canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


To Boil An Egg

by Stephanie Yorke

We had a toilet that was hot enough to boil an egg in. I was embarrassed.

Nan was answering the door. "Hello! She's got her presents over there. Pardon the toilet. It's hot enough to boil an egg in!"

It was my twelfth birthday, and Iíd never had a party at my house. I just wanted to try it before I started junior high, because in junior high you have to throw parties at night with music and dancing, and Iím too nervous.

The toilet broke an hour before eleven o'clock, when everybody would show up. We called the plumber, but he couldnít come, so Dad tried to fix the toilet. Result: ĎHí taps with cold water, ĎCí taps with hot water, toilet bowls for crock pots. Dad said, "I'm sorry, will this ruin the party?" His voice was jumping all over the place. So I said, "No, Dad, they'll say it's funny." (This is just what I said, it was a lie, because I was really embarrassed.)

The guests came Ė I mean, I call them guests, but they were really all people I knew Ė and they didn't get upset about the toilet. I took them on a tour of the house, and they were pretty fascinated. Our elementary was really straight-edged, and most of the kids came from Saywood Estates. So they found my big-old-partly-renovated house amazing and fascinating, plus the fact that I live with my grandmother Ė Nan Ė and my dad. The other girls came from a "different demographic", Dad explained to me once, "so if they're curious about your family don't get offended or sulky, just answer their questions". They were also curious about my friend Nada, who had a mother with a religious nose ring. I wished Nada was at my party, but she had to go see her brother get a degree. Also, Charlotte could not come.

Rachel asked, "Is Charlotte coming?"

I said, "No. She has an Ultimate Frisbee tournament."

"A tournament?"

"Yeah."

"I thought that was just for fun."

"It was. But then she got too good."

I think I like Charlotte a lot, but I can't confirm it. She's always other places.

The tour was pretty short. Our house is big but a lot of the rooms donít do anything, so I didnít want them to look at anything too long. The kitchen, Nanís bedroom, my bedroom, Dadís bedroom in the basement. Dad and Nan are pretty fair, so none of us sleep in the master bedroom. Itís biggest. We use it for the laundry machine and Dadís photo gear. I kept my toys in the space that was left, before I got too old to play. I sometimes still go in there to fiddle with the old exercise bike, which is white with green stripes on the side. The stripes fuzz into nothing at the ends, as if the bike were going too fast for them to stay attached. The gears on the bike are broken, so itís easy to pedal.

But I didnít show my friends the master bedroom, because the door was closed. Dad must have been in there working on his camera. We also did not tour the bathroom where Nan was boiling eggs; well, she wasnít actually. Sheíd joke about it, but she wouldnít try it. Dad might try it, but late at night so that no one would catch him being weird.

"I like your kitchen."

Me: "Thanks."

"What is that?"

"A convection microwave."

I turned away from the microwave, hoping they would look at the glass hummingbirds on the window instead.

"Whatís that mean?"

"Dad bought it for Nan after the oven broke."

"What does it do?"

"Itís half like an oven, half like a microwave. It was an experiment. Nan did my cake next door at the Andrewsí."

With awe: "She baked it?"

They were interested! I felt huge. I didnít want to show it, so I shrugged.

But they were right to be interested. Nan had gone all the way to the Dutch outlet to get this really obscure cake mix that I like. It doesnít taste like anything else. She knows all of the good mixes. People who buy store-made or ice cream cakes donít realize that baking is not a Ďcaní or Ďcanítí thing. There are rungs of homemadeness. Not everything that comes out of an oven involves cream of tartar or folded peaks. Though she did make a meringue for pie once, I saw her.

When the house tour was done, I opened my presents. They were in a laundry basket decorated with crepe paper. I mainly got hair things and soaps, and there were a couple tubes of smelly lip stuff. There were also gift certificates to stores that sell lip stuff and hair things.

Lynn gave me a gift certificate to the book store, because her family is like that. Lynnís mom gave out homemade maple candied apples last Halloween, and wrote her name and phone number on the apple-stick so that the other mothers would know it was a safe apple. Lynnís mother is great because there is only one of her in our neighborhood. Itís good to get one envelope full of Ďbook bucksí on your birthday, and one maple-candied apple on Halloween. But two mothers like Lynnís would overburden the community.

Anyway, after the guests smelled my new things, I separated the presents and the wrap, and put the presents back in the laundry hamper. The other girls caught on when I started shoving the wrap in the garbage bag. They helped. They were pretty taken with themselves, cleaning and all that. Everything was going really well.

I heard Nan bang around in the kitchen, and then it stopped. I suggested to my friends that we eat some cake. There were no dissenting votes. Everybody was pro-cake, except Lynn, who stayed out of the very short cake-debate.

