This short story won first place at the 2014 Central Coast Writer’s Conference
Padding into the kitchen, I feel a sense of déjà vu.
The linoleum under my bare feet feels cool and smooth. The weather’s getting warm. Not long till the kids will be out of school. The breeze sifts through the window screen, warm like one of my babies’ breath in the morning, sticky and close on my skin.
I plunge into my routine.
My arm mechanically swings out the fridge door like I’m one of its hinges. I crane my neck to find the butter, displayed in its clear showcase. I won’t be needing the milk. Everyone will tell you that milk makes the best scrambled eggs, but it’s water that makes them fluffy. I take out the carton of eggs and set them on the counter.
I can’t seem to find my frying pan. No, wait: Right here in the drying rack.
Dave will be up soon and he’ll be needing coffee. He lumbers into the kitchen like a lost cow, not sure yet where he is. When I talk to him about bills or the kids, I get grunts, until he’s downed the last drop in his coffee mug with his big, meaty hands.
I lift the plastic lid off the canister and breathe in the smell of the ground coffee. For some crazy reason, I plunge my hand down into it like a child. It’s like rich, fresh dirt in the garden. It makes me feel warm and settled, rooted in this day.
I open the carton of eggs. Jacky likes his scrambled eggs runny. They look disgusting, but that’s the only way he’ll eat them. If they’re too hard, he’ll sit at the table, staring down me and his plate. With all the running around he does at recess, he can’t start his day with an empty stomach.
Laura says Jacky’s eggs looks likes baby chicken guts. She has her own. Here’s what she does when she gets to the table, every time: She’ll tip the bowl and ease the eggs carefully onto her plate. She’ll tuck her hair behind each ear, pick up her fork and begin popping bites into her mouth, as she swings her legs under the table.
I take a bowl from the rack and begin cracking eggs, with one hand. I tap each one on the edge of the bowl, then thrust the top of the shell off with my thumb and dump the egg and yolk into the bowl, like so. My mother taught me this trick when I was eight, and I’ve been good at it ever since.
The slice of butter in the pan hisses like a snake. The coffee maker is gurgling like an upset stomach. I leave the eggs, and turn to find the sugar and the creamer for Dave’s coffee. He must have had a cup last night, since I can’t find the sugar bowl anywhere on the counter. When I open the fridge, there’s the creamer right there. Thank you, Jesus.
It would be a hard morning if that man doesn’t get his coffee. Then again, he damn well deserves it for not putting things back where they belong.
I put the creamer and coffee cups on the counter, one for Dave, one for me. I pour some sugar from a canister into a dish with a spoon. That’ll have to do this morning.
Suddenly, something’s burning. The eggs for Jacky! They’ve cooked too long and brown spots are forming in the yellow rubbery layer. I rush to take the pan off the burner. I drop it in the sink, and turn on the water, which roils up as it hits the pan. I let out a screech as the steam hits my hand.
The coffee maker begins hissing now, and I look quickly to see steam blurting out from the sides of the coffeemaker. Grounds and liquid pool on the counter. I grab a dish towel and rush to sop up the sooty water pouring out.
I stop and lean against the counter to catch my breath. I feel dizzy. What is wrong with me this morning?
Suddenly, I’m crying, tears pouring down my cheeks. I can’t stop myself now, and it spills out of me, like the coffeemaker. I blot my face with the dish towel.
“Mom?” I hear a woman’s voice that I don’t recognize. Desperate footsteps, breaking into a run.
Then a man’s voice. “Mom!”
They are there, suddenly. The woman looks annoyed. The man has a look on his face: Pity. I don’t recognize him, but I know that look on his face. I am foolish, so foolish.
What have I done? The man runs to the coffeemaker to turn it off.
“Mom, what are you doing?” The woman leads me to a chair. She sits down next to me and tucks her hair behind her ears. She grabs my hands. I see a leathery hand, heavy with veins, tucked into a light, smooth one. I jump a bit when I realize the leathery hand is mine.
“Mom, Brent and I have told you. You can’t make breakfast anymore. You get yourself into trouble when you do this. You’ve burned the eggs. I put water and coffee in the coffee maker last night. You don’t need to do that.”
I look up at her, trying to re-order things in my mind. “Your father. He’s no good unless he has his coffee.”
The woman looks over at the man, who bows his head and looks away.
“Mom, dad’s been dead for ten years. Don’t you remember the memorial service–down at the beach?”
My cheeks are still wet. I take in a big breath of the moist air coming in from outside and try to calm myself with it. But all it does is make me dizzier. I close my eyes and know that I was just here.
It was not that long ago. This place and this time. No matter what they say.
And it was my kitchen.