Chapter 7 for National Novel Writing Month. Feel free to comment below.
It was Saturday morning early November. The wind was hollering outside of the windows at Raf’s house. Most of the vegetation was brown and dead outside. Leaves had fallen from all of the trees. The bluffs alongside Wanetta had lost their green covering exposing their grey rocky interior.
Raf was sitting at the table at his kitchen. He had just poured water from a tea kettle into a French press filled with coffee ground from the local co-op. He was letting the coffee steep. Collin liked drinking his Café du Monde which sat on the kitchen counter in an orange-yellow can. He said all the Vietnamese like drank this New Orleans coffee. It was flavored with chicory. Raf didn’t care for the taste and said it was like coffee flavored with bark. He knew chicory was an herb, but he liked the image of oak bark being ground up into the coffee.
Raf’s youngest son, Quentin, was also at the table. He was trying to entertain himself, but he was getting restless. He had already eaten a bowl of cereal, and his dad wouldn’t let him have a second because it would make him hyper, sick, or some combination of the two undesirable conditions. His dad was listening to the morning jazz program on the college radio station, which played boring music. And while Raf waited for the coffee to finish steeping, he had resumed reading a novel, so he wasn’t paying attention to Quentin’s fidgeting.
“Dad, what time is it?” Quentin asked.
“What does the microwave say?” Raf responded without looking up.
“Oh yeah.” Quentin responded, “It’s 8:10.”
Raf didn’t say anything.
“Dad, when can I play games?” Quentin asked.
Irritated, Raf stopped reading. “Look, dude. Collin’s boys are up there sleeping. Collin told you no games until 10am. You’re going to need to find something to do for the next two hours. You’re a smart boy with an active imagination. Think that you can handle that?”
Normally, Raf didn’t impose any rules on his sons limiting their gameplay time. If things seemed to get out of hand or a fight broke out between his two sons, then he would step in. However, Collin parented his sons with more rules, like no games before 10am or no games after 10pm. However, Quentin had once woken Collin up with his loud gameplaying at 7am on a Saturday morning, so Collin created his rule so that his weekend sleep wouldn’t be disturbed.
“I think I’ll see what Levi is up to.” Quentin decided. Levi was one of the boys that lived in the neighborhood. Quentin then proceeded to bundle himself up. Winter jacket. Hat. Gloves. He even put on his winter boots. There was no snow outside, but the boots were warmer than his sneakers.
Quentin dashed out the kitchen door just as Collin was coming inside. Collin was bundled up and carrying a bag of groceries. He placed the bag on the kitchen counter.
“Pour you a cup of coffee?” Raf asked.
“Yeah, that will be perfect. I’ll be right back.”
Collin went back outside to have a cigarette while his sons were still asleep. Yes, he was still trying to quit.
Raf resumed reading his issue of Asimov’s. His daughter, Octavia, came into the kitchen. She sat quietly at the table with her sketchbook and started doodling.
A few minutes later, after finishing his cigarette for the morning, Collin re-entered the kitchen. He took off his jacket and shoes. Then his attention turned to his bag of groceries. He had bought onions and potatoes from the local wholesale market. They thudded on the kitchen counter as he removed them from the paper bag. He also removed a packet of thick cut bacon wrapped in white butcher paper. It made a soft papery thud as he put it down.
“What’cha doing?” Octavia asked, not looking up from her sketching.
“Making some breakfast hash.” Collin responded. “Hungry?”
“Mmm.” Octavia said. “Not really.”
“You’ll probably make some ramen afterwards, right?” Raf said.
“Probably.” Octavia responded.
Raf knew his daughter. Unlike his sons, who were always on the brink of ravenous hunger, Octavia had been become pickier with her eating lately. She was toying with the idea of vegetarianism, but really didn’t like eating many vegetables. So, her go-to meal now was ramen and eggs.
“Think that you can wait until Collin finishes cooking for the boys before you make your ramen?” Raf asked, not looking up from Asimov’s.
“Sure.” Octavia answered, not looking up from her drawing.
Collin placed the potatoes in the sink and turned on the faucet. He gave them a quick wash and scrubbing to clean off any of the remaining dirt. He then filled a colander with the potatoes he had washed. Water drained out of the holes. Collin then retrieved his chopping knife and took out Raf’s wooden cutting board.
When Collin moved in, he brought with him many of the kitchen utensils that he had accumulated during his decade with Lyla. Raf had his own kitchen utensils, so Raf’s cabinets and drawers were full of duplicate items of the two men who liked to cook. Sometimes they used each other’s items, sometimes they defaulted to their own. When it came to knives, however, each man preferred the feel and the sharpness of his own blade.
