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"Breakfast Goals," short story excerpt

Sunday 7/4/21

“I’ll handle it.”


The girl’s father pushed back from the breakfast table, though the first loud knock had yet to complete itself—a knock being a sound with a beginning, middle, and an end—as if he’d anticipated someone hitting the door in the next room.


“I’ll handle it,” he added a second time, which struck the girl as so much different than “I’ll get it,” the words she would have said.


The first statement, so far as the girl understood, was meant for her mother. The second airing the man did for himself. The banging on the door had been so loud that it had moved the girl’s plate on the table. Or it looked that way, anyway. The syrup for her pancakes that she had pushed to one side—she liked to make a syrup reservoir—had spilled back into the middle, where her bacon was. She preferred to keep the bacon separate and save it for last. That was one of her breakfast goals.


“What wrong, mom?” the girl asked, looking across the table. Her mother struck her as one of those people who want to move but can’t move. Or a rabbit when they stay in place to hide. She had on a robe on and wasn’t super careful how she wrapped her robe on Saturday mornings when they all had a big, rich breakfast together. Or now that they were again. The breakfasts on Saturday mornings had stopped for a while and the girl had to grab herself a Pop-Tart or toast her own bagel. It wasn’t that she was against toasting her own bagel, but on the Saturdays when they all sat down together, her father did the toasting, the frying, the flipping of bacon and rolling of sausage in the pan, and said phrases like, “let me, little lady,” when the girl was finished with her orange juice and reached towards the middle portion of the table to pour herself more.


The mother’s robe was loose. She didn’t have anything on underneath, and if the girl wanted to, she could look at her mother, look down into the robe, see how she’d look later on. That’s what she figured. She was allowed to look like her dad was because they were family, and no one else was there, and she’d look that way herself later, so it was her business, too.


“Finish your pancakes,” her mother said, stiffly, which is not how the girl liked to sit and eat, with there being any stiffness in anyone’s voice, now that they had started the breakfasts again. They didn’t feel like they used to, but it takes time to get back into the flow of anything, the girl thought.


Her soccer coach the year before in third grade had said that after she hadn’t played in a whole season because she’d broken her leg in such a tiny, tiny way that she didn’t even need a cast, they just had to use precautions, the doctor had said, which was the biggest word the girl knew, and a word she always knew she’d know, and a lot of people would probably never be able to understand it at all.


Her mother pulled her robe tight in her chair, as if she wanted to choke her waist, or she was really cold. The bacon wouldn’t taste like the girl wanted it to taste now, but she’d eat it all the same, because she never let her bacon go to waste, and if she was being truthful, she wasn’t totally confident the breakfasts wouldn’t go away again and she’d have to go back to the Pop-Tarts. Once she used to beg her mother to get them, but that was different and the Pop-Tarts had become different, too.


At first her father’s voice had no words. He was only twenty feet away, perhaps thirty. Fifteen big hops for her, the girl figured. She could be a rabbit as well. But she knew that now would be a bad time to hop over to her father. Sometimes when he swore and she heard him, he said, “You didn’t hear that,” as if the words that had now entered her brain—words she wanted to ask him about, had to ask him about—would just go away. Then again, the breaks in her tibia—that was another word she knew—had just gone away, and perhaps that was how some things worked. Plus, she thought that’d be cruel to her mom, just then, hopping away to her dad. Her mom needed her. Needed her to be in her seat. Having her bacon. The cold bacon, wet with the syrup that had gotten free of where it was supposed to be.