She always comes to after midnight, sometimes in the midst of grating romano cheese, sometimes in the midst of drinking hand lotion. This night, she finds herself brushing the edge of a mini pie shell with a mixture of lemon juice, zest, eggs and sugar. The counter overflows with the yellow spheres of lemon tarts. What to do with all these? 3:35 am. She calculates, by the appearance of the ingredients spread across the counter, she’s been in the kitchen since 1 am.
She opens the oven to find four more pies cooking, one with a green rectangle half submerged. With tongs, she eases out the kitchen sponge.
She thinks she might call her first husband; he’ll be up at this hour and is always good at talking her down, getting her back to sleep, even though first he’d want to discuss why she was up and why she baked and why tarts this time. He would say that tarts symbolized something. And she’d argue that if she knew why, she’d have told him and everyone else a long time ago.
But, Craig would hear her on the phone and get jealous. Again.
Then she remembers that Craig left two nights ago.
The phone trills. Sammi next door. “Lasagna, quiche? I see your light is on.”
“Lemon tarts. Why are you up?”
“Menopause. Soaked sheets. Go back to bed.”
“How many will you take?”
“Tarts? I’ll take four. That’s it. I’m not gaining one more pound because of you.”
“It’s amazing how they all turned out so charming and I wasn’t even awake to check the timing on the oven. The crusts are a nice hue.”
“Hue. No, it’s scary. What if you put something else in the oven instead?”
Like my head, she thought, and licked the bowl.
“Don’t lick the bowl. The sugar will keep you up.”
The moon is her only witness as she looks through the window. Craig’s white truck isn’t outside. She wants him to yell, “What the hell?” He’d say, “Get your head screwed on straight.” He’d then wait fifteen minutes or so and calmly say, “I know you can’t help it, but go back to bed.”
She kneels down—the left knee cracks loudly on the tile—and leans her head near the four yellow orbs. The same heat that turns dough golden and flaky could disfigure her skin for life. She holds her head there, almost inside the oven until she gasps.
The motel manager patches her through to Craig. “What the hell? What the hell time is it?”
She can feel his heavy ankle across hers, that vein in his forearm, the damp hair underneath his hat. “It’s me.”
“What the hell did you bake this time?”
“No pen caps sprinkled on top?”
She hears him adjusting himself on the pillow. “I love your lemon tarts, damn it.”
She can smell inside his glove compartment, cigars and tape. She can taste the shoulder of his wool sweater. “Will you just stay on the phone while I get back in bed?”
He breathes. She turns off the oven, the lights, leaves the tarts on the counter. She locks the refrigerator, sets the alarm code on the kitchen. “It doesn’t help now that I know the number.”
“Get your head on that pillow,” he says.
She pulls up the covers. “Which side are you lying on?”
“I’ll lie on the right then.”
“I might as well be home if you’re going wake me up anyway.”
She tunnels down, layer by layer. She barely wakes when an arm pulls her in toward a mouth that smells of lemons.