The Slow-Cooked Sentence

In which a heart hurts

Rachael Conlin Levy
Anatomical heart by Leonardo Da Vinci.

Today’s bowl contains a sparkling, life-sustaining, ruby soup and I hope my father will get to eat a bowl. He’s at the hospital today where doctors will dye his blood and watch as it’s pumped through the chambers of his heart. If the heart is strong, he’ll come for dinner. If it’s weak, doctors will operate.

As I sliced beef into half-inch cubes I thought of this heart caged in the chest I fell asleep against as a child. As I cut beets and stained my fingers I thought of that blood, bubbling with oxygen, feeding my father. And as simmering broth turned brilliant red I prayed for the first man I loved.

In the anthology “My Mistress’s Sparrow is Dead,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Eugenides wrote about the heart:

“The perishable nature of love is what gives love its profound importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn’t hit us the way it does.”

Under the hood of my first car.

Childhood memories of my dad involve muscle: hammering together rabbit cages, carrying loads of firewood to the truck, changing the oil in my VW Bug. The picture I carry in my brain is of his body bent over the engine of our car. Broken down on the side of the highway, he once jerry-rigged it with a crochet hook. The slow speed of his driving and his bloodshot eyes brought the car to attention of police, so trips often included time on the side of the road answering a cop’s questions.

Though my dad’s still strong and ingenious, he’s also old. His hair is the color of winter and his hands are knotted. He’s nearing the age of his father who died following a heart bypass, the age of his mother when she suffered a second heart attack. Death lurks in my family’s genes. I warn my husband that I’ll die first, that I’ll die from a broken heart. My grandma almost did. After my grandpop died and she had suffered the heart attack, she asked not to be resuscitated should her heart stop again. One day it did. But forgetting her request, doctors shocked her heart into beating again. She lived for twenty more years and remarried, but the family knew that part of her heart no longer beat, but lay buried next to her lover.

Again, Eugenides:

“We value love not because it’s stronger than death but because it’s weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it. You will not go on loving in the grave, not in any physical way that will at all resemble love as we know it on earth.”

I sleep next to the second man I love. On most nights I sleep on his right side, so when I curl up against his chest I can’t hear his heart’s rhythmic thumping. Sometimes, though, my husband and I lay like spoons with his arm thrown over my side and his hand cupping my left breast, my heart playing a staccato against his palm. If the heart had a song for living, for the joy of filling cavities with blood and sending thin, brilliant blood through unblocked veins and arteries, it would be Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust by the quintet from Iceland Sigur Rós:

The album cover.

I’m playing it today as the soup simmers. I’m playing it.





In the bowl:
Ruby Soup

Ruby Soup
Adapted from Smith and Smith Farm‘s newsletter

Makes 4 quarts

1/2 pound grass-fed beef, cut into 1/2 inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil, divided in half
3 quarts beef stock
4 small beets or one large beet with tops
pinch of red chili flakes
juice of one lemon
1 large potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice
1 14 ounce can peeled, diced tomatoes
1 small onion, sliced
3 small carrots, sliced
3 cups cabbage, shredded
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 cloves garlic, minced<
br />3 tablespoon parsley, minced
1 tablespoon dill, chopped

Heat half the oil in a stockpot and brown the diced meat. Add the beef stock and tomatoes, bring to a boil, turn down heat and cover. Simmer for half an hour.

Trim and wash the beet greens, discarding the stems. Scrub the beets, cut them in quarters, place in a saucepan with the greens, the chili and a half cup of water. Cover and steam until the beets are tender but still firm, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice and allow to cool, then slice the beet wedges into 1/8 inch slices. Set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a large skillet and saute the onion and carrot for 5 minutes. Add the cabbage and continue cooking until the cabbage has softened. Add the cabbage mixture, potatoes and beets and beet greens to the stock and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, salt and pepper to state, and continue to simmer for 5 more minutes.

Turn off the heat. Stir in the minced garlic and chopped herbs, cover and let stand 10 minutes before serving in warmed soup bowls.

3 responses to “In which a heart hurts”

  1. mamapease says:

    It’s 3:45 and I hope your Dad is eating soup! Kyndale

  2. chelsey says:

    Hope everything went well today. I remember the time that your dad fell asleep in your driveway under the car after a long day of working on it.

  3. Louzilla says:

    I hope your Dad is okay and can eat many more bowls of soup with his beautiful and precious family.

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