Cheesecake is easy, you say.
Everyone says that, I chuckle, but not if you’re as cooking impaired as I am.
You make good brownies, you point out—you, who when you feel up to it, rise and head for the kitchen, and, in a frenzy of cookware and ingredients, turn out meatloaf and couscous salad and so much more, filling two fridges and freezers because you still want to feed your people.
From your residence on the sofa, you offer, Let’s get the ingredients, and we’ll practice cheesecake.
I don’t say, But you’re sleeping 23 hours a day. You can’t stand for more than two minutes, and you’re throwing up hourly. You’re in so much pain and on so many opioids you make Michael Jackson look like a teetotaler.
Instead, I say, That’d be fun, but you can just talk me through it.
By way of answer you reach for the TV remote, which about half the time you remember how to use, and search for the Food Network. Miss Brown will show you how, you say, and I assume that you’re hallucinating again.
I don’t say, Now you think you have friends on TV?
But you find her, Miss Kardea Brown, correct me on the pronunciation of her first name—Car-dee-ay—and start looking through episodes to find me a cheesecake lesson. And you do, after multiple attempts and stutters through cableland, and we watch this Southern chef in her home kitchen make chocolate cheesecake (you can leave out the chocolate if you want, you say) while I take notes.
Afterward you say, You can find all this online, you know.
I didn’t, I say, and you grin at me as I ask a dumb question: What’s this lemon zest business?
You’re gonna need a zester, you say.
What’s a zester? I ask because I must have missed Kardea’s lesson on that.
And, by way of explanation, you struggle to sit, wincing, breathing hard, then swing your legs around to plant your feet on the floor, sigh. Before I can protest, you rise, and I reach for you, swaying.
Follow me, you say, shuffling toward the kitchen, your favorite room in any house you’ve ever lived in.
I trail you, arms outstretched, ready to catch your depleted self, 15 pounds lighter than last month on the scale at the cancer center, as, wobbly but determined, you head directly to the drawer with the magic zester, retrieve it and wave it at me. It looks, my late furniture-building husband would say, like a mini wood rasp.
You need one of these, you say, reaching for a lemon in a blue bowl on the counter, one birthed from your tree on the deck. And you stand with me one last time at a kitchen sink, demonstrating, before handing me the zester caked with lemon rind.
Your turn, you say, coaching as you have long done—the one who taught me to properly iron a shirt, to soothe your screaming foster child, who guided me through potatoes from mashed to baked, who insisted that I read all of Austen and then all of Dickens, your favorites—positioning my hands just so on both fruit and instrument, nodding as we stand in late afternoon light soaring over Oyster Bay, absorbing this, the most tender of lessons.