It is not uncommon for the Beast to have to fend for himself on a weeknight.
It is extremely rare, however, to find myself home alone. When it does happen, I am often overwhelmed with the anticipation of freedom: the very idea that I can eat and drink and watch whatever I want, with no debate, both thrills and paralyses me. Anything could happen.
Two weeks ago, the Beast had plans to see a concert with his older brother. It was happening. I was going to be home alone.
“I have no idea what I’m going to do tonight,” I told him that morning before I left for work.
“You could do what I do: read a play, masturbate, and then watch old episodes of Frontline on YouTube.”
At work, I told all my colleagues about my impending solo adventure, asking for names of new shows that I could indulge in. I imagined a lavish dinner of saltines, cheddar, and cold butter, which I shave off with a very sharp knife, place on a cracker and top with the cheese and then it all melts in your mouth with the addition of a salty crunch. It’s lavish because this is not a real dinner that you could ever serve to other people. But if you are home alone, and it’s all you want to eat, it’s fair game.
At the end of the day, right before I left for home, I got a text message from the Beast.
“Good news! I cancelled tonight!”
“My ears have been bothering me. I can’t wait to see you!”
I didn’t respond right away. I had to process it all. He texted again.
“R U mad?”
“Of course not,” I lied. “But what are we going to have for dinner because I was just going to have crackers and cheese.”
“I’m making a garbage soup! Come home soon. Love you!”
Garbage soup is when the Beast takes all the wilted vegetables that are rotting in the fridge and makes it into a soup. He elevates it by using either frozen stock he’s made, or by adding fresh parsley and vegetables to store-bought chicken stock–a tip, I believe, he learned from Martha Stewart. For this garbage soup, he also added a can of white beans and kale.
Although my dreams had been dashed, the night turned out to be quite pleasant. The soup was good, and because we’d both just recently read The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, we watched Visconti’s film adaptation starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.
Later in the week, the Beast made “a quick and easy” paella. I asked him how a quick and easy paella differed from a real paella. Other than not having an actual paella pan and never including mollusks–like clams or mussels–he wasn’t sure. It’s just that his search for any recipe online always includes “quick” and “easy”.
His paella usually includes frozen peas, saffron, sausage, and shrimp. And they are always delicious.
This one lasted a couple of nights, which was perfect for eating while watching Monty Don gardening shows. Monty is a British garden enthusiast who dresses a little eccentrically: think straw hats, suspenders, sweater vests, flouncy scarves, and L.L. Bean field coats.
There’s a new show on Netflix called Big Dreams, Small Spaces, in which Monty helps British people fix up their garden spaces for either a couple hundred pounds, or thousands. And there’s a four-part BBC series, which we found on YouTube, where Monty tours Italian gardens.
Monty Don has become a wonderful tonic to wash away the day’s anxieties, which used to include coming home to find Amazon packages of books that the Beast ordered in secret. I’m not anxious that he’s reading, just that he’s spending his (very) fixed income on books that he could get for free from the library or on picture books that he will open once in a lifetime, and hiding the purchases from me.
He knows he has a problem but he’s trying to remedy it, which includes being transparent, and taking advantage of the fact that there’s a BMV bookstore across the street from my work.
I’m not sure why he is reading Hamlet and King Lear. Or why I came home late the other night, after dinner with some old friends, and found him watching a stage production of Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. In Russian.
But I do know that I finally got my night alone. The Beast went out for a dinner with some boyfriends on Friday. All day, I waited to get a text from him saying that he’d cancelled. At 5:30 p.m., I knew I was in the clear. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat, so on my way home I picked up a box of saltines, just in case we’d run out, and some pizza from Sud Forno, along with a single zeppola.
As I walked up our street, I saw on the Beast on the sidewalk. He was just leaving. “Don’t you dare watch the end of The Cherry Orchard without me,” he said.
As much as I’d been looking forward to my night alone, my heart slightly ached as I watched him walk away. But then I went inside, washed my face, slipped into a jogging suit, poured myself a glass of this lovely and reasonably priced Spanish white, and discovered a Mission Impossible movie that I’d never seen.
Have you ever imagined how excited you’d be to find an episode of your favourite TV show that you accidentally missed? I have. And finding the third MI film from 2006, in which Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the villain, felt as good as I imagined it would. I was delirious on the couch, savouring each bite of farcito classico, thin pizza stuffed with prosciutto, fior di latte, tomatoes and arugula.
I saved the zeppola until the end of the movie, carefully cutting it in two so that the Beast could have half when he got home. Only I ate the first half too quickly and had no choice but to finish the entire donut so that my last bite was enjoyed in tandem with the film’s absurd conclusion.
New episodes of The Mindy Project were next, with more wine. (I did that little trick where you leave a few drops in the bottle so you can say you didn’t drink the whole thing.)
In a moment, when I was slipping in and out of sleep, my heavy eyelids acted like a screen on which my mind unconsciously projected a series of disparate images: cringeworthy moments from the work week that I wish I could take back, fountain spouts in the form of faces from the Italian gardens I’ve visited, a jasmine plant in bloom, the lines on my neck, donuts.
At one point, my lids looked like a night sky punctuated by tiny stars. I thought of a line from The Leopard that I’d underlined on account of its simple beauty. It described the Prince, an amateur astronomer, “listening to the twinkling of the fountain and trying to catch comets by their tails” one night.
I tried to remember another line I’d underlined. Something about the fleeting moments of pure joy in between life and death; how you could probably count them on one hand. The Prince was on his balcony, hours before he dies, watching “all these ephemeral beings out to enjoy the tiny rays of light granted them between two shades, before the cradle, after the last spasms.”
And then all I saw was his face. Simon’s face.
I didn’t save him half of the donut. I don’t regret that. It was so good. But he’s my every light. I couldn’t wait for him to get home.