Pavel didn’t learn to cook until he left his mother’s home. And even then, not until he moved too far for her to bring him carefully packed and labeled containers every few days. He found himself living in New York, hating the raft of take-out options near his tiny studio and homesick in a way he hadn’t anticipated.
“I guess you were pretty spoiled, huh?” This from Susan, his American girlfriend. “I mean, it never occurred to you to learn how to make even one of your favorite dishes?”
Pavel was sitting in Susan’s kitchen, watching her mince garlic with a speed and accuracy that alarmed him. “You say ‘spoiled,’ I say —”
“Mama’s boy?” Susan winked at him, laughed. “You’re certainly not alone. Half my friends didn’t even look at a pot or a recipe before leaving home.”
“The half that are men?”
She laughed again. “No, everyone.” She sprinkled the garlic into the pan heating on the stove and began cutting thin-thin strips of yellow peppers. “But what’s your excuse now?”
“Excuse for what? I cook now.”
She laid her knife down and turned to face him. “Boiling vegetables in chicken bouillon and calling it soup is not cooking.” She went back to her work. “We’ve been together six months now? Why not ask me to teach you something?’
Pavel stared at her. Why hadn’t he ever thought of that? Maybe he was really as spoiled as she thought, felt entitled to such care.
“I think what I want to ask is for you to marry me,” he said.
Susan’s hand slipped, and she knicked her thumb deeply enough to draw blood. Pavel rushed to tend her. From years of hunting and camping trips, he’d become very good with cleaning and bandaging wounds.
“What’s wrong with you?” she asked, swatting him away after he finished. “Who proposes like that? And what? You want me to marry you so you don’t have to cook?”
He laughed. Yes, it sounded like that. He would have to help her understand the warm, weightless feeling that was spreading through him at the thought of marrying her. She was always sure, always smart. She would doubt him for a long time. But he no longer doubted. Only wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before, why he hadn’t seen who she was meant to be in his life. But in that moment he saw her clearly for the first time. She was right: it was foolish for him to ask her in that way. They didn’t need to be married necessarily. But at the same time: why not get married?
“Tell me what to do and I’ll finish making this food,” he said, turning on the faucet, washing his hands. “And you don’t have to answer now, but it’s a serious question.”