Flash Point by Elizabeth Zelvin
"Are you glad to be home?" Martin asked.
He swung Samantha's suitcase down, wincing as his bad shoulder protested. Samantha never traveled light, even for two weeks at a spa famed for its austerity. The shoulder was a legacy from his days as her roadie, ushering her sound equipment and costume trunks on and off planes and trains and stages. Since their marriage, he didn't tour with her, but there was plenty to do at home. She collected antique furniture in need of restoration. The house had grounds and gardens, sometimes open to the public. They kept sheep, which she considered picturesque. When her voice went, Samantha said, laughing in the way that meant of course that was absurd, she'd take up weaving. And there was that eighty pound block of burled walnut in the barn, if he ever got back to sculpting. If he ever found the time.
"Remember," she said, "I'm not to have a scrap of animal fat or sugar."
"I know," he said. "I've memorized the sheet you sent. No white flour. No wheat. Nothing cooked at all."
"You'll have to humor me," she said. That laugh again. "I could do it at the spa, with a chef and all the others eating it too."
"I've been inventing recipes," he said. "And I'll eat with you."
"I have to lose fifty pounds," she said. "I need to for the surgery. If I don't, the pain will keep getting worse. Martin, I could die."
"Don't worry, love," he said. "We'll do it together. I'll make only the food you can eat, and we'll take every bite together."
By the end of the first week, Martin had learned that Samantha required an enthusiastic affirmative whenever she pulled her clothing tightly around her, sucked her belly in, and demanded, "Do I look thinner? Honestly." By the end of the second, he thought he would choke if he had to eat another mouthful of grated raw carrot. Samantha, on the other hand, was thriving on the new regime.
"I've lost eight pounds already," she announced, "and that kale and quinoa salad you made last night wasn't bad at all. You know, I never quite believed that white flour could cause cravings, but it must be true. I don't miss bread or pasta at all any more."
Martin could not suppress a moan. He missed hot croissants for breakfast, slathered with butter and honey. He missed thick-cut homemade pappardelle—Samantha had bought him a pasta machine for Christmas—tossed with veal ragù flavored with rosemary, fennel, and coriander and sprinkled with freshly ground parmigiano reggiano. He missed the cassoulet at Chez Armand in the village. Armand, the owner-chef, actually born and raised in Toulouse, had learned to cook it at his mother's knee. He had promised to give Martin his secret recipe on Martin's fiftieth birthday—if he lived that long on Samantha's diet of grass and birdseed.
"Martin, do you want to do this? You don't have to. You never gain an ounce, no matter what you eat. I wouldn't mind if you made yourself a cheeseburger. Really."
At two months, Samantha had lost twenty-eight pounds, and Martin had sneaked out twice for a quick steak frites at Chez Armand. He knew from long experience that Samantha was incapable of keeping a promise not to reproach him for less than absolute supportive devotion. Besides, as a compulsive eater whose seven food groups were fried, sugar, chocolate, fat, crunchy, ice cream, and more, she didn't know the difference between a beef Wellington and a cheeseburger.
Neither successful weight loss nor occasional furtive good eating was enough to prevent them from becoming cranky. Martin had maintained a strict policy of appeasement for years to avoid the kind of bickering that erupted at ever shorter intervals as time passed and Samantha dropped pound after pound. As for Martin, it was as if his belt, which now hung loosely on his lanky frame, had been holding in not only a ravenous, growling stomach but a gutful of rage. As Samantha neared her goal, bickering gave way to spats. Spats gave way to bitter quarrels. Hurtful things that could not be unsaid were uttered on both sides. The quarrels ended with both combatants drawing back from the brink of the unforgivable and retreating into a cold silence followed by a semblance of normalcy. But they both knew, and perhaps wished, that that could not last forever.
Samantha's flash point came on the day her doctor's scale finally registered a fifty-pound weight loss. She came home bursting with the good news to find Martin frying a cheeseburger in the kitchen. He had reached his flash point the night before, when she told him he had always been a lousy lover, all her orgasms with him faked. It had been her response to his refusing sex, saying her fat body had turned him on more than the bag of irritable bones she had become. But he chose not to remember that, and he still seethed with anger. She had forgotten all about last night.
"You should be happy for me! What's wrong with you? And why are you eating that poison? Don't you care about me at all?"
She fingered the handle of the heavy hardwood cutting board on which he had sliced bacon and cheddar from high-quality slabs. He lifted the iron skillet and flipped the burger in the air.
"You've got your skinny body," he said. "So you can go back to stuffing your face. I don't care if I never see another brussel sprout."
"I can't go back, you moron!" she shrieked. "I'll die without surgery. You don't care!"
"Why should I, you control freak? Nobody could love you. And the rabbit food? Count me out from now on."
"I never asked you to! That was your idea!"
The blow, being unexpected, did the job. A shocking accident, everyone agreed. Such a devoted couple. After the funeral, the surviving spouse ate a hearty meal.