The sun reached its highest point of the day, preparing for its imminent decline.
The wind hovered over the grass, drying up the last memories of the morning dew that had bathed the green meadows only a few hours ago. The trees spread their branches like the giant’s shoulders, shielding lucky patches of the perennial garden from the frying heat of the summer afternoon.
Brad and Evelyn were hiding in their wooden shack in the far corner of the garden, where Brad kept his tools. A structure loosely put together from building leftovers, a blessing on a hot day in the middle of July.
Brad sat cross-legged on top of the working table, holding a plate of colorful vegetables in one hand and a fork in another.
He speared one of the carrot rings, which were scattered around the bed of leafy greens like lighthearted polka dots on a schoolgirl’s skirt.
Staring over the birch grove at the blindingly blue skies, he chewed slowly and thoroughly, acknowledging every slight subtlety of the palette, akin to a wine connoisseur savoring a glass of rare wine.
“What would you do for true love?” asked Evelyn, leaning on the wall, lifting up her dress, as if by accident, exposing her legs above the knees. She gave Brad a languid look, inviting him to appreciate her thin delicate body hidden by her simple clothes.
“True love?” said Brad, swallowing a spinach leaf. He put his plate aside and stretched his arms yawning. “I’ve never thought about it.”
“I can tell you what I would do.
I would turn the whole world upside down, even if just for a moment, so everybody could feel that burning, searing, soaring sense of perfection, the ultimate completeness of being,” said Evelyn in a dreamy voice, facing the sun with her eyes shut.
“Colors,” she added, “Beautiful, magnificent colors and shapes. The sun loves me. I can feel its strong, gentle hands touching my neck, my shoulders, my stomach, exploring my body in most unimaginable ways.”
Brad jumped off the table. He picked an axe from the tool rack and tucked it into his belt. “I’m going to chop some wood,” he said, kneeling to kiss Evelyn on her cheek. She tried catching his lips with hers, but his kiss was too quick for that.
“I’ll be back before dinner time,” he added, stroking the side of her blonde hair. He mounted his bike and waved, taking off. Evelyn watched him riding away. She felt cold. It was coming from within, as if her heart had turned into a bag of ice.
Evelyn crossed the garden on her way to their house, a small bungalow the size of a cottage with white sidings, hiding from the sun under the spread crowns of the old oak trees. She followed a narrow path leading to the wooden porch painted yellow ochre and opened the door, tiny brass bells tinkling, inviting her to come in.
She crossed the living room, the worn boards squeaking under her light steps, and stopped by the large window. She opened the curtains, letting in the sunlight. The cat left his sleeping hideout under the couch and walked around softly, stretching its long body, then rubbed its massive blotched head against her leg.
“Peanut, my darling, come to mommy,” she said, taking the cat by the paws, lifting him up to her face, and kissing his whiskered snout. “Who’s the prettiest cat in world? It’s you, Peanut! It’s you!”
Peanut slipped out of her hands, landing silently on the floor and trotted out, sneaking through the cat door in the kitchen. Evelyn came closer to a large photograph hanging on the wall of Brad holding her in his big arms in front of the porch. They were both dressed in their white clothes, eyes sparkling with happiness, shining with expectations of their new grand life.
When she met him on the streets, he was broken, spiraling down, with less chance for survival than Peanut in a dog shelter. They took the picture on the day they moved to the farm, away from the day-to-day struggle in the crowded, consumption-crazed, rotten beyond hope real life.
Back in the city, veganism became their refuge. It gave them a sense of purity, or as Evelyn put it, culinary virginity. She said it was their bloodless path out of the woods of hunger. On the farm, they learned to grow their own food. All they ever wished for in life was in their arms, a vegetable garden, their cat, and each other. But what is a garden without a forbidden fruit?
Evelyn stood in the middle of the kitchen, holding a knife she pulled from the drawer to chop the onions, unable to concentrate. Its shiny blade reflected the sunlight, which frolicked from the wall to the ceiling and back, careless and free, like a spring kitten in the barn. Brad used to take her on his wood chopping trips before.
Evelyn loved watching him work. During the breaks, they would lay in the foliage, inhaling its earthy fragrance and make love without stripping their clothes. The dress Evelyn wore today had a couple of signature stains she kept, refusing to wash her little frivolous collection.