Nan did really well. There were three types of pop and clear giant plastic cups on the counter. There was a knife of epic proportions beside a big green frosted cake. She hadnít decorated it or anything, because Iíd asked her not to. Sprinkles really creep me out, and they get caught on everyoneís braces. And to hell with candles. It was a birthday, not a midnight vigil.

"Jenna, these are really big cups."

"Thanks."

"Jenna, Iím allergic to pop. Can I have some juice?"

Iíd warned Nan about this sort of guest; there was a carton of juice in the fridge. Casually there. As if we usually bought juice in cartons.

We drank pop. We ate cake. I promised Lynn that there was no milk in it, but Iím not sure she believed me. She ate as if she were saying a prayer. Lana mashed hers. Tara didnít eat the icing. Then we finished. When I cleared the table, I scraped all the uneaten bits onto the top plate, so that the pile wouldnít get stuck together. Then, I covered the leftover cake with plastic wrap.

"This part is for Dad and Nan. If I cover it, it wonít dry out." My guests were really interested, so I kept going. "If this cake were milky or anything, Iíd have to put it in the fridge. Itís not, itís just flour and stuff, so itís okay."

They looked at me as if I were a pirouetting cat. Fascinating. I was getting dizzy. "Anybody wanna watch a movie?"

"Yeah."

But they did not move toward the television. As if I would bring it to them?

"Jenna." Tara was adventurous. "Where is your Dad?"

Oh! Iíd wanted to let him be non-intrusive. He prided himself on that, being non-intrusive, which is a word that he taught me when I asked why he always hides. I find that word a pretty interesting one, along with non-urgent and non-lactating and non-disjunction, which Dad taught me once when he was feeling less non-intrusive than usual. Of course my guests wanted to see him. He was single, not even divorced, and that was more interesting than Nan, or even the stupid convection microwave.

"Right! Iíll get him. I forgot to tell you, Dadís name is Joe. Nanís is Janet. Funny, see? Weíre Janet, Jenna, and Joe. I think Dadís in his workshop."

I went to the master bedroom to get him. I was surprised when he wasnít there. Heíd just gotten a new set of amber filters for the SLR, and he should have been frigging with them, because it was a Saturday and he spends every Saturday with either me or the camera, and I was clearly not available. Maybe he was painting the fence again? I crossed the hall, and hollered out the bathroom window into the yard.

"Dad!"

"Yes, milady?"

"Youíre there? Could you come meet my friends?"

He was making concentration sounds and fiddling with something in the yard, though I couldnít tell what. The bathroom window is frosted, and it only goes up a crack.

Dad: "Can I tighten this first?"

"Yup."

The toilet beside me smelled like wet hamster shavings. I wished heíd tighten something on the toilet.

I went back to the kitchen, and Dad came in.

"Hello. My name is Joe."

They looked at him as if he were bright pink. I guess it was his hair; he has a bit of a Wayneís World look. Not that he tries to look like that, he just doesnít realize that hair wonít look after itself, no matter how long he waits for it to smarten up.

Andrea ventured: "Joe? Neat."

"Thanks. Itís short for Kaiser Wilhelm."

Only I understood. I looked at him to apologize for not laughing.

Dad faltered. He started to bow very slightly, up and down. He was either a panicked waiter, or a cat trying to purge. "Salutations. Nice to greet you. Glad that you all like cake, that last batch of children didnít. Jenna, I did some work in the backyard."

He wandered up the hall and closed the door.

"Thatís good." I explained to my friends. "He means thereís something new out there."

I led the guests through the back door.

My dad had put up a trampoline. I mean, a trampoline for gymnasts, or for giant children. Really big. I was pleased, but not excited. There are always new things in our backyard. We always get a new thing after the previous-new-thing breaks.

I have had:

a dinosaur shaped jungle-gym

a real buoy to swing on

a hammock from Guatemala

a skating rink

etc.

But this trampoline was severely interesting to my friends. They celebrated Ė Manda even clapped. An unsupervised trampoline!

We bounced a lot. We played Popcorn. We bounced on each otherís shoulders, we did belly-bombs. We turned a garden hose on the tramp and did everything again. Itís strange that nobody barfed. All that pop. I guess we were screaming so hard that it forced our stomachs shut. Lynn said we should take a break, and we told her she could if she wanted.

Then Amber said: "Hey Jenna! Doesnít your Dad like cameras? Make him come take our picture."

So I went and got him. He was glad. He wanted to meet them, but he has a really hard time meeting people because his hands bother him. They get warm and shaky, Iíve seen it. But taking pictures levels them out. And he can hide his face behind the camera, like a very small curtain. A veil.

We made his photography into a game. Each person had to jump until Dad got a picture of them dangling in a perfect ĎXí above the trampoline. Arms and legs just so: X

He took forever to get a shot of Treeny, who liked to jump. But he got Lynn right away, cause she was queasy.

