The taste of dead crocodiles and a dizzy sweat wash over me as E's guitar lesson proceeds. I go to the window, gulping on the fresh air. There are knocks on the door, people interrupting and asking questions. E is playing a slow piece called Aria, almost all the way to the end. We will pack our things and I will stumble outside, threading our way through the side streets away from the main drag to rinok to buy a chicken. We have the rest at home.
I hack it down to pieces and drop them to sizzle in the pot and a pool of olive oil. Onion, splayed roots of turnip and carrot next. A stalk of celery with plenty of those leaves and then I need to sit for a while. I peel an entire bulb of garlic at the kitchen table as the pile of their papers begins to waft to the floor. I smash it down into chunks and in it goes. Turn the meat around, resting it on top of the vegetables. A few bay leaves from Tbilisi, a pinch of chili flakes, three fingers of salt, two fingers of pepper, the last of some white wine in the fridge, and a gallon of water. I lay down in bed with a t-shirt over my head. It has been more than a year since I was sick.
E comes in, resting her hand on my elbow. She checks my forehead, tucks a doll and a stuffed animal under my chin.
"This will make you feel better." She says.
"Dinner will be later." I tell her. "Are you hungry?"
"I'm ok." She says. "I had an orange just now."
I smell the soup cooking and close my eyes.
There is a little boy in the last story of the book I am about to finish. He does not know who his father is. His mother tells him he is an astronaut, on a long solo mission past the moon. The boy believes this. He is barely five and has led a strange, isolated life. He finds a broken radio, and it becomes his favorite toy. He imagines music and news stories and interviews coming out of it. He imagines his father can talk to him through it.
The boy has been walking in the wet grass in the middle of the night, barefoot. No one knows. By dinner time the next day, he is sick. As the plates are set and the food meets the table, he throws up onto everything.
I still wake at seven to get E dressed and to school, now with a box lunch as her teacher told me she does not eat what they offer. E complains that they have the same soup every day. If I was not sick, I would be enjoying the odd challenge. What surprises should be in store for her when she opens her bag? Maybe an inspirational message? Some oatmeal cookies? Maybe cold buckwheat soba noodles, or some white beans and sausage. She might actually eat that.
Still too sick to muster more than black bread swiped with mustard and a slice of ham, I promise something more interesting for next week.
"This is fine, Pop." She says, with a shrug of her shoulders. "I could eat this almost every day."
We stop at a 24 hour market for juice boxes, and I carry the extras in my hands.
On the way back from dropping her off I pass her teacher, an amazon-tall woman with big glasses. I wave the extra juice boxes around and she smiles, nodding once.
Three days in, the soup is almost finished. When the pot is empty I should be better. This is my measure of sickness.
When the worst is over, I see a rainy street and leaves that have fallen. I smell cigarette smoke curling under the front door from the chainsmokers in the hallway. It feels like weeks have passed. Drinking a strong cup of coffee, I realize I need to wash the soup pot. It is time to boil water for Saturday night pasta.
N calls, and says there is no linguine just spaghetti in the store.
"Spaghetti it is!" I announce.
"OK!" She replies, through her little laugh. "I'll be home soon."