cyle talley

Pancakes*

Dearest Reader- The following is a foray into fiction. In the future, such frivolities will be marked with an asterisk so as to differentiate them from my more typical didactic efforts. Please know that I am terrified.

Thank you for your concern,
-C.

//

The butter warms and begins to melt and slides from the center of the skillet, where she placed it, to the edge. It pools there as she tucks an errant hair behind her ear with a casual, indifferent gesture. The skillet is warped, concave, nicked and scratched. It’s one of the few things she took from her parent’s house.

This, you see, is the pancake skillet.

The one her mother stood over for so many of her childhood Saturdays, somehow elegant in a bathrobe and whipping the batter in the measuring cup with furious circles before pouring it, from several feet above, into shapes of cartoon characters or, when she got too old for cartoons, the shapes of trees and flowers. This is the skillet beside which her father would come up from behind his wife and wrap his long, lithe arms around his wife’s slim waist. This is the skillet that would stare at her from the stove top as she sat at the table, barely tall enough to see over the table’s edge, barely tall enough to see her mother laughing, chiding her father, flirting in a bathrobe on Saturday morning. She remembers her father kissing the back of his wife’s long neck and how her mother would lean into it, closing her eyes.

She pours three small, separate circles of batter and the butter sizzles its delight.

The studio apartment is cold this morning. November rain has chilled the world and made the leaves, only a few days ago so ebullient, dour and defeated. Their time is at an end and they know it, but they still bluster and bully their way around her small yard as the bitter wind blows.

There is a clack on the door. The dog wants back in.

She opens the door a crack and peeks through. The dog is sitting there, gazing up at her. He gives a few thumps of his tail and she smiles. She opens the door wide, pulling her bathrobe tighter around her own slim waist as the bitter wind bullies its way through. It is colder outside than it looks.

“Well, come on then,” she says softly. The dog happily obliges, bounding in and panting his pleasure.

She goes back to the stove and the lab sits politely, even demurely, at the entrance to the kitchen, watching her every move. She picks up the skillet and swirls the doughy discs around in it, as she has seen her mother do on a hundred Saturday mornings. She grimaces a bit, unsure if she can do as her mother used to, but, with a quick flick of her wrist, throws caution to the wind and the half cooked pancakes high into the air. They ascend slowly, like figure skaters, and suspend in the air at their apex. She watches as the pancakes slowly turn their uncooked sides toward the floor and smiles, suddenly in awe of herself as she had been of her mother as a child as two of the pancakes land perfectly with a wet, slapping sound, their uncooked sides being tended to. The third is another story.

Both she and the dog look at the floor. One, dejected; the other, delighted.

“Damn it,” she sighs, staring at the sad lump on the floor. She looks at the dog, who looks at her and then to the floor and then back to her. She smiles. He whines gently.

“Alright, Bob. Get it.”

The dog happily obliges, not needing to be told twice. He makes quick work of the treat, sits and thumps his tail against the floor, staring up at her expectantly.

“No, I’m not doing it again, thank you. You’ve already gotten part of my breakfast. Out,” she points. He stands, turns and resumes his spot just outside the kitchen.

The phone buzzes on the counter a few feet away. She tucks the errant hair back behind her ear.

So, you’re okay? We’re okay?” the screen says.

She stares at the text for a few moments. She thinks of her parents and of their Saturday mornings. She weighs what she’d like to say against what she knows he’d like to hear.

“I’m fine. We’re fine,” she types the message on a silent keypad.

She hesitates.

She sends it.

She sets the phone down on the counter and braces herself against its cool top, staring down in search of a pattern, a line, a form. She holds tightly to its edge. She squeezes and loosens her grip, feeling the blood rush through her long fingers. She squeezes again and releases. She straightens herself, and cranes her neck as she closes her eyes. She exhales and steels her gaze, pulling a ceramic plate from the cupboard. She tucks the errant hair back behind her ear and the dog thumps its tail against the floor.

“Thanks, Bob,” she says. He whines softly. She softens her gaze.

Though she should know better, she holds the skillet in one hand and the ceramic plate in the other. She swirls the skillet, letting the pancakes ricochet inside and, with a quick flick of her wrist, throws caution to the wind and the pancakes up in the air. They land, gracefully and kindly, on the plate. She throws the skillet back onto the stove in victory. It rattles and clangs loudly, sending the dog careening underneath the small dining table.

“Coward,” she laughs. She sits down and the dog immediately situates himself on her bare feet. This is their favorite spot and favorite arrangement.

She has already set the table and the precision comforts her. There is the fork and knife, set perfectly straight on the napkin, and there is the small tray of butter, and there is the jar of strawberry jam waiting to be doled out. With the plate placed in the center of these, she smoothes the white linen table cloth with her palms and closes her eyes for a moment. She sighs. She tucks the errant hair back behind her ear and stares at the skillet on the stovetop. It stares back, as it has for a hundred Saturday mornings, saying nothing and seeing everything.

She leans into what she wishes was there.

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