasn’t willing to rock that boat.Each time we talked or got together for lunch I would ask about her husband’s health, and each time it sounded like he was getting stronger, not weaker. She was never going to leave . . . and it appeared, he wasn’t going to die any time soon.
But I digress.
Brianne had moved down from New York, last fall when the sales rep for the south-east territory was promoted to Sales Manager in New York. She had been with the company for several years, working department store accounts from the company’s showroom in the EmpireStateBuilding.
Our first lunch – the first meeting – I had the Cioppino, a tomato-based seafood soup to die for.She had the Linguini with Sweet Potato and Red Peppers.We drank what seemed like a gallon of an incredible Chianti. Lunch went all afternoon and well past dinner time; we’d taken a cab to my place.
The rest, though a fast nine weeks, is history and here we are.
It is all still so fresh – I’m curious, whether this is it, the woman of my dreams to end all man-dreams, or if it is just a pause-station in my apparently never ending chase.
The phone rang.
I punched the headset button on my earpiece.
Immediately – not even a pause, and her breathy heaving voice came through, “great, I’m so glad I caught you – I’ve been in a dead zone without cell phone service”
“Paxton, where the hell are you?” – I hollered into my headset.
Dammit, now I’ve got pasta dough all over my headset – and in my hair, in my ear and on my shirt shoulder - from pressing the answer button while kneading . . . but I’d been waiting for her call to confirm when she was arriving and whether I was to pick her up at the airport.
“Sorry dear, I’m running late . . . for my plane; I missed the earlier flight connection so I’m sitting here in the Denver airport, waiting for my connection to Cincinnati, then I’ll get in too late to make my connection to Chicago. I’ll have to overnight in Cincinnati, change my flight and fly to down to Jacksonville tomorrow morning, pick up my rental car and I’ll be at your beach house in St. Augustine by noon tomorrow. Sorry I’ll miss dinner tonight – I’ll have to meet your new sweetie another time, OK?”, she soothed my wired ear with her sexy syrupy smooth tongue. Some days I wish she wasn’t my sister (we aren’t natural siblings – we were both adopted) – like this call when her voice comes through the phone sultry, like the butterscotch in butterscotch ripple ice-cream; if she wasn’t my sister, I’d do her in a heartbeat.
There have been so many times, especially when she gets drunk and crashes on my couch, I’m tempted to make a move and let society debate incest’s merits another day.
I kept rolling my dough-mush - first one way, then the other. I didn’t have a rolling pin, so I was using a monster bottle of bottled water, but I couldn’t get it thin enough.
“I’m sorry too sis. I expect you will really enjoy meeting Brianne. She’s been looking forward to it too, but frankly – after the fight we had on the phone yesterday, maybe this is fortuitous. This will give her and I a chance to make some peace, if it can be made.If I don’t kill her or divorce her before you get here, you can meet her tomorrow, OK!”, I blurted back.
Dumb comment George!How can you divorce somebody you aren’t married to?Hell, Paxton knew what I meant.
Brianne and I weren’t married – but we’d talked about it, more as an idea than as a plan; we’d said sweet things over our special engagement-esque dinner at Francesca’s. That night we’d committed, and she’d moved in within a matter of days after that – so Brianne was living and behaving, or so it seemed to me, as much like my wife as she would have been if we’d paid for a wedding.
This was less expensive, practical – and only lately, was I feeling that it might have some seeds in it that could grow to be just as claustrophobic as any bad marriage could be.
And it had only been two weeks. Shit, what would it be like in two months – or years?
As expected, Paxton’s response – as few people can, cut me down to size, “Fuck, George, what did you do?”
I wanted to use a broom handle – like that woman on TV, but I couldn’t find a dowel or similar anything in the house except for a ten inch wooden handle from my meat mallet. That would have to do until I could get a proper piece of dowel. Come to think of it, the wooden handle on the toilet plunger would be perfect . . . but probably not sanitary.
Mallet handle it is.
“Listen, sis, fuck you yourself! You don’t know what’s going on and I don’t have time to explain it now, I’m rolling out pasta dough and having an ill-equipped improvising challenge. I feel more like I’m stuck in a MacGyver episode than cooking Italian”.
“George, I’m sorry – I’m tired and airport-weary.Tell your big sister what’s wrong, OK. I’ve got a few minutes now, I’m sitting down here in the waiting area for my gate. I’ve got a fresh Starbucks in my hand, and I just kicked off my shoes. Talk away, bro.Tell me what’s wrong”.
I began the crib-notes version of what had gone on the other night, “She’s in New York again this week – endless hours in the showroom and then fashion week events till all hours, she calls me late at night half-pissed and exhausted and expects me to be sympathetic.”
I kept on with my pasta making.Headsets are great for multi-tasking.The more I talked, the harder I rolled, and the thinner the pasta became.
