“What time are you going to be home?” She could hear the sounds of cars in the background and knew he must have already left the office building.
“I don’t know, half an hour maybe. It depends on how busy the trains are.”
She told him she would see him soon, and set to stirring the pasta sauce she’d been working on for the past two hours. She had finally found a recipe that felt manageable, and even this one she’d managed to make a minor mess of. Though she loved cooking, and generally had an easy time of it, she could never follow recipes. It seemed symbolic, in a way — sort of a petty manner of her brain telling the world “You can’t tell me what to do, I make it up as I go.” Tonight, though, she’d finally made the perfect lamb sauce to go with the special pasta she’d gotten from the Italian grocery store.
Shopping for food was one of her favorite things, and she’d spent the whole day going to all the different places to get the items she needed individually, and of the best quality. She listened to the bread when it crackled under her touch. She got a little bit of everything at the cheese shop, all neatly wrapped up in their blue wax paper. She asked for help at the wine shop, because she knew that distinguishing between the floor-to-ceiling wall of reds was not something she could do alone. She got pastries that had those elegant little sugar crystal shapes placed delicately atop them. The butcher joked with her while he weighed out the lamb, and he gave her a few tips on how to cook it. She wrote them down so as not to forget.
By the time she’d made it home, poured herself a glass of wine, and set to cooking everything, it was already nearly 4. The next few hours were the best kind of hours we have in life: A little soft music playing in the background, a generously full glass of wine to sip on, nothing immediately ahead of you except preparing and arranging your favorite kinds of food. She often let herself forget what a visceral pleasure it can be to cook, how much it allows every other irritant in life to melt away in their irrelevance. She stirred the sauce, and arranged cheeses on a cutting board, and set the champagne to chill in the freezer. She got out the best candles and arranged them on the table, along with the glasses she usually kept tucked up in the cupboard for fear of breaking. She sang along when a good song came on, and watched as the clock ticked away.
When he told her that he would be home in thirty minutes, she felt flustered for the first time all afternoon. Suddenly, there was a finite schedule to the activities she’d been allowing herself to linger on. She got out the olives, the spiced cashews, the little crackers with the cheese on them that he loved so much, and took the champagne from the freezer. She placed the gift she had bought — and gift wrapped herself, even though her skills were minimal and asking the salesgirl to do it had always proven a more certain choice — neatly on the table, next to the appetizers. She turned down the heat on the stove, put everything else away, and sat at the table, waiting.
Thirty minutes later, almost to the second, he walked in the door.
“What is all this?” He asked, looking around him as he loosened his tie, “You didn’t go to work today?”
“No, I used a vacation day.” She took him by the hand and sat him down at the table. “I requested it off months ago.”
“This is so nice… I should have gotten something on the way home…”
She shushed him. “Happy birthday.”
She picked up her flute of champagne, and handed him his as his look of bewilderment melted into a slight kind of embarrassment.
“Oh, shit, it is my birthday today. I completely forgot, it’s just been so insane at work right now.”
As they sat down and started talking about everything that happened that day, him diving into his beloved cheese crackers with the abandon of a newly-freed prisoner, she couldn’t help but feel that she was the luckiest person in the world. Spending the day tending to his birthday dinner — especially when he was too busy to even remember that it was today — made her feel like she got to have two special days: Her birthday, and the one of the person she loved. She made a small mental note to remember this moment, this feeling, the joy that comes from wanting to make someone else’s celebration more perfect and happy than you’ve ever experienced yourself.
She wouldn’t realize until the next morning that she’d forgotten to take a picture of it all, but her initial disappointment ceded to gratefulness when she reminded herself that she had something better than a picture. She had someone to remember it with.
And the lamb was a great success.