by Adam Shaw
Gilbert’s particular about his eggs. I’m cooking them when he walks in, just as I have every morning for the past 53 years. I don’t look up as they bubble against the skillet, but I know he’s shuffling his slippered feet across the linoleum. He scoots with lazy, well-intentioned steps, and even though part of me wants to help him, I prefer to stare at the eggs. The way the white shines against the ball of the yolk, the way the edges crisp and brown ever so slightly — these things remind me of brighter years, when remembering was commonplace in our marriage.
Gilbert eats eggs like these every day. Sunny side up, cooked with butter, and sprinkled with a pinch of salt and pepper. When we first married, he’d walk into the kitchen quietly but purposefully, wearing a fresh flannel, clean jeans, and a polished pair of work boots. And he’d make us coffee, scooping the beans in careful, measured spoons to ensure it wasn’t too strong. On our first morning in the house, after starting the French press, he came up behind me, rested his hands on my shoulders, and inhaled through his nose. I can’t remember which plaid he wore that day, but I picture the red and black one, the one with the yellow lines that made his blond hair shine. “Martha,” he said. “Your breakfast smells like heaven.” Then he kissed my head and walked to the table to read the newspaper.
When I finally turn around, he’s sitting at that table. It’s as weathered as he is, having lost its luster years ago. The scuffs of our children remain, more proof they ever existed than anything else, and the way Gilbert stares at them, the way his forehead crinkles in thoughtful, heavy folds, almost convinces me he remembers buying it. Or Mallory throwing a fit and stabbing her steak knife into it. Or Jason tripping and cracking a tooth on it. His eyes, though, hazy and absent, assure me he doesn’t. They aren’t the eyes that once measured perfect scoops of coffee. They’re empty, and they’re looking at nothing, so I turn back to my skillet.
I hate looking at him. It isn’t the pajamas stained with toothpaste or the drool gathering on one side of his mouth. It’s those eyes, the way they look at that table and register nothing, like none of it happened or mattered at all. So I take my spatula — the wooden one his mother gave me on our wedding day — and smash it into the eggs, ripping them into rivers of gold that sizzle and pale into a chopped and chalky mess. When they’re done, I slide them onto a plate and set it in front of him. And when he grabs his fork and lifts a quivering heap of the pastel mess to his mouth, I untie my apron, throw it on the floor, and walk away.
The eggs don’t matter. None of it matters.