“Sorry, I’m trying to make this pasta – home-made, you’ll love it; it’s something I’ve been wanting to do for years and never got around to actually trying. I’m making a kiss-and-make-up dinner for Brianne – and for you too – so I’ll eat your share!”
“OK sport, continue with your fight story”.
“We haven’t been together long enough to do much fighting – but each time we get into it, which we’ve been doing more of lately, it connects to her job and her relationship with thesales manager. Each time she talks about her day in New York and, even more so when she talks about her nights in New York, and this guy is always part of the equation, part of the conversation.”
I paused to take a breath and to walk another batch of noodles to their hanging spot.
“I’m OK with her travelling – her territory is the whole south-east, for one of the hottest lines of women’s Italian shoes in the country.Of course they have a lot of interaction, but I think there is something else going on – or that there WAS something going on that she’s not telling me about. I’m not sure; maybe it is someone else altogether, but I sense there is something.She seems just a little too happy to see me each time she comes back from one of these trips – as if she’s covering for something.”
I guess it came across as jealousy. Dammit, I am jealous, and I miss her when she is away.This was the first time I’d said this out loud to anyone, not even Louise and I tell her just about everything.
“Hun, do you have any valid reason, anything concrete as foundation for this jealousy?” , she was digging.That kind of question comes with the territory when your sister is a psychologist, I suppose, but you’d think after forty years she would just know these things about her kid brother.
“I can’t put my finger on a specific thing – but she told me they had dated a few times, long ago, before he married and had kids. They had met when he was in New York for the FFANY show, and they partied a lot, but she claims it is strictly business - purely professional between them.”And now, I really had to get back to my pasta making, “look, I can’t talk and concentrate on this pasta at the same time, can we talk more about this tomorrow when you get here? Brianne will be at her office and we’ll have some time. If you promise to be a helpful sis instead of a head-doctor I’ll save you some leftover pasta and prawns for lunch, OK?”
“Sure … you got it bro – bye now, my flight was just called, see you tomorrow hun” , she chirped back, then dial tone took over. And I had to hit that button on my head set again to hang up. More dough in my hair, and now the headset was coated in flour junk.
And I was covered in flour. Head to toe, fingers gummed up with dough-mud I’d made.With each rolled out bunch, I’d slice it thin with the carving knife, then lift a row of twelve to fifteen thin strips that were, miraculously holding together, and then I’d slide my handle (note to self – get a proper rolling stick) under them, and then carry them to the bathroom to drape over the shower curtain rod to dry. It was crude but it worked. A few broke and dropped on the floor. That made the dog happy.
Friends told me I should buy a pasta-making machine. I priced them - $130 seemed to be the norm.I couldn’t see the value in that, or the fun, in letting a machine to it for me. I wanted to mix, make, roll, cut, dry and cook home-made pasta. Using a machine to make home-made pasta seemed, to me, tantamount to making bread with a bread machine.Efficient, but not really legitimate cooking.
My first batch was too thick. They looked OK, but once I showed them to the boiling water they plumped up too much.The first few, I cooked three minutes. Not enough. The next bunch, I cooked five minutes – they were perfect al dente but still too thick.
I’d never made pasta before. I saw a fellow on a TV cooking shows create sweet potato pasta. I remembered how much Brianne liked that pasta and sweet potato dish, so after seeing this guy on TV I asked friends who make their own pasta how to do it; answers were creative, suggesting that I would have to mess with the recipe because they’d never heard of that being done, other than to add sweet potato chunks to the pasta dish (like that dish at Francesca’s), but not as an ingredient in the pasta itself.
I scoured recipe sites on-line. I found one where I got the sense of the recipe – and the result, would be something like the pappardelle-like noodles I’d seen that day on TV.
I’m not a sweet potato fan, though I’ve found sweet potato fries enjoyable. I thought it would be fun to surprise Brianne.This was my day to try.After reading just enough recipes to get me thoroughly confused, I adventured away . . .
It was four-thirty, I heard her car come up the driveway, heard the trunk pop and I went out to greet her.To my very pleasant surprise, I was greeted with a huge grin, a hug and a tongue penetrating my mouth in a way that would weaken any man’s knees.
There we were, on the driveway – svelte beauty and flour covered kitchen-help, in deep embrace, making out, when she said, “honey, I’m so sorry I snapped at you on the phone yesterday – I’ve been thinking about you a lot and want to make up for my foolishness . . . , OK? ” and before I could answer she kissed me again.
I hauled her bags in, we showered together – we cleaned off her airplane sticky-grunge and my flour, and we made love afterward on the bench seat in the steam room.We’d be back for an oily soak in my triangular soaker tub après- dinner.
Over dinner Brianne quizzed me on ingredients.She knew there was something she really liked about the pasta, but she couldn’t quite place it.In addition to sweet potato, I’d blended in some roasted red pepper, fresh basil and truffle oil.