Lately, Brad tended to spend more time on his own, using different excuses. Each time he did that, he would come back more reserved than ever. Morose, quiet, and remote, with an uncharacteristically low sex drive, hiding behind the door Evelyn couldn’t break.
The afternoon felt especially cold. So cold, she had an urge to confront him. He must be somewhere close to the creek, at one of his favorite spots, she thought. Peddling her bike, Evelyn swept through the woods.
Soon she could hear the sounds of Brad’s axe, echoing in the forest. They were getting more discernible with every minute. Suddenly they stopped. She stopped too, straining her ears, and checking the time – too early for a break. Maybe something happened, or maybe he wasn’t there alone.
Evelyn flipped through her memory trying to recall any suspicious women in the village, who could have been interested in luring her husband into the woods. Lucy McDowell, that pimpled, pig-faced bitch from the gas station near the highway exit, came across as the prime suspect with her ample ass and two jugs she so shamelessly put up for men’s observation.
Evelyn got off the bike, waiting for the sounds to come back. Minutes went by, but they didn’t. She continued afoot, relying on her intuition. She imagined Brad fucking Lucy by the fire.
Their bodies merging into one, their limbs intertwined, forming a giant heart, which throbbed and pulsated, and then the flames burst from its cut open vessels, filling the air with the smell of burning flesh.
Evelyn was stunned by the vividness of the images her mind was creating. She tried to shake off the burning smell, but it crawled inside her nose, refusing to go. Finally, she realized that it was real. Not knowing why Brad wanted to start the fire on such a hot day, she continued approaching the clearing, making sure not to spook the lovers before she wanted to.
Brad sat by the fire, staring at the burning flames. He poked the logs from time to time with his long stick. Where’s she? Evelyn thought, Am I late? She was confused, even ashamed of herself and her fantasies. Maybe it was all in my head, she thought, ready to leave her cover and surprise her husband.
Brad stopped poking the logs. He carefully picked a small object, a size of his fist, out of the fire. He placed it carefully on the stump and began unwrapping what appeared to be aluminum foil. Inside she saw something that had unmistakably caused the nagging smell – a chicken drumstick. Brad sank his teeth into the meat, closing his eyes, succumbing to the pleasure.
The juices squirted out, rushing down his hands and chin. It took him only a few bites to finish the soft part, as he moved to the gristle, leaving nothing on the bone, which he then began to suck, savoring the juices until it was completely dry. He threw the bone into the fire and stretched on the ground, looking into the sky with the happiest grin on his face.
Vomit rolled in Evelyn’s mouth. Nauseating images of her husband’s face covered with the juice lingered in front of her eyes.
Then thousands of chicken drumsticks jumped out of the fire and swarmed around poor Evelyn, squirting filthy, dirty juices at her, which ran down her neck covering her breasts, filling every pore on her skin, sneaking into every orifice on her body, desecrating, defiling, violating her spirit and flesh.
She stumbled away from the clearing, escaping the attack, and ran as fast as she could. Stopping to catch her breath, she clutched her dress with both hands, and began to rip it violently from her body, tearing it apart, stomping it into the ground, tears running down her face. She continued to race naked, the branches lashing her thighs and scraping her skin.
The forest was the only witness to her rapid retreat, its spirits hiding away frightened.
Brad watched the white clouds crawling. The treetops gently swayed rocking to the rhythm of the wind. Their peaceful dance produced an ambient noise, complementing the otherworldly serenity of the moment.
His heavy eyelids shrunk his view to the smallest fragment of the sky, until they shut completely, sending him to the journey on the river of dreams. Morpheus kneeled beside him, spreading his wings above his head to guard his peaceful rest.
Somebody must have pinched Brad when he suddenly woke up, realizing he was in the woods, lying on the ground. The air was getting cooler, the occasional breeze sending chills through his body. He rubbed bits of grass into his hands, while chewing on some leaves. Evelyn had a dangerously sensitive nose; he was afraid she could pick up the smell of meat on his breath.
He pulled his pants down and peed on the smoldering wood, putting out its red eyes. Back on his bike, he ran over the shreds of his beloved wife’s dress without noticing, blissfully unaware of her secret afternoon visit.
The last stretch on his way home was a country road, used mostly by farmers. Guilt sprouted in his chest, quickly spreading over his body eventually shackling his feet to the point he had to stop.
