Gemma and I were very young when Aunt Teresa stopped making our breakfasts. I can only just recall the creamy goodness of her homemade oatmeal. She sprinkled it with brown sugar and drowned it in cream before setting them on butter yellow place mats in front of us. Even better, during blueberry season, she’d add a layer of fruit at the bottom of each bowl. Breakfast with Aunt Teresa meant comfort and harmony.
Father makes us eggs instead. He fries them in puddles of bacon grease and dusts them with a chaotic combination of cumin, garlic powder, paprika, black pepper, onion salt and Worchestershire Sauce. He slides them onto our plates and douses them with Cholula. Breakfast with my father is all intensity and dischord.
Father is pretty much the opposite of Aunt Teresa in every way imaginable. She moved through the house quietly, as though willing one’s gaze to slide over her and beyond without comment. Her presence resonated throughout the house in tightly made beds and promptly served meals, but in her meekness she made no connections past the walls of the farmhouse. When Father enters a room, everyone knows it. I’ve never seen an eye slide past Father without seeing him, without stopping to stare in wide-open wonder at the power and color that snaps around him like electricity. Everyone in town knew Father.
Gemma and I didn’t have much to say when the sheriff came, but Father gave him an earful. He went on about the irresponsible nature of a woman who would pack up and leave in the middle of the night. He talked about train money stolen from a kitchen drawer and unfulfilled chores and the grief of two small, abandoned children who had already suffered the terrible loss of their mother.
We remembered none of these things.
Sometimes at night, when the crickets sang in the thick humidity of a coming storm, I jolt awake with the sound of a scream echoing in my ears. For some reason, even on the brightest of days, Gemma refuses to sit in the shade of the old oak tree, even though Father has planted a bed of cool greenery in a wide ring around its trunk. We remember the little marble bust of Aristotle that use to stand on the mantle and wonder why Aunt Teresa took it with her when she left.
I’ll have to ask the sheriff what he thinks, if he comes back.
- from prompt “Beneath the Surface”