She, who officially retired this week at an undisclosed age, is home for good. For the first four days she sat in the living room and read and napped, read and napped.

Occasionally, she would snap awake, breathless, panicked, “Was that the bell?” she’d ask. “What period is this?”

On the fifth day at 5:30 a.m., she awoke, showered, ate breakfast and dressed and went to the garage before I stopped her.

But she’s past that initial frenzy now and more settled in. Well, sort of. She did pause in the dining room yesterday at noon and remarked, “So this how the room looks at noon,” as she ran one finger over the table.

Then suddenly, without warning, as we were sitting on the deck watching the afternoon slip away, she said, “I want to cook.”

Now, it’s been almost 30 years since, with few important exceptions, that she has actually cooked.

Those would be, the basic holidays of Christmas and Thanksgiving with the big numbers: turkey and ham.

But most of the year she sat at her desk in the evening, finishing her day’s work as I prepared the evening meal. I would call her down, we’d eat, she would go to her chair in the living room as I cleaned up. Then at 9:30 or so she would retire, in the going to bed sense, not the “I’m here in your face for the rest of your life” sense.  It was a good life, that. To paraphrase the famous song: I’d grown accustomed to her face, the way she made the day begin, her ups her downs, the end of work smiles, the grading papers frowns.

It was a literary life. Her departure in the morning began the long paragraph of the day, her call at lunch break was the comma, her arrival at four o’clock, the period. I’d grown accustomed to that life.

So “I want to cook” came with a shattering crack, like a flash of lighting in a dark room, the crash of thunder directly overhead. She sent me to the market with a list of things she needed to make a complicated French dish. That was her choice? After all these years? A delicate, delicious, wine-flavored chicken dish?

That’s rather like Monet waking from two decades of sleep and announcing to the household, “The water lilies. I want to paint the water lilies.”

I offered to prep the meal, cut things properly, slice and dice, clean up as I went along.

She would have none of it. “I know what to do,” she snapped with a smile that had little gentleness in it.

She used a recipe. Recipe? I never used a recipe. I cook from the hip, so to speak, ad libbing, improvising. But the judge’s daughter, the teacher, despite years of cooking, still needed the comfort of the sauce stained page before her, the dog-eared log book of years of culinary voyages.

I stood in the corner as she worked. I pretended to be looking at the television, while all the while watching her reflection in the glass. Why was she using that little spoon? Why that knife? It’s the wrong knife. Why was she standing staring in the pantry so long? I knew she was looking for the flour.

Why did she want to flour the chicken when for scampi, I always sauteed it clean so that it more fully absorbed the sauce? She sniffed at that.

My God, she was using all the wrong utensils. Oh, they worked all right. She was succeeding, she was almost humming. But my ego ached. I wanted to be called upon like the surgeon’s nurse, for the right scalpel, retractor, clamps and dilators. I longed to be at her elbow, wipe her brow. But I held my tongue.

I waited. We ate. We sipped the wine. It was rich, delicious. The garlic was perfect, even the flour didn’t detract. The linguine perfectly cooked.

“I had forgotten how much fun it is to cook,” she whispered. There was joy in that whisper. How could I take that away from her?

We clinked glasses.

Welcome home, I said, for the rest of my life.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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