“When I Think of Him, I Think of Black Coffee and Toast with Red Plumb Jam”

David Estringel

My father kept to himself, seeking the dark quiet of his room with its door that was always closed.  But in the mornings, he would cook breakfast for us.  I remember the smells of Folger’s and the slow burn of bread that pulled me from my bed to the kitchen every morning. A plate was always waiting for me at the table with its usual fare—two eggs, 3 sausages, and 2 pieces of buttered toast.  I would look over to him at the sink, where he would stand, taking sips of coffee between giant bites that would polish off his slice of toast and red plumb jam in no time at all. Every day his head seemed to hang lower and lower.  Too many thoughts, I suppose.  Funny thing to notice as a kid.  His shoulders appeared heavy, defeated, burdened with the weight of his small world.  I would watch and wonder when he would leave, but he never did. 

Some nights I would catch him at the kitchen table with his big iron box that was meant for his “important papers,” but my mother always called them “bills.”  Papers with lines.  Papers without.  Papers with numbers. Papers in envelopes he never let us see.  All covered the tabletop, threatening to spill over the sides like milk from a toppled glass.  I would watch him, as he sat beneath the kitchen light that hovered over his head like a halo.  His head and shoulders still hung low but heavier with a world that was becoming bigger and bigger, as he circled the rim of his coffee cup with his finger. I wondered when he would leave, but he never did.

I woke up one morning to the smell of blueberry pancakes—the kind my mother used to make on special occasions or when there was bad news.  I was twelve.