September 9, 2018

Beach House Waffles

“An adult polar bear can eat 60 kilograms of food at a single sitting,” my 10-year-old son says from his seat at the dining table. The annual beach house waffle breakfast is in its third year and we could have invited a polar bear to join us and still roll away stuffed to the brim.

“I want the first waffle.” His 8-year-old sister is used to getting what she wants. Those big brown eyes sucker everyone in. She waves a butter knife at the waffle iron as it warms up next to my place setting. “I haven’t had the first one, like, ever.”

“I think Mum should have the first one because she does all the work.”

“Suck up.” She sticks her tongue out at him.

“Selfish baby.”

I release the deepest sigh through small lips so no one would hear my frustration. “The first one or two always come out wrong. We’ll split them between the dogs.”

“Yeah, the dogs will get the first ones.” The agreement comes from the other adult at the table.

Their step-father.

Never one to venture an opinion I haven’t already voiced, he uses the tone of “yeah, you guys” like a playground taunt from the most irritating child in class. Instantly on the same side, the children roll their eyes. The little one glares at him for a moment, but he is looking at his phone, so she sticks her finger in the bowl of fresh cream, waggles it at her brother and mouths, “Yeah.”

The morning air is taut between the adults. Too much alcohol had fueled snarky words the night before. His perpetually hovering parents are calling him back to the family business. I am sulking at the early demise of our holiday. My desire to avoid “real life” is strong. The cracks are showing, and I am filling them with waffle batter.

“Stop it, you two.” The girl flashes those eyes, full of fire and mischief, at me.

“Sorry, Mum.” My son tries to hide his grin.

As I pour mugs of strong coffee and tumblers of fresh orange juice, I imagine myself wearing a crisp, clean apron, rather than my flour smeared yoga pants with a grubby tea towel slung over my shoulder. I imagine myself in control.

The waffle iron is flower-shaped and each petal is a love heart. It only makes one waffle at a time. It slows the process and drags out breakfast time, which is exactly why I love it. I swipe greased paper over the hot halves of the iron. They sizzle, sending up a heady, buttery smell.

The sign breakfast can start.

I ladle the batter, fluffy with egg whites, into the lower half and then close the top gently. I hold my breath and hope the mixture won’t ooze out the sides. Any extraneous mess, of any kind, makes the clean-up crew grumpy—and by clean-up crew, I mean the other adult—who is still bowed over his phone.

A little poof of steam indicates the first waffle is ready; light, fluffy, yet crisp on the outside. It is the rare, perfect first waffle. I divide it into four hearts and drop two each on the children’s plates. They contemplate the toppings; strawberries, fresh whipped cream, passionfruit, crispy bacon, syrup, honey or jam. They both give a piece of waffle to the dogs.

The bacon disappeared first. The girlchild ended up with cream on the tip of her nose. Jam blobs dot the table. Honey and syrup makes little fingers sticky. The process is warm and delicious.

It is the last day we would be together at his family’s beach house. It was the beginning of the end, but we didn’t know that yet.

A couple of years later, I decide to empty the storage unit which I filled when I took the children and left the marriage. The first box I open contains miscellaneous kitchen utensils I’ve managed to survive without. The waffle iron is at the bottom. It has been unused since that holiday.

The clean-up crew had overlooked it, and packed it away dirty. Micro-systems of mould have eaten away at the batter remnants and the surface of the iron. As I scrub and scrub at it, I feel all the pain associated with facing a sham of a marriage. Like me, it is pock-marked with the permanent damage of carelessness.

It hits the bottom of the wheeli-bin with a terrible, final thud.

This year, my son, now a 20-year-old, took me out for breakfast for Mother’s Day. When I order the waffles, he says, “I knew you’d get waffles. Remember our waffle breakfasts?”

I can only nod. I am desperate to believe they had good childhoods, that the ugly didn’t seep out like over-ladled batter.

“Do we still have the waffle iron? I loved those breakfasts. Such fun times. We should do that again.”

As we leave the restaurant, our bellies over-full, he says, “Did you know that a polar bear can eat 60 kilos of food in one sitting?”

I squeeze his hand. “Who would get the first waffle if I buy a new iron?”

“The dogs, of course.”

“No, I should. Because I do all the work, you know.”

He shout-laughs. “Yeah, but the first one or two don’t work out well. You’re better to have the third one. The first nice one.”

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This personal essay was written for the YeahWrite SuperChallenge #9.  The prompt was “comfort food”.  

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