encyclopedia of the second hand: breakfast


 Mom has to hurry in the morning, she has to make the coffee, get you up, slice the grapefruit, put the flakes from the silo-round oatmeal box in the boiling water, hunt up the milk, take down variegated boxes of cereal (the Captain Crunch, the Fruit Loops, the Rice Krispies) from the cabinet above the stove and set them on the table. She has to put the bread in the toaster, pour the coffee, set a place for Dad who comes into the kitchen smelling spicy from the white bottle of Old Spice. You’d rather he used the other kind where in the ad you slap it on, Slap! Slap!, and then all these girls in bikinis come out of everywhere, but how would Mom make that much breakfast at such short notice? Mom says Jack sit down when he peers into the refrigerator and says Liz, I’m going to clean this out for you tonight, holy Toledo. Mom says there is nothing the matter with it when Dad gets the orange juice in the plastic pitcher and lifts the top and smells it, sniff, how long have we had this orange juice. Then Dad says where’s Street?          

The cereal boxes are grouped in a sort of circle on the table.  The different colors remind you of birds in the bird book your Aunt May bought you for your eleventh birthday.  The blue of the Rice Krispies reminds you of the blue of the Indigo Bunting. The blue is background for the cartoon of the three baker elves, who you dislike because of their hair. That way they are depicted with their blond hair coming out from under their bakers hats in a bob and sweeping towards the right, it is really queer.  It was something they did to boys in the fifties, making them do that to their hair. Dennis the Menace has that same sweep of his hair.  You hate Dennis.  And the thirties, too, you’ve seen pictures of Dad when he was little, he looks queer, too, with long ringlets.  A Buster Brown. God.  Also you don’t like the way the Rice Krispies boys smile, their smiles are sort of monkeyish. The red of the Captain Crunch box (whose physiognomy, blue admiral’s cocked hat, drooping white moustaches, you do approve of) is like the red of the Scarlet Tanager. The Fruit Loops box already has a bird on it, a Toucan.  Although the bird looks to you like a Great Auk, which is extinct. Sometimes, though, they find animals they thought were extinct.  You plan on finding a surviving Great Auk someday when you are older and can go on expeditions to Labrador.

Somehow, in between all the things Mom is doing she is drinking a cup of coffee (last night’s coffee warmed up - Jack gets the first cup from the fresh pot) and listening to Paul Harvey’s Elmer Gantry tones on the radio. She  spoons out pink pithy bits from a half of a grapefruit as she goes back and forth from the table in the dining room to the kitchen, listening to this in from Los Angeles and missing the middle and ...the jury awarded her one million dollars... Her grapefruit gets all mined out until there are only a few seams of pink attached to the inner wall of the fruit.  There it sits on one of the butter plates next to a grapefruit spoon - which is a thin spoon, with a serrated scoop - in the sink, where Mom will discover it this evening and throw it into the garbage. 

Now it used to be that she would not finish the grapefruit until after she'd driven you to the busstop.  Then she'd make herself some more coffee, put another slice of bread in the toaster, ease into her day. You have a picture of what this looked like from when you were home sick. If you weren’t too sick, there was something slightly romantic about staying home and lying on the sofa in the living room in your pyjamas and spying on Mom. The house was slightly different, then, the atmosphere in the house was slightly unfamiliar, charged with an unsettling exoticism. You used to have a daydream that you would go into Dita’s room (which Dita only used when she was home from college) on a day like this and find it hung with tapestries and lounged around in by harem girls  wearing semi-diaphonous pantsuits. On those days you saw how Mom changed from the nightgown at around nine o'clock, it was when she would say to you time for me to get moving. She'd clean the kitchen, she'd say let's go out to eat lunch, what do you say, honey? She'd take a load of clothes out of the dryer and set up the ironing board, hey I found twenty-five cents in the wash, you boys (meaning Dad and you) never take the change out of your pockets and you know what that means, and you is it mine and she no it’s mine now, finders keepers.  She'd watch tv, ironing.  But she has a new routine, one that has been going on for four months, ever since you started sixth grade. Mom has to  be at work just like Jack, she says she's a working girl. So that means a blue dress and red high heels, a red dress and blue high heels, no the blue dress and the blue high heels,  that means into the bathroom (Jack saying this is getting like Grand Central Station!) and when you get in there not only is there the fecal smell and the aftershave smell, there’s the perfume smell and the hairspray smell, and all this with another cup of coffee, which maybe will be there next to the bathroom sink when you get home in the afternoon, a lipstick lip crescent on the lip of the cup, as you look down into it your eyes, blacker pools in that black, oily surface, (you love this, you love all the surfaces in which you, in whatever form of distortion, are mirrored - the scoops of spoons, the windows of parked cars, the lid of a pot)  reflected in the little remnant left there.  You edge into the bathroom  to brush your teeth, foam dripping out of your mirror-mouth in hideous smile, maybe you are dying of... of rabies, what would you do if you had rabies? (spit).  Well you’d race around and be afraid of water, whenever you saw or touched water (your hand out under the stream from the faucet) you’d immediately shudder, your hand jerking out and splashing water, Mom saying Street! I don’t have time for any of your nonsense this morning, you’ve dripped water on my... and out she goes, switching to and we have to get going soon, hurry up, we have to go go go.  You don’t have rabies yet.  If you ever do have rabies, and just now you notice a little caterpillar of toothpaste got onto your shirt and you take a towel and carefully get it off, it will be because of Norman’s dog, which bites.