I Woke Up and You Were Not There Nikita Mirzani 2

Nikita Mirzani set the head of lettuce she had pulled from the refrigerator down and walked over to her husband. He looked up as she fixed her dark eyes on his. Nikita Mirzani almost flinched at the hollow look she saw there, but she straightened herself tall, ready to tell the part of him she knew was saying those things to him to fuck off. She took a deep breath and opened her mouth.

“I love you.”

It wasn’t at all what she had expected to say, but neither her posture nor her gaze wavered.

Zack’s eyes looked dull, though they stayed on hers. “I love you too.” His gaze slid away then, back to the papers on the counter in front of him.

Nikita Mirzani let her breath out silently as Zack turned and wandered back to the living room. Reaching to straighten the pile of papers he had been examining, she returned to the counter and picked up the head of lettuce. It felt heavy in her hands.

Thanks to her internal alarm clock, Nikita Mirzani woke up around the time she wanted to on Saturday morning. She glanced at Zack to make sure he was still asleep and eased out of bed, tying her short red satin robe around herself as she padded down the stairs.

Zack had been without a job for three weeks, and his general state seemed even more lackluster than the professional prospects he’d found.

Nikita Mirzani was well aware that her husband’s résumé was exemplary—highly educated, experienced, and commended, he had demonstrated unquestionable competence and even superiority in his field. The present job market was responsible for the dearth of opportunities, which was the reason he was unemployed in the first place.

She opened the refrigerator and grabbed two eggs, setting them on the spotless counter. All that seemed to have been forgotten by Zack. Whenever she reminded him of either his own competence or the influence of the larger economic environment, it was as though the words dissolved in the air before they ever reached his consciousness.

Smothering a yawn, Nikita Mirzani began to pull mixing bowls and measuring cups from cupboards and drawers as quietly as she could.

The counter collected with ingredients as she slid canisters forward from linear rows, the immaculate surface offering itself as her canvas, a steady, solid space upon which to create. She felt the familiar warmth of appreciation for the art of food preparation spread through her body.

Picking up the griddle, she sprayed it with organic safflower oil before setting it on the burner and turning the heat to low. Zack’s despondence, which at this point was of more concern to her than financial matters, had been manifesting sometimes as a tightly controlled anger and bitterness and other times as a smothering despair.

The night before, when he had left the kitchen after dinner with a whispered, “I’m sorry I’ve failed us,” she had almost thrown a dish against the wall in frustration.

Nikita Mirzani reached for the canister of organic whole wheat flour and wiped away a spot on the side before unscrewing the lid. She reached into the canister, closing her eyes and taking a deep breath as her fingers skimmed over the softness within. She loved the feel of flour. It was one of the ingredients she most loved to touch.

It had been her conscious aim for as long as she could remember to appreciate food preparation with all of her senses. To her, cooking was nowhere near simply a means to an end.

It was a transformation, a miraculous process in which elements came together, often in subtly different ways, and yielded a culmination that could be substantially different from what the components had been separately.

Every ingredient she used, from olive oil to molasses to a dash of salt, Nikita Mirzani respected as indispensable to the whole she was creating. She took none of them for granted.

Lifting her fingers from the flour, Nikita Mirzani picked up a measuring cup. Her movements were reverent as she measured the ingredient precisely and transferred it to the larger mixing bowl.

Then she reached for the organic brown sugar, adding the measured amount to the flour as she licked a few stray grains from her thumb. Baking soda. Two teaspoonfuls landed in white puffs on top of the dry mixture.

Finally she grabbed the cinnamon, which went into almost everything she baked, and tapped three brown splotches onto the powdered pile.

Her thoughts returned to her husband as she picked up the eggs. The dispiritedness Zack had displayed since losing his job had included a lack of interest in many things he usually appreciated—including sex.

While she didn’t take it personally, she suspected the degree to which Zack’s subconscious linked his perceived professional success with his sense of personal value was what had made losing his job seem such a staggering blow—and seemed to be threatening his entire self-image.

It wouldn’t surprise her if a part of him was questioning whether he was still worthy of her affection.