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All along the street these first cold nights have set the trees to simmering with gaudy autumn fires. Where the sun stays longest on the trees, the green maples are tipped with gold and orange. The gingkos with their yellow fan-like leaves are torches along the drive way.

Before it’s too late I harvest all the basil and the last of the tomatoes in the garden. I’ll make pesto with the basil and freeze what we don’t use tonight. I’ve gone to the cheese shop in the mall for parmesan and romano cheese to grate. And I’ve stopped on the way home for good walnuts and a baguette at Trader Joe’s. I got an early start, so I’m in no rush.

I wrap the unripe tomatoes in newspaper, put them in a paper bag in the cellar and pin a note about them on the corkboard. I put the ripe tomatoes, red and gold like the leaves, in a wooden bowl on the kitchen table.

The print of Picasso’s Harlequin, blue and black costume, white face, stares thoughtfully, but not at me. Unwatched, I grate the cheese into a bowl. I strip the basil leaves from their stems. I toss the basil leaves, garlic cloves, a handful of parsley and the walnuts into the food processor. I drizzle in the dark green virgin olive oil as the food processor whirls. As I watch, in moments the whole leaves are reduced to a pulp. I stir this mixture with the cheeses in the bowl, add just a pinch or two of salt, a little ground pepper, and my secret, a few scrapes of nutmeg. Today making pesto seems like an act of violence.

I set the table for our dinner, napkin and forks to the left of the plate, knife and spoon to the right. I make sure that the patterns on the plates face in the same direction at both place settings. I put the last of the roses from the garden in a small vase in the center of the table, tea lights on either side in little glass bowls.

I find the bottle of cabernet we saved so long for a special occasion. I cut the foil and remove the cork. The cork is whole, sound, a good sign. I set the wine on the table, letting it breathe.

I take a deep breath myself. And then another. Tomorrow I will leave. Tonight dinner will be perfect. Later, as, separate, we tell our stories, each of us will take credit for being, comme on dit, so damned civilized.

(c) 2005 Miriam N. Kotzin. "Pesto" was published in 3711 Atlantic October, 2005.