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I was heading toward the frozen-food aisle, my mind filled with visions of chicken nuggets, when I bumped into something — hard. When I turned to see what I had run into, I saw a man who in one motion regained his balance, cocked his head, raised an eyebrow, turned down the left corner of his mouth in a bemused grin, and murmured (the even-then-already-famous Harrison Ford Murmur) . . . well . . . murmured something. I couldn’t hear him over the Muzak overhead.
I said, “What?” Then I said, “Holy shit, you’re Harrison Ford!”
He shook his head, the bemused grin becoming more bemused, cupped a hand to his ear, and said, “What?”
This set the tone for our life as husband and wife. I would sneeze and fart at the same time or struggle to pronounce the name of the Chinese ambassador to the U.S., and when I glanced Harry’s way to gauge his reaction, he would twist the corner of his mouth down in that bemused grin, his crow’s feet would crinkle, and he would look directly into my eyes with a gaze that I tried to interpret as deep caring, but I could never be sure was not ironic detachment.
And then there was The Murmur. Not once did he seem annoyed when I asked him to repeat himself when he murmured words that could have been “pass the mayonnaise” or “today is President’s Day.” Yet, when upon request he repeated his words, he did so in the same murmur at the same volume. From time to time I thought, “Can you get off that Harrison Ford schtick for a moment and speak up?” But I never said a word, and the longer I was silent, the less possible it was for me to bring up the matter.
Then came the episode of the jam.
Harry and I have two jars of jam that rest, one in front of the other, on a chest-high shelf embedded into the inner right door of our refrigerator. One jar contains cherry-rhubarb jam, Harry’s favorite, and the other contains strawberry jam, my own pedestrian preference.
The position of those two jars circulates with use. When I spread some jam on toast, I put the strawberry jam away in the front position. When Harry makes a PB&J sandwich, he puts the cherry-rhubarb jam away in the front position. And all is well. Or it was until this morning.
I was at the sink, washing a pot I had left soaking overnight, when I became aware of a presence in the kitchen. I turned and saw Harry, hair tousled from sleep. I saw his mouth move, perhaps saying, “Good morning, hon.”
I turned back to the sink and continued working the scratchy side of the sponge. However, unlike every other morning, Harry did not approach the cupboard for his mug and then proceed to the Keurig machine. Nor did I hear the scrape of the stool being pulled away from the kitchen island.
Was he watching me wash the pan? Was he now, when no one was watching, when this man known by all was truly alone, looking at me not with his charming grin, but with a gaze of honest love?
I turned my head.
The right-hand refrigerator door was open. Harry was facing the shelves embedded in the door. His hand was poised above the jam jars.
I watched as his hand descended, as his fingers extended over my jar of strawberry jam, and as he withdrew his jar of cherry-rhubarb jam. I watched as, with his other hand, he slid my strawberry jam toward the back of the shelf and placed his jam jar in the front position.
And at that moment I knew. Not only had Harry never loved me, he likely had never even noticed me.
He closed the refrigerator door, carefully, turned, and saw me watching him.
“A little early for a PB&J, don’t you think?” I said, more a demand than a question. I reached behind me and turned off the running water.
Harry’s grin began assembling itself on his face.
“Looking ahead to lunch?” I continued.
His crow’s feet began to crinkle.
“Putting the jams in alphabetical order?” I inquired, my tone the equivalent of a lepidopterist pinning a butterfly to a slab of Styrofoam.
The words were there, ready to be uttered: “Harry, for once in your life, will you SPEAK UP?”
But I did not say those words. I did not need to say them. I wiped my hands on a dishtowel, left the pan in the sink, and approached the refrigerator. Harry stepped aside. I opened the door, obscuring him, reached inside, and grasped a carton of milk, secure in my sense that Harry wasn’t even there.
Robert Fromberg's memoir, How to Walk with Steve, is coming Sept. 2021 from Latah Books. His prose has appeared in Indiana Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, Hobart, and elsewhere.