You, my darling, are a work in preparation.

Preparation for what? she asked.

His reply was a quote from a Rainer Maria Rilke poem: “For one human being to love another: that is the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test of proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

Sunday morning. She strolled through the farmers market, the little girl swinging at her arm. “Let’s look at the river, Mommy!” She skipped over to a quiet stream in the middle of the city, shining under the sun.

They bought a fragrant melon, brown eggs, two bunches of carrots with the greens poking out of the bag. The vendor handed a single thick carrot to the little girl, who smiled shyly and stuffed it in the bag with the others.

Later, when the mother was cleaning the carrots to slow-cook with a whole chicken, the little girl asked, “Is my carrot in there too?” And she turned to her brother to say, “The lady gave me my very own carrot at the farmers market.”

It had been a morning of mother and daughter alone, an island in time they had both needed for too long.

A work in preparation. The mother reflected on that email sometimes, wondering about the man who’d said it, wondering if he could be the source of such love. Or maybe it was an offering for her, an admission that she was the type of person who could love that fully.

In the marriage, she had thought she was loving the man completely but really she never did. And as the days passed and the two ears of sweet yellow and white corn from the farmers market remained in the refrigerator, uncooked, unoffered in love, she began to realize that what she had mistaken for love had been caring for another: cooking big pots of vegetable and bean soup, setting a glowing table on Friday night, putting away the laundry.

All the trappings of marriage with none of the chest-thumping love she’d wanted.

In time, she told herself. Eliminating past clutter makes room for the future.

An unstated¬†mantra as she sank against the pillows in the night, reading about the old man and the mountain and the surgeon’s sharp knife and the way a sailboat leans away from the wind.

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