She taunted me a bit - thought I was being secretive. I told her everything I could remember, except for the sweet potato.The truth is, I often forget what I put in things – rarely keeping track, never sticking to recipes (if I have them, I use them as a shopping guide) and measurement has never been my idea of cooking fun.All I could confirm for certain, was that I’d used a pasta recipe I found on-line, doubled it and used one sweet potato.
The dish was awesome, I thought. Brianne’s hungry look confirmed it. Prawns had soaked all afternoon in a Creole-Dijon sauce/cilantro bath. I sautéed them in white wine, and then stirred then into a sizzling pan of tomatoes, chopped asparagus and my pasta sauce creation (just some leftover sauce bits, garlic, lemon, balsamic vinegar, spices and shallots with a splash of vodka) – and, of course, my fresh sweet potato pasta. My noodles cooked quickly - just three minutes - before joining the vegetable, prawn and sauce mixture in the pan for finishing.
Plating it – I topped with freshly grated parmesan and cracked pepper.
And, in pouring her a generous glass of Lindeman’s Shiraz, I was, as has been my raison d’detre for cooking since I was seventeen (getting laid) – seduction dinner extraordinaire. Since our shower scene preceded dinner, I could only hope for more later.
The truth is, I was relieved by her greeting.Over dinner, and in the shower, we mumbled between kisses that we would sort out the fight – dissect it calmly and find out why we had each reacted like juveniles.
We lolled on the couch after dinner.We de-briefed on our respective work-weeks.As usual, we were not much interested in each other’s work.That, I worried might be trouble for us in time, but for now it was polite conversation – I skimmed over the high points of new projects at the engineering office, she talked about the new lines she saw at the FFANY show, her sales manager and the crap coming out of Italy for the next season, the big flap in the show room (it sounded more like the show-down room) between sales manager Gil Waite and Antonio (the designer from the factory) all unfolding in front of the sales team. That, she supposed wasn’t too bad - but buyers from Lord & Taylor were in the showroom at the time.It wasn’t a pretty sight as she told it.In short, the entire line was being redesigned in a hurry, new samples were on the way and fall deliveries would be met.She would get paid, we would all have a happy ending – and the women of Florida resort towns would have the latest and greatest strappy sandals and killer pumps this fall.
Her stories were always more exciting than mine.I’d been massaging her feet while she was talking.I suppose that helped her mood.
I channel surfed the TV while Brianne changed into something filmy she’d bought in New York.I turned off the set when she returned, and put some jazz CD’s.I lay there on the couch, my head in her lap as she stroked my scalp.I loved that arousing stroke of hers, her soft touch, the subtle scraping of her nails on my baldness . . .
The jangling phone broke the rhythm of the moment, interrupted the jazz. I grabbed the remote to turn down the volume while Brianne answered.
“Hello”, Brianne murmured into the phone.I hadn’t realized that she was so dozy. Maybe the jazz and the stroking, two glasses of Shiraz, her week, the flight . . . she was more tired than I thought.
She sat up sharply now.
What was she hearing on the other end of the phone?
“Oh my gawd – I was just there, I just saw him this afternoon”, she gasped. She went pale, all color draining from her face.
“Sure, Mr. Kaufman, I can come back to meet with you tomorrow. I have some things I have to see about here in the Gainesville office in the morning – I’ve got to get some samples shipped over to Saks’ ad agency for a photo shoot they are doing in St. Augustine, and sort out some instructions for the office staff.” She paused, listening to him some more; then, “sure, OK, I’ll get an early afternoon flight and see you at the showroom for five then. Goodnight”. She gently cradled the phone.
“What is it?What’s going on? Are you OK Brianne?”, I peppered her with questions.
Briane slumped back into the leather couch, “Gil died. Mr. Kaufman – you’ve heard me talk about him, haven’t you? He’s the owner of the company. Anyway, Mr. Kaufman said that – after I left this morning – Gil and Antonio had a big meeting, and another big fight in the boardroom. Antonio stormed out, and a few minutes later Gil was found by one of the office staff – dead at his desk surrounded by a pool of blood.The paramedics figured he’d had an aneurism blow-out or something like that.There will be an autopsy I suppose.”‘
At this point, her color returned to normal – her body suddenly energized as she stood up, stood back from me, and reported, “Anyway, the big news is that Mr. Kaufman wants me to take over the sales manager role, move back to New York – and with a 50% pay bump. He needs me there tomorrow to work with the buyers from Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus - the two biggest accounts the company has.”
Sales manager - Nordstrom’s, Neiman Marcus – she didn’t have to say any more. She’d hit career gold. She was gone already, not in body, but in mind.
I could see it in her face – and I knew then, she’d been having an affair for certain, not with Gil or Antonio or Mr. Kaufman, but with her shoes.
Brianne belonged to her job; her career passion really, when push comes to shove, left little room for men like me.