In Baker, Florida, you’ll find a little cafe with an alligator on the sign. If you go inside, you’ll see another huge fiberglass gator wearing a corny grin.
The waitress, a fifteen-year-old, will seat you and your wife in a booth. Then, she tells you about the soup of the day—which is chicken.
She notices your wife’s UAB hospital bracelet, but doesn’t say anything, because she can see how exhausted you both are. Instead, she calls you both, “sweetie.”
Your wife orders fried shrimp, you order the catfish. And in this empty restaurant, your tired discussion is all over the map, like married conversations often go. Only this time, even dull topics seem more important than usual.
After finishing your meals, you’ll talk about life. Growing up, and your old bicycles. About what kind of mustard you like, or when you learned to swim. You talk about your daddies, then she remembers that time you got mugged in Atlanta.
When the waitress asks if you want banana pudding, you ask if it’s good pudding—like she’d ever tell you it wasn’t.
When she brings it out, with two spoons, your wife takes the first bite. And you notice the ring on her finger. The silver one, with the tiny diamond in it. It’s nearly fifteen years old.
And for some reason, you recall the day you set an Altoids-boxful of cash on the jeweler’s counter, saying, “What’ll this buy me?”
Then, you remember the hours spent with an air-powered nail-gun, filling up that tin box; and all that lumber you cut with a radial saw. You remember how you bumbled your marriage proposal speech. The red blouse she wore to church that Sunday.
Your wife slides you a spoon.
You try to think back before you met this girl. But you can’t. It’s as though each memory preceding her, erased itself. Until your whole damn childhood disappeared.
Then, you wonder if perhaps you ever really existed without her, since there aren’t any images in your mind to prove it. You wonder if maybe you’re not two people at all; but one soul with two spoons.
She’s halfway through the banana pudding, now. And you haven’t even taken a bite.
“Don’t you want any of this?” she asks.
But all you can do is look at that stupid fiberglass gator. Then to your wife. You think about how happiness is a lot like a houseplant. No matter how much you water it, nothing lives forever. Everything is on temporary loan—and that includes people.
You know that one day, the world will fall apart when one of you quits breathing. And, you thank God that day isn’t today.
Because her tumor was benign.