Alexander had a suspicion. It was a small suspicion, only the size of a pearl onion, and it moved around with a speed that was befuddling. It slept in the spice cabinet, but during the day it amused itself by tunneling beneath the ancient, inherited Persian rug that sat in the middle of the room, offended by its thrifty and carefully bohemian surroundings. Once, early on, the suspicion perched itself at the tip of Sarah’s nose and stared up at Alexander as they sat across from one another at the folding card table, eating half-raw risotto that they both insisted was better than any they’d had in restaurants. Sarah had not noticed the suspicion, but seeing it there, out in the broad light of the apartment, had made Alexander’s mouth dry, and he had forgotten his train of thought. Another evening, the suspicion sat on the lip of the bathtub, silently watching Alexander marinate in the bubbly water. The suspicion did not grow, save in daring. It began to follow Alexander from the house, hopping nimbly into his briefcase⎯a luxurious gift from his mother after he graduated from college⎯and riding happily with Alexander on the train, watching the dark-haired businesswomen herd themselves in and then out of the big metal doors. The first few days that it came to work with him, the suspicion rolled itself across the stubby gray carpet, head butted cubicle walls, and flirted with Sam at the front desk. It looked out the big plate glass windows as rain fell over the city, and it made private bets on which raindrop would reach the sill first. But then the suspicion grew petulant, and it would stay in the briefcase, fiddling with the buckle closure and making up little games to pass the time.
When the suspicion stopped coming to work with him, Alexander became nervous. He had suspicions about his suspicion, each as small as a grain of rice. They skittered up walls whenever his suspicion rolled into sight, and Alexander considered mentioning his problems to Sarah. However, Sarah had problems of her own. Alexander did not necessarily know this, because Sarah spoke mainly to her mother on the telephone in the laundry room, and the churning of the machines drowned out any noise that might leak beneath the doorjamb. The suspicion sat behind the detergent, unseen. Several times Sarah’s fingers brushed it as she completed her compulsive wash cycles. The suspicion was falling in love, but it didn’t say anything. It didn’t want to draw attention to itself. She probably didn’t even know its name. Sarah had dark red hair that looked like cinnamon and honey, and her skin was very dry. She would rub Vaseline on her face and hands before bed and wrap herself in clean cotton as she slept. The suspicion wanted to wash over her like cleansing milk. The suspicion felt that she was wasting away. Alexander, who was not privy to her laundry room agonies, did not want very much to do with her. He liked the smell of her, and he liked to watch her mince herbs after he came home from work. Thin stems and delicate leaves disappearing into artful green shreds. Before they lived together, Alexander had not known that such little things could have such powerful tastes. But whenever he looked at Sarah now he felt as if he was struggling to catch the details of her face in a room that was filling with steam. She kept blurring, and her lovely hands, when they touched him at night, were cold and sticky and had all the clean spice of herbs scrubbed off of them by the detergent.
Alexander’s suspicion took up smoking. It wasn’t good for it, but it didn’t care right now. When everything had blown over, it would quit. All of its apostle suspicions crowded behind it and squeaked that it should get back to its real work. It had a job to do. It would turn from the dark window, where it had been studying its own reflection instead of the street below, and say that it was tired and to leave it alone.
Sarah had been trying to write a cookbook for a very long time. It was going to be called “Sarah and Spice,” and it was going to have a lilac cover and be for women trying to cook healthily for one. Alexander would ask how it was going, and Sarah would mince the herbs too small and they would become just stains on the wooden cutting board. The suspicion had taken to sitting on Sarah’s shoulder, tickled by the tendril of hair that always came loose when she cooked. The suspicion liked to see the advance and retreat of color on her cheek when Alexander would speak to her. The suspicion did not like to spend time with Alexander, even though it knew it should. It would sometimes nudge the glass of water by his bed as he tried to sleep, or write mean little notes in the steam on the bathroom mirror for him to read when he got out of the shower. But mostly it stayed close to Sarah, smelling the slightly sour edge of her dehydrated breath, and watching her knuckles crack and bleed in the winter dryness.
It snowed in the city in the middle of January, and Sarah got very ill. There was nothing simmering on the stove, and all of the herbs she bought at exorbitant prices from the grocery went bad as she spent four and then six days in bed. Alexander heated up chicken soup in the microwave, and bought her diet soda and black licorice, her favorite. He would tend to her quickly and tenderly and then go out to read on the Persian rug, lying with his belly up towards the ceiling, his arms fatigued from holding up the paperback that he was rereading once again. Sarah would lie in bed, too hot and then too cold. The suspicion stayed with her. It sat in the hollow of her thin wrist. It chased down the beads of fever sweat on her forehead to her temples, where it licked them up one by one. It prayed to the God of suspicions. It offered itself in her place. When she slept, it sat on her chest, feeling the flickering vibration of her heartbeat. The suspicion was giving in to melodrama. The suspicion barely recognized itself⎯love had obscured its features and its reason. Sarah recovered slowly. She took the medication that had been prescribed for Alexander’s headaches, for reasons that neither the suspicion nor Alexander could understand. The first thing she made was a broth with fish heads. The apartment smelled sweet and rotten and like slow healing.
She did not offer the broth to Alexander, but ate it herself, day after day, until she had finished the pot. The suspicion bathed in the broth at night after they were asleep. It played in the eye sockets of the fish, and it sang little gurgling songs of happiness. Sarah took down the dusty corkboard that hung on the kitchen wall. She removed each pinned up recipe and sketch of completed meals. She threw the scraps away and placed the pins in a little box that smelled like soap. She threw the box away so that no one would step on a pin, and then packed her suitcases and moved back in with her mother.
Her shampoo was still in the shower, and the suspicion sank itself into the pear-scented goop and begged for death. It opened its mouth and gagged on soap. It did not drown. It stayed there for days and when it came out, it found Alexander on the Persian rug, lying with his book on his chest, and leaving another message on Sarah’s phone. Alexander had left many messages. He talked about his love for her, and about the herbs she had left behind. He asked her how to stop the washing machine from bucking violently against the wall. He told her that she was the great love of his life, and that he didn’t know what had happened. The suspicion waited alongside him. The suspicion hoped against itself that she would answer the phone just once. But there was only silence and in the end it was the two of them on the rug in the apartment.