Photo by Craig Adderly c/o Pexels
What’s-her-face stands at the kitchen sink pretending to wash already-clean dishes. I know, because she’s washing the same Batman mug for the third time. Which is cool, I love Batman, but does she love Batman or did the mug belong to an ex-boyfriend, and when they broke up, he left it in a haste to move out? Are they even broken up? Is he going to catch me here having breakfast with his girlfriend and try to kick my ass? I look around for a way to escape in case he crashes through the front door looking like Bane. There’s an open sliding door that leads to a cluttered balcony. We’re on the third floor, but if I tuck and roll when I hit the ground, I might be okay. I’ll go with that.
I’m being silly. These are all stray thoughts I’m using to distract myself from this waiting. She’s waiting for me to try her eggs. I’m waiting for her to leave the kitchen so I can feed the sunny-side up abominations to her Pekingese sniffing under the table for crumbs. Unfortunately, Jennifer, I think is her name, has become Frankie Valli—she can’t take her eyes off of me.
When I can’t avoid the eggs any longer, I scoop a little bit onto my fork. Disgusted, I watch them drip through the tines and onto my plate as I did every Sunday morning during my childhood growing up with a single dad who loved nothing more than cold beer and eggs, sunny side up. In that order.
My dad worked as a welder, Monday through Friday, when I was a kid. He would get up early and be on the road before the sun could hit the snooze button, and he didn’t get home until he was almost too drunk to drive. Then he’d stumble inside the house and grumble a greeting before passing out in the La-Z-Boy while watching reruns of Matlock. Because of that, I didn’t see too much of him. He told me all the time how he felt bad that I spent so much time alone watching TV and eating Beanee Weenees from a can, but that didn’t stop or alter his daily routine. To try and make up for it, we would have breakfast together every Sunday morning.
It was a genuine gesture, and I appreciate it more now as an adult than I did as a kid, but my dad was a terrible cook. His eggs are still, twenty-five years later, the worst stuff I’ve ever eaten. Truthfully, they were more pepper than eggs. I would sit at the kitchen table and watch in horror at my dad’s veiny hand shaking back and forth until he was satisfied the eggs looked like a village after a volcano eruption.
It wasn’t his fault he used so much pepper. His sense of smell was ruined in a freak accident in his youth. That isn’t the truth. It’s the lie my dad forced me to tell non-family members and friends who noticed his penchant for black pepper and sniffling like a six-year-old with a cold. In reality, he snorted too much cocaine in his twenties. That was before I was born, and when he and my mom were still together. One of the many aftereffects he suffered because of his addiction was all his food tasted bland. Too much salt will kill a black man with already too high blood pressure, so he settled for black pepper as his seasoning of choice.
He’d sit the peppery, undercooked eggs in front of me, then place his own plate across from mine. With a smile, he’d take a bite. It was usually followed by him sneezing a mouthful of eggs all over the table and onto my disgusted face. Sometimes his sneezes would be so forceful, I wasn’t sure if it was eggs flying out of his mouth or chunks of his brain—it might have been both. I would nibble on my eggs and push them around the plate hoping that the white spaces between the slimy bits would make it seem like I had eaten some of them, but it never worked.
My dad would threaten if I didn’t eat them all, I wouldn’t get anything else until dinner. He claimed it’s wasting food when you don’t eat what you dislike. To make me feel guilty, he’d bring up starving kids in Africa and his own childhood spent in poverty with nothing but dry saltine crackers and brown tap water. I would force the eggs down just so he would stop with the guilt trip. When I was done gagging and dry heaving, he’d pat me on the back and tell me to clean the kitchen.
I relished in scrubbing away the leftover egg pieces down the drain. I felt like an executioner when I flipped the switch of the garbage disposal. I let it run until I was sure they were transformed into fine dust. I enjoyed anything that had to do with destroying my dad’s eggs.
One Sunday, when I was eight, I purposefully dropped an entire carton of eggs on the floor. Of course my dad was mad, but I didn’t care. I was happy that I wouldn’t have to pretend to like his cooking. That is, until we went to the store and bought another dozen.
I suffered his inedible eggs until I was old enough to begin cooking for myself. Now, I rarely eat eggs. If I do, they have to be boiled until they’re overcooked and the yolks are an ashy shade of green. I season them with plenty of salt, but not a single speck of pepper. That’s how I enjoy my eggs, but she doesn’t know that—we met last night.
The runny eggs sit on my fork still untouched. I should have declined her offer for breakfast, but I kind of like her. At least, I like what I think I remember of her from yesterday. The details are sketchy. Like my dad, I love cold beer too much. I had been expecting her to ask me how I prefer my eggs, but she took the liberty to make me relive Sunday mornings with my dad all over again.
I look up from my plate to see if she’s still watching me. She’s staring intently at the eggs as if she’s willing me to take a bite. “Need anything?” she asks when she sees me put the fork down, defeated.
I want to tell her a trash can or a vomit bag, but I can hear the growling stomachs of destitute children in Africa and my dad threatening me with no lunch or snacks if I don’t eat my meal. Out of options, I do what I have to do.
I ask, “Can I have some pepper?”
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