At almost , about an hour before I start putting together dinner on these long, slow, freezy pre-holiday days, I find Mr. Wren in the kitchen with baggies full of damp greenery spead all over the counter and a large, five-pound-ham size, white paper-wrapped object. He’s taking a plate from the cupboard and humming to himself.
He generally hums Zappa.
I fill my coffee mug, watching as he plucks tufts of sprouts from one of the bags and plops them onto the plate. They look like shaved green and white pubic hair with a tiny black bug attached to each individual sproingy curl.
He notes my curiosity, though I haven’t said anything yet. There are seven or eight other baggies, too, each filled with a different kind of seed. Various thicknesses of white and green growth jut from the damp, split seeds. Some look like the worms you'd find deep in a cave. Others remind me of things I've seen in sci-fi flicks. I wait for them to move.
“Chives sprouts,” he says conversationally of the delicate tufts on his plate. “From seeds I collected myself, sorted myself, rinsed and grew myself.” He pops a fingerful into his mouth and chews. “MmmMMM.”
“Very good,” I say. I don’t like to discourage him from gainful occupation, now that he’s retired and has absolutely nothing to fill his days with. “What’s that?” I ask, nodding at the large paper-wrapped object as I stir sweetener and half-and-half into my coffee.
“That? Oh. Octopus.”
There was a time, many years back, when an answer like that would have elicited something like “What? An octopus?!” from me. Today, however, I calmly clup the cap back onto my plastic insulated cup (my wee den is far from the warmth of the woodstove) and put the half-and-half back into the fridge, which received its yearly hosing out this morning. I was in a mood. It’s nice being able to find a place for the half-and-half without having to move 25 jars, storage containers, half-empty milk cartons and elderly, store-bought half-sandwiches, squirreled away there by the fledgling, out of the way. Oh, look, I almost say, there’s room for my pint of half-and-half! Happy days!
Instead my tongue cleaves to the roof of my mouth as I imagine a dead, grayish, rather deflated, balloon-headed sea creature with long, suckered tentacles all folded up around it for Mr. Wren and wrapped neatly in white paper by the delighted butcher at the seafood counter at the grocery. The poor man must groan with dismay every time the distributer drops off 20 pounds of smelly, floppy, slimy octopi. Suckered tentacles are not a meal one finds on most tables up here in the mountains at dinnertime. Macaroni and cheese with Ballpark franks sliced all fancy, on the bias, mixed in along with nuked Pizza Bites for the vegetable matter in the tomato paste are closer to the regional cuisine.
Mr. Wren made that butcher's day, I know it.
I turn back around to get my cup. Mr. Wren is plopping more nameless but no doubt tasty sprouts – if you’re into sprouts – onto his pale blue plate, which has white Japanese plum blossoms decorating it. The package containing the devilfish has not yet been opened.
I look at the stove. There sits my big blue Dutch oven, clean as a whistle, waiting for me to chop onions and garlic, add broth, maybe meat (not octopus) and vegetables, barley or rice or potatoes for a nice, hot, stick-to-your-ribs soup.
I imagine this five-pound dead octopus boiling away merrily in it, tentacles flailing.
“You ... gonna cook that?” I ask, trying for nonchalance.
“Oh, no. It’s already cooked,” he says. He starts to unwrap it with a crackle of paper. “Want some?”
“Ah ... no thanks. Bon apetit,” I scurry back to my den.
Well, a sandwich is now on the menu for me tonight. Or maybe canned soup. Or, if the fledgling cooks, macaroni and cheese with not-octopus.
It’s going to be a longggg unemployment.