They had a ritual, this old couple. Every payday, on her way home from work, she stopped at the market and bought a roasted chicken, a nice plump one for six dollars. And every payday, he and his guide dog stopped by the deli and bought a quart of potato salad, the kind without pickle relish. And a quart of chocolate ice cream, the kind with real chocolate chips.
At home, he fed the dog and the two cats, all the while listening for his wife’s arrival. When she beeped the car horn from the alley, the dog raced down the back stairs, out the screen door and across the yard to greet her. Only for her homecomings did the dog not stop and dunk his head into the recycle bin on his way outdoors.
The man set the dining room table for two and, when he heard his wife step into the kitchen, called, “We’re all so happy to see you, Honey—even the cats.” She prepared two plates, slipped some chicken skin to the dog and the cats, then announced, “Dinner is served.”
The man shuffled across the kitchen, not from infirmity, but from fear he’d trip over the dog. He called its name and located the sound of its tail thumping against the wood floor. But where was the rest of the dog? Left of the tail? Right of the tail? The man raised his left foot high and placed it well ahead of him. Then he did the same with his right foot. Certain he had cleared any obstacles, he smiled and said, “Hannibal crosses the Alps.”
She’d watched this pantomime a thousand times—once by Marcel Marceau on TV and almost daily by her husband—this high-stepping over the sleeping dog only the mime could see and only her husband couldn’t. She’d watched her husband step over or around lots of things and nothing at all. She never intervened or corrected him. His method worked well enough—it just looked a little funny.
They ate chicken and potato salad surrounded by the dog and the cats. She read the newspaper aloud and they discussed the state of the world. They ate lightly, saving room for dessert. When she rose from the table and said she’d “de-bone” the chicken for tomorrow’s sandwiches, he knew she’d used the wrong word, that she’d meant to use the word, “bone.” But he didn’t correct her, didn’t prove himself right. That didn’t need to be said—not by him, not right then. What she meant was what mattered.
They had a ritual, this old couple, which went beyond chicken every payday. They gave each other credit for good intentions and kind acts. When she returned to the table, she placed in its center the quart of ice cream, with two spoons rising like candles from its rich chocolate surface.