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The Provence cure for the brokenhearted

Ever since Henry's death, I'd been losing things.   I lost keys, sunglasses, checkbooks. I lost a spatula and found it in the freezer, along with a bag of grated cheese.   I lost a note to Abbot's third-grade teacher explaining how I'd lost his homework.   I lost the caps to toothpaste and jelly jars. I put these things away open-mouthed, lidless, airing. I lost hairbrushes and shoes--not just one of a pair, but both.   I left jackets behind in restaurants, my pocketbook under my seat at the movies, my keys on the checkout counter of the drugstore--afterward, I sat in my car for a moment, disoriented, trying to place exactly what was wrong and then trudged back into the store, where the checkout girl jingled them for me above her head.   I got calls from people who were kind enough to return things. And when things were gone--just gone--I retraced my steps and then got lost myself. Why am I here at this mini mart? Why am I back at the deli counter?   I lost track of friends. They had babies, defended dissertations, had art showings and dinner parties and backyard barbecues ...   Most of all, I lost track of large swaths of time. Kids at Abbot's bus stop and in the neighborhood and in his class and on his Little League team kept inching taller all around me. Abbot kept growing, too. That was the hardest to take.   I also lost track of small pieces of time--late mornings, evenings. Sometimes I would look up and it was suddenly dark outside, as if someone had flipped a switch. The fact of the matter was, life charged on without me. This realization still caught me off guard even two years later, although by this point it had become a habit, a simple unavoidable fact: The world charged on and I did not.   So it shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that Abbot and I were running late for the bridesmaid bonding on the morning of my sister's wedding. We had spent the morning playing Apples to Apples, interrupted by phone calls from the Cake Shop.   "Jude ... Jude, slow down. Five hundred lemon tarts?" I stood up from the couch where Abbot was eating his third freezer pop of the morning--the kind that come in vivid colors packaged in plastic tubes that you have to snip with scissors and that sometimes make you cough. Even this detail is pained: Abbot and I had been reduced to eating frozen juice in plastic. "No, no, I'm sure," I continued. "I would have written down the order. At least ... Shit. This is probably my fault. Do you want me to come in?"   Henry hadn't only been my husband; he'd also been my business partner. I'd grown up making delicate pastries, thinking of food as a kind of art, but Henry had convinced me that food is love. We'd met during culinary school, and shortly after Abbot was born we'd embarked on another labor of love: the Cake Shop.   Jude had been with us from the start. She was a single mom--petite, mouthy, with short bleached-out hair and a heart-shaped face--that strange combination of beauty and toughness. She was our first hire and had a natural flair, a great sense of design, and marketing savvy. After Henry's death, she'd stepped up. Henry had been the one to handle the business side of things, and I'd have lost the shop, I'm quite sure, if it weren't for Jude. Jude became the guiding force, my rudder. She kept things going.   I was about to tell Jude that I'd be at the shop in half an hour when Abbot reached up and tugged on my sleeve. He pointed at the watch he wore, its face in the shape of a baseball. Perhaps as a result of my spaciness, Abbot insisted on keeping his own time.   When I realized that it was now after noon, I shouted, "The wedding! I'm so sorry! I've got to go!" then hung up the phone.   Abbot, wide-eyed, said, "Auntie Elysius is going to be so mad!" He leaned over to scratch a mosquito bite on his ankle. He was wearing his short white sports socks and his ankle looked like it had a golfer's tan, but really it was dirt.   "Not if we hurry!" I said. "And grab some calamine lotion so you don't itch during the ceremony."   We darted around our little three-bedroom bungalow madly. I found one of my heels in the closet and the other in Abbot's bedroom in a big tub of Legos. Abbot was wrestling on his rented tux. He struggled with the tiny cuff buttons, searching for the clip-on tie and cummerbund--he'd chosen red because it was the color that Henry had worn at our wedding. I wasn't sure that was healthy, but didn't want to draw attention to it.   I threw on makeup and slipped the bridesmaid's dress over my head, grateful that the dress wasn't your typical bridesmaid's horror show--my sister had exquisite taste, and this was the most expensive dress I'd ever worn, including my own wedding dress.   When I'd declined the role of Elysius's matron of honor--or was it, to be grimly accurate, widow of honor?--my sister had been visibly relieved. She knew that I'd only gum up the works. In a heartbeat, she'd called an old college friend with a marketing degree, and I was happily demoted to bridesmaid. Abbot had been enlisted as the ring bearer, and to be honest, I didn't even feel like I was up for the role of mother-of-the-ring-bearer. I'd made a last-minute excuse to get out of the rehearsal dinner the night before and that day's spa treatment and group hair appointment. When your husband has died, you're allowed to just say, "I can't make it. I'm so sorry." If your husband died in a car accident, like mine, you're allowed to say, "I just can't drive today." You can simply shake your head and whisper, "Sorry." And people excuse you, immediately, as if this is the least they can do for you. And perhaps it is.   This was wearing on my sister, however. She'd made me promise that I would be at her house two hours before the wedding. There was a strict agenda that we had to stick to, and it included drinking mimosas with all of the bridesmaids while each gave an intimate little toast. Elysius likes it when the world finds her as its proper axis. I couldn't judge her for that; I was painfully aware of how selfish my grief was. My eight-year-old son had lost his father. Henry's parents had lost their son. And Henry lost his life. What right did I have to use Henry's death as an excuse--time and again--to check out?   "Can I bring my snorkel stuff?" Abbot called down the hallway.   "Pack an overnight bag and bring the gear," I said, shoving things into a small suitcase of my own. My sister lived only twenty minutes away--a quick ride from Tallahassee to the countryside in Capps--but she wanted family to spend the night. It was an opportunity to capture my mother's attention and mine and hold it for as long as possible--to relive the strong bond the three of us had once had. "You can snorkel in the morning with Pop-pop."   Abbot ran out of his bedroom, sliding down the hall to my doorway, still wearing his sports socks. He was holding the cummerbund in one hand and the clip-on bow tie in the other. "I can't get these to stick on!" he said. His starched collar was sticking up by his cheeks, like the Halloween he dressed as Count Dracula.   "Don't worry about it. Just bring it all." I was fussing with the clasp of a string of pearls my mother had lent me for the occasion. "There will be ladies there with nervous energy and nothing to do. They'll fix you up."   "Where will you be?" he asked with an edge of anxiety in his voice. Since Henry's death, Abbot had become a worrier. He'd started rubbing his hands together, a new tic--a little frenzy, the charade of a vigorous hand-washing. He'd become a germophobe. We'd seen a therapist, but it hadn't helped. He did this when he was anxious and also when he sensed I was brooding. I tried not to brood in front him, but it turned out that I wasn't good at faking chipper, and my fake chipperness made him more nervous than my brooding--a vicious cycle. Now that his father was gone, did he feel more vulnerable in the world? I did.   "I'll be with the other bridesmaids doing mandatory bridesmaidish things," I reassured him. It was at this moment that I remembered that I was supposed to have my toast prepared. I'd written a toast on a napkin in the kitchen and, of course, had since lost it and now couldn't remember anything I'd written. "What nice things should I say about Auntie Elysius? I have to come up with something for a toast."   "She has very white teeth and buys very good presents," Abbot said.   "Beauty and generosity," I said. "I can work with that. This is going to all be fine. We're going to enjoy ourselves!"   Excerpted from The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted: A Novel by Bridget Asher All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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by Bridget Asher

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