Collin proceeded to cut the potatoes, skin on, into small cubes. He then filled a ceramic casserole dish with the cubes. Once the casserole dish was filled with cubed potatoes, he set the lid on the dish and placed it in the microwave to cook for 10 minutes. Collin then began skinning and dicing two large yellow onions. After dicing the two onions and placing them in a large bowl, he then removed the thick cut bacon from its paper wrapping. He then sliced the bacon into small strips.
On the stove were two cast iron skillets: one Raf’s and one Collin’s. Raf had inherited his from a family member. It was well seasoned with oil from years of cooking. Collin had bought his about a year ago with a set of cast iron skillets. He had seasoned it himself, and it not built up a base of oil the same way as Raf’s. Collin would use his skillet to cook the bacon. It could use the grease. He turned the stove on medium and used the back of his knife to push the bacon from the cutting board into the heating skillet.
The microwave was humming, the skillet was hissing. Collin sat down for a second and drank some of the coffee that Raf had poured for him.
“Smells delicious.” Raf noted.
“Thanks, dear.” Collin joked.
Both men chuckled, even Octavia smiled at the idea of the two men being in a domestic arrangement.
“Maybe if both of us had been more complimentary, we’d still have our wives.” Collin pushed the joke into a darker direction. Maybe because Raf was there, and Collin was busy preparing breakfast, he felt it was safe to poke his bandaged wound in order to gauge its sensitivity.
This idea distracted Raf from Asimov’s. He put the magazine down in order to engage with Collin. “Huh,” Raf said considering Collin’s conjecture. “I would counter that we were too complimentary. That’s why we don’t still have our wives.”
“Interesting.” Collin responded then took a sip of his coffee. “How can one be too complimentary?”
“Maybe our wives needed less words and more deeds. Deeds that they appreciated.” Raf explained. “Yeah, I don’t know what it was like for your ex, but I think my ex, got tired of supporting me while I went to school. She just wanted a man who had a job, who came home, who ate dinner, and who watched TV.”
“Yeah,” Octavia chimed in, “That’s pretty much Todd.” She was referring to her mom’s boyfriend.
“Hmm.” Collin said considering Raf. He got up to tend to bacon. He stirred the sizzling strips.
Suddenly, Tobias, Raf’s middle child, clomped into the kitchen. “Morning, everyone,” he greeted. He was wearing an oversized hoodie, and his hair was matted. He plopped down in the chair where Collin had just been sitting. Collin’s coffee was still there.
“Collin is sitting there, son.” Raf kindly pointed out.
“My bad.” Tobias said. He got up and moved to the free chair and plopped down. He immediately reached for one of Octavia’s free pens and began spinning it on his hand. Octavia briefly glanced at her grating younger brother.
“Collin is cooking some breakfast hash. Can you wait until he’s done, or would you like some breakfast now?” Raf asked Tobias.
“Yeah, I think I’ll wait.” Tobias tried to say this in a cool way. Then he continued spinning his pen.
The microwave beeped. The potatoes were done cooking. Collin grabbed two dish towels in order to retrieve the hot casserole dish from the microwave, then placing the dish on the kitchen counter. He turned on the burner of the second cast iron skillet on the stove. He poured some olive oil and then some of the bacon drippings into the skillet. Then stirred in the diced onions. When the onions began to soften, Collin then added the steaming potato cubes to the skillet.
As Collin was tending to the two skillets, his youngest son, Ryk, shly entered the kitchen.
“Morning, Ryk.” Raf said loudly. This was too much attention for the timid boy.
“Hey.” Ryk said quietly averting eye contact with the friendly adult.
“Morning, Ryk.” Collin said as he went up to the small boy giving his son a squeeze and kiss on the top of his curly head.
“Where’s Quentin?” Ryk asked. Both he and Quentin were about the same age.
“He’s outside playing with the neighbor kids.” Raf informed.
“Can I go play, Dad?” Ryk asked a little more animatedly but still in a hushed manner.
“Brush your teeth first.” Collin answered. “Then come back in about 30 minutes. Breakfast will be ready.”
Ryk then rushed into the bathroom and hurried through brushing his teeth. Collin resumed stirring the bacon as pieces started to crisp and flipping the potatoes so that they would brown evenly. Ryk emerged from the bathroom and proceeded to bundle himself up. Winter jacket. Hat. Gloves. Even winter boots.
As he was heading out the door, Raf said, “When you come, back tell Quentin that he needs to come back too. Ok?”
“Ok.” Ryk said as closed the kitchen door. A burst of colder air rushed into the warm kitchen.
Upstairs a bed creaked and footsteps of Collin’s oldest son, Zak, could be heard. He was up. Tobias sprang to attention. Now there was someone he could interact with. He started to head upstairs.
“Remember, no games until 10am.” Raf informed Tobias.
“Yeah, I know. We’ll just talk.” Tobias confirmed as he clomped up the stairs. Soon