By Michael Cuglietta
Brian sat at one end of the couch. His wife, Erica, sat at the other end. On the cushion between them, there was a bag of deep fried peanuts.
“Is there anything they won’t deep fry?” Brian held a greasy peanut between his thumb and index finger.
“Just try one. They’re delicious.” Erica popped one in her mouth, shell and all. Brian followed her lead.
“Salty.” He ate another. “But not bad.”
His phone rang. He wiped his oily fingers on his jeans. Then pressed a button, sending the call to voicemail.
“Who was that?” Erica asked.
“It was your mother, wasn’t it?”
Brian stuck another peanut in his mouth and bit through the thin shell.
“You’re going to have to speak to her at some point. She’s your mother.”
“Her birthday’s next week. I’ll call her on her birthday.”
On the day his mother turned 60, Brian picked up the phone. But instead of dialing his mother, he called 1-800-FLOWERS. He told the woman on the phone he wanted a bouquet sent to his mother’s house.
“How sweet of you,” she said.
She told him he picked the perfect day to call. They were running a special. Every bouquet came with a stuffed Teddy Bear or a box of assorted chocolates, no extra charge.
“Premium chocolates,” she said. “Imported from Europe.”
“I’ll go with the stuffed bear.”
“Are you sure?”
“One-hundred percent.” In his head, he heard his mother’s voice – All that sugar. All that saturated fat. Are you trying to send me to an early grave?
That evening, Brian cooked clams.
At the seafood market, the man behind the counter explained that wild clams were not in season. “But we have a selection of farm raised.” He escorted Brian to the shellfish case. They had four types of clams.
“I’ll take three dozen littlenecks.” Brian pointed to the smallest of the four varieties.
The man asked how he planned on serving them. Brian told him he was going to cook them in white wine.
“Special occasion?” the man asked.
“Just thought I’d surprise my wife.”
“What time’s dinner?” The man rubbed his belly. “I’ll tell my wife to find a sitter.” He laughed. Politely, Brian laughed too.
The market had a small selection of wine. Brian chose two bottles of chardonnay. In the produce section, he found the rest of the ingredients he needed. Then got in line to pay.
As he was pulling into his driveway, his phone rang. He gathered the groceries and went inside, locking his phone in the glovebox.
He rinsed the clams under cold water and put them in the fridge. He poured a glass of chardonnay and got to work chopping parsley, slicing garlic and mincing a shallot, which was full of milk and brought tears to his eyes.
He put a stockpot on the burner, covered the bottom in olive oil and turned the heat on medium-high. Just before the oil started to smoke, he tossed in the garlic slices. They sizzled and popped, filling the room with their aroma. He let them brown before adding the shallot.
He sprinkled in the chopped parsley and added the zest and juice from a lemon. He measured two cups of chardonnay, stirred everything together and brought the sauce to a boil. He turned down the heat and let it simmer.
“It smells so good in here,” Erica said.
“You nearly gave me a heart attack.” He held his hand to his chest. “How long have you been standing there?” He poured her a glass of wine. She brought it to the kitchen table, kicked off her heels and had a seat.
“I’m so glad to be home. Traffic was a nightmare.” She sipped her chardonnay. “How was your day? Did you call your mother?”
“I sent flowers.” Brian got the clams from the fridge and set them on the counter. “You’d better go shower. These only take a few minutes.”
“Was she surprised?”
“Don’t know.” He stirred the sauce. Then gave it a taste.
“She didn’t call to thank you?”
“I left my phone in the car.” He added crushed red pepper and took another taste.
“Where are your keys?” Erica stood up. “I’ll go grab it.”
“I have to put the clams in now.” Brian turned away from the stove to face her. “You should shower.”
Erica started to speak. But stopped. She took her wine and went down the hall to the bathroom.
Before adding the clams, Brian checked to make sure the shells were closed. When he found an opened one, he tapped it against the countertop. If it pulled shut, he dropped it in the hot pot. If it stayed open, it had to be thrown away.