Not Pecan - Paint Swatch Contest Honourable Mention

Not Pecan - Paint Swatch Contest Honourable Mention

🕔Dec 04, 2018

by Caroline Dudley

The man seated next to me clenched his fists like an excited child. I sensed the vibration in my own seat from his agitation. He’d mentioned proudly that he hadn’t been checked for liquids at the Terrace Airport, and had parted the curtain of his camo fleece to display a heavy plastic pouch. I was a touch uneasy.

He’d seemed friendly when we’d exchanged greetings. Dressed like he was about to go quadding. I moved my eyes cautiously in their sockets, trying not to alert him that he’d attracted my attention. I didn’t want to vaporize the luxury of pretended ignorance. I also didn’t want to be silly. There was probably a medical, not criminal reason for that pouch. Besides, he was travelling with his family, seated across the aisle from him. Surely his daughter would glance up and notice if something was wrong? His wife had needed a lot of assistance accepting her surroundings from her daughter, and appeared to be in the impatient and accusing phase of Alzheimer’s. That could wear on a person.

I looked to the right. My husband was asleep in his window seat, pillowy lips parted, full greying moustache caterpillaring over their ledge. His quiet hands were being softly burnished by the afternoon light coming in the porthole. My mind settled on its hundredth assessment of his hands: hands whose gentle touch had soothed me and enticed me, hands that had prepared countless forms of sustenance. His hands are remarkable for their smoothness, a gift earned through education and the avoidance of a life of labour, and their colour. I’ve never been able to name that colour, but I know it to be beautiful. Milk chocolate? Not warm enough. Coffee? Sometimes, like now, when I’ve finished the crossword on the airplane, I play a guessing game in my head. Burnished maple? Too light, and too speckly. I never tell him I play these games.

I look down at my own hands. Nightly applications of shea butter aren’t holding the line against the faint webbing that’s appeared in the last couple of years. These hands work too hard at too many things to be kept pristine and beautiful. Four rings adorn them, marking milestones, including when my husband wanted to demonstrate he could afford to buy a diamond and I was worth it. I hope I’ll still be worth when I’m as much trouble as my vibrating neighbour’s wife is now.

I broke the invisible barrier and turned to look at my seatmate squarely. His eyes were fixed ahead, and his mouth held a crooked grin. I followed his eyes to see what he was looking at: on the screen on the back of the seat ahead, a robot was on the pavement, being blasted from above by turquoise rays. My seatmate’s hands controlled the ray-gun. Dude really gets into his film.

I sighed and relaxed my head back into the seat. My mind wandered over to the tripping point of naming the colour of my husband’s hands again. How do you capture that rosy underglow beneath the light brown, and the peaks of darker brown around the knuckles and fingernails? The rest of the flight went uneventfully as I drifted off to a quiet place that wasn’t sleep.

My seatmate was now speaking kindly to his daughter and grandchild. As we de-planed, I watched his wife send the four-year-old ahead of her to navigate the way, as grandpa was left to carry four backpacks. I didn’t expect to see them again. Yet, hours later, getting off the plane in Toronto, there was grandpa. I strained to see the words printed on the back of his cap. Finally, I was able to make them out: “Rammin’ Sammy.”

Days later, in Canadian Tire, I grabbed my husband’s arm. We were passing a paint display. I gently pulled him towards the paint chips lined up under the bath of fluorescent light.

“What are you doing?” he rightfully inquired as I moved to the brown chips and started holding them up against him.

“I’m…writing a story.”

“Don’t put me in a story.”

“Don’t worry,” I told him. “It’s not all about you.” He stopped resisting.

Nothing matched. The perfect colour wasn’t there. Not Cosy Castle. Not Reindeer. Not Pecan.

Pecan pie. Lemon Meringue Pie, like the one I’m posing with in an old picture taken in our first rental house. Like the peaks on meringue. Toasted Meringue.