Should he tell Evelyn about his secret transgression, or was leading a double life the only option? He couldn’t tell. He loved her, though he couldn’t remember why. In fact, he wasn’t sure what love was anymore.
Back in the city, she was his savior, his breath of life, his guiding star, but here, in the country, he realized, he could stand on his own, and he didn’t need veganism to do that. What started as an occasional innocent craving quickly had turned into obsession. He wanted meat, he craved meat, he lusted after meat.
The more he indulged in his impure pleasures, the more awkward he felt around Evelyn, and the more distance he required to cope with conflicting emotions.
He put his bike away and walked up the driveway.
“Honey, I’m home!” he said opening the door. He took off his work boots and headed to the kitchen. Evelyn stood by the stove, stirring the pot. He stole up to her and hugged her from behind, kissing her neck. She shivered from his touch, rejecting his caress.
“I’m almost done. Go get the table ready,” she said, drawing away.
In the dining room, he opened a cupboard, took out the plates, and carried them to the table.
“What’s the occasion?” he asked, surprised to find a bottle of red wine on the table.
“Oh, the Tishbi? I was in the mood to celebrate.”
“You said you wanted to open it on a special occasion.”
“I changed my mind.”
Brad went back to the cupboard to bring glasses. Evelyn entered the room with the pot in her hands. She poured quinoa soup.
“I’ve got a little surprise for you,” she said.
“A little surprise?” Brad wasn’t sure he was ready for surprises. His guilt hadn’t fully released its grip yet. Subconsciously he expected something sinister to happen. The word “surprise” sounded unsettling. “What is it?” he inquired, hiding his nervousness behind his unflappable mask.
“Wait for desert.”
“I’ll start guessing, and you’ll be tempted to spill the beans.”
“No I won’t,” she said abruptly. “I promise.”
Brad poured the wine. “Is it true they boiled this wine to make it vegan?”
“It’s to make it kosher, dummy,” she said, twisting her lips, “Not to make it vegan.”
“Oh yeah! You told me before! So, what are we drinking to?”
“True love, of course,” she replied, looking deep in his eyes. “You know, why this wine is so special?” she asked, looking through her ruby glass. “It’s pure and innocent, untouched by the filth, just as the nature intended it to be… Bottoms up!”
After the soup, Evelyn went back to the kitchen. She brought another pot, full of steaming vegetables. Brad poured more wine.
“Why don’t you take off your potholder? he asked.
“Is it bothering you?”
“You’ve never kept it on before.”
“There’s always a first time.”
Brad poked the vegetables with his fork, his appetite waning. He looked at Evelyn. She was eating fast, throwing pieces down her throat mechanically, without chewing them well. She lifted her head, sensing Brad’s stare.
“What’s wrong? Aren’t you hungry after chopping all that wood?” she asked. “You must be exhausted.”
“I kind of lost my appetite.”
“You don’t have to finish. I’m not gonna force you.”
Brad was fixated on her glove. Evelyn was known for a certain degree of eccentricity, but she treated him differently, keeping her bizarre behavior under control.
There were hints of nastiness in her voice, which usually meant she was ready to unleash her dark side. He ended up force-feeding himself, not willing to risk waking up a sleeping dog.
“Ready for desert?” asked Evelyn when he swallowed his last bite.
“Close your eyes, and don’t dare to peek,” she requested. “Do I need to give you a blindfold?”
“No, I’m fine.”
Brad kept his eyes tightly shut. He couldn’t see Evelyn move, but he could hear her light steps on the squeaky floor and the rustling of her dress.
“You know, you always have to put up with the risk of being misunderstood if you try to communicate,” she said from behind his back. “Don’t look yet!” More squeaks on the floor followed, and then she continued. “I’m taking the risk now. I know we haven’t talked enough. This lack of communication was killing me.
Today after lunch, I decided to stop running. I decided to express my feelings, whether you like it or not. But I realized, my intense feelings couldn’t have been possibly expressed with trivial words. Now open your eyes.”
Brad’s eyes needed some time to get used to the light again. He swiftly jumped up from the table, his chair crashing to the floor, his face pale with horror. In front of him on the table was an ice cream vase filled with crushed ice. On top of the ice, a chopped finger with the bloody wedding band. The ice around it was soaked in blood.