Lessons of the countertop

Jeremiah hadn’t shaved in days, and he was gritty and short-tempered and smelled like sour dirt.

He had been in a raw mood for near two weeks, since I suggested he replace the kitchen countertop with something a little better than sanded plywood. I saw a nice linoleum counter in a mail order catalogue and said that it would look nice and liven up the kitchen some. He didn’t say anything one way or the other, so I figured he’d forgotten all about it. But his eyebrows were always furrowed and his mouth squeezed tight like he’d been chewing something sour. Truth is, I almost forgot about it, except for his mood. It never took much for him to turn inside out about such things. Why, he’d be happiest if I just cleaned and squatted all day, served him meals and shut up. I kept the house as clean as could, with all that dust pouring through the doorway, but I was starting to feel as dismal as the condition of my floors.

That countertop, though. It was very handsome. Pale green with gold flecks. And it looked sturdy. Much better than the plank of wood with nail holes still showing.

One morning a couple of weeks after I mentioned it, I woke up to a hard shove in the ribs. It wasn’t just the idle tossing and turning of a restless man, but a sharp elbow with as much force as a man can give while laying prone. It nearly knocked me out of my bed.

I yelped, more surprised than hurt at first, and Jeremiah sat up roughly, clutching his pillow like it was a rooster’s throat.

I’m trying to sleep, Charlotte. If you have complaints, maybe you should get yourself up and put on the coffee pot. It’s not like you have anything better to do than keep me awake.”

I squinted at the alarm clock and saw that it was quarter past five. I could hear the wind hollering outside and feel the ice curling through the window pane. The ache in my side started to grow, and I could hardly move my arm well enough to push myself out of bed.

Why’d you punch me like that, Jeremiah?” I asked. “I was sound asleep.”

No you weren’t. You were thrashing like an old cow’s tail, swatting flies in your sleep. Ain’t my fault if you were coveting my side of the bed.”

You could have shook me.”

You’re awake now. I’ll be up in a while. Reckon you should cook me some eggs while you’re up. And I don’t want to see any egg yokes on that old countertop you’re so offended by. I guess I could tear it down and haul a rotten piece of plywood out of the barn. Mind, it wouldn’t be near so nice as that.” His voice was dim. Almost dreamy, like he was talking in his sleep. But I could feel him looking at me, probably with a smile on his lips and those bushy eyebrows furrowing even deeper, like worms rolling in fresh mud.

I didn’t do anything, other than pull myself out of a warm bed to make him a breakfast he probably wouldn’t touch until it was too cold to eat. All that morning, before he went out to take care of the chickens, he looked at me, almost gloating. He had his say in the countertop, and that was the end of that.

It was then that I started thinking about things a little differently. What could I do, I wondered. What could I do but wait for the right time? When it finally came to me, I was more surprised than excited.

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