Then, Taraís turn, and that was the mistake. See, when girls get older, they know where to put their arms so that they donít shake too much on the trampoline. We learn by watching other girls look gross. But back then, we were all twigs, except for Tara. She was wearing flappy volleyball shorts, plus a shirt that barely kept her in.

I was watching Dad. His face was washy, and his lip was mostly in his teeth. He was trying to take her picture with his eyes shut.

Some of the mothers had started to arrive. I hardly noticed at first, but when I did I was glad; I wanted everyone to see what a good time my party was. Things were going really well. Us on the trampoline, Dad taking pictures. I was showing him off.

But Margie and Alice were bull-mothers. They didnít see a good time, and they didnít see that my fatherís eyes were closed.

Margie: "Iíd get my daughter off of there."

Alice did what Margie told her. She looked at Tara really hard, and Tara flopped off of the tramp and got in her van.

Alice and Margie were carpooling, so Treeny had to go too. They backed out of my driveway without waving. I mean, their windows were open and everything, but they still didnít wave. Margie was leaning over the gear shift to talk to Alice, but she let one word fall out of their open windows.

"Pervert."

Pervert is a word that none of us use. Itís like saying bugger or fudgepacker: you use those words when youíre very young, because you canít tell them apart from other insults. When we were little, we might scream "pervert!" at the kid who fouled in soccer, or "pervert!" at the kid with the faucet nose. We thought it meant dirty. But by that birthday I knew that it meant more than that, though I didnít understand exactly what. I was still grappling with the idea of mister-and-missus sex, and it was too hard for me to imagine any variations.

Dad walked indoors when Alice said "pervert." He didnít say, Ďwhoops, Iím sickí or anything. Just walked indoors.

"I guess heís going to the bathroom." I said.

A few girls and mothers thanked me for having a party. Lynn said she really enjoyed the cake, and that she believed me now that there wasnít milk in it. Then they all drove away.

Nan came home from the neighborsí after the last minivan pulled out of our driveway. I was scrunching paper plates into our garbage.

Nan: "Jenna, did one of your friends forget her purse? Thereís a purse on our hall table."

I gathered the almost-empty bottles of pop and mixed them in one glass. Swampwater.

Me: "I donít know. Nan, Margie called Dad Ďpervertí. Could you please explain that?"

I hoped that a school nurse would spring from Nanís ĎGatoradeí t-shirt and gently define "pervert". But, only Nan was in that shirt. With her eyes like a stained molly-mop. "They just say these things."

"I still have to know what it is."

She stomped the garbage into the bag. "A pervert has bedroom problems."

I opened the utensil drawer, demanding.

"You know those men who pick up children in their cars?" she said, then went to the front entry with her broom. I imagined a man leering out of his car: a pervert. But it wasnít my Dad!

Then, I smelt something like beef bullion. I followed it up the hall. It was coming from Dad. The bathroom door was partly open, and he was heaving into the toilet, hands like staccato notes on the plastic rim. He looked like a diagram of vomiting. He had the pose key-on, but he didnít make a sound. The smell burnt my sinuses and eardrums, though. The toilet hot enough to boil an egg.

I didnít want to leave him like that. But I wasnít ready to touch a vomiting man, either. So I flushed the toilet to keep the smell down. And then flushed again, each time the basin refilled. When Dad was done, I wet a face cloth for him, and I was careful about which tap was hot and which was cold. I left the wet cloth on the side of the sink, and I left the faucet on. Then I left.

I went to the master bedroom, because there I could keep an ear on him, but not be right in his face. I looked at everything, down on all fours, right down with our stuff spread across the brown carpet. Segments of camera, Nanís jigsaws, the allen keys in the yoghurt container, the half-assembled doll house that both Dad and I had forgotten about. There was a single box of kiddie toys that I hadnít let Nan whisk off to Good-Will; I wanted to keep the toys with eyes, because they seemed to need me. Beside the box of toys, there were half-egg-shells with alfalfa for hair. They had eyes too, permanent marker ones, and also needed me. I watered them every time Dad reminded me to.

I wanted to break the side-view mirrors on Margieís van. Just snap them off. Those things that make them think theyíre seeing everything. I wanted to show Margie and Alice all the shutters and lenses, old Popples and teddy bears, all the eyes he didnít send away. And the picture of Tara, who should have had a better shirt on. Iíd tell them, Ďsee how bad this picture is? Cause my Dad had his eyes closed.í

But I never got to show them the picture. Dadís SLR was beside the alfalfa eggs with its back open and the film ripped out.

Stephanie Yorke's work has appeared in Fiddlehead, PRISM, QWERTY and the NB Acts Theatre Fest.

 

 

 

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