My Mama says our new neighbor, Mr. Charles, lives alone because his wife died, but today I am having lunch with Mr. Charles and his dead wife.
Her eyes are glass, cat’s eye marbles with sweeping blue waves and tiny bubbles. Cluster pearls are clipped onto her walnut ears. Dust motes and steam, from the Hungarian goulash, create a mist around her. I try not to stare; it’s rude.
“Best you’ll ever have, Henry. Eat up, Son.”
“Yes, Mr. Charles.” I dip my spoon into the empty bowl and bring it to my lips.
“She makes it with tomatoes fresh from the garden; that’s her secret.” He reaches over and pats her hand, meticulously recreated from sardine bones, being careful not to disturb the thin gold band. I nod, glancing through the window at the yawning square of cracked ground and petrified vines beyond the porch. I dip my spoon again and shove air into my dry mouth. It’s only polite.
We sit like this for a long time and I begin to wonder if he’s forgotten I’m here. I steal a glance at the stained glass hearts clinging to the window. They glow like fresh blood in the sunlight.
“Okay.” I stop holding my breath.
He stands wearily, removes both our bowls from the table. The steam clears and I glimpse the painful cracks around her wax lips. Still, she smiles. This must be why he loves her. He lowers a yellowing doily in front of her, places a white ceramic cup gently on the doily. Steam rises once again and moisture accumulates on her eyes. He baptizes the teabag in the boiling water, scoops out some honey from a half-full jar and stirs it into the cup. A series of high pitched dings follow. My cup remains empty, but I don’t bring it up.
“Her dad used to raise honey bees, bring raw buckwheat honey in for their tea. Why she’s so sweet,” he chuckles.
The air is thick around us and I sit very still so I don’t disturb anything. I am becoming aware of the numbness in my bottom, but I don’t dare squirm. I can almost feel her approval at this, at my stillness. We drink our tea like this. In silence.
“You’re a good boy. We’re glad to have you in the neighborhood.” He shakes my hand and I feel the dry trembling.
As I slide awkwardly out of the chair, I am possessed by a sudden urge to give her something. I remember the four leaf clover I found in our own yard and reach deep into my pocket. It’s a bit wilted and ripped in one corner, but it did take me almost a whole hour on my knees to find. Still a worthy sacrifice. I place it by her fish bone hand and whisper into the tiny caverns of the walnut. I whisper that if she can hear me I would like to taste a bit of the soup and tea and honey for myself next time. Then I think maybe I am being ungrateful and add “sorry” and “thank you”.
“We’ll see you next Sunday then?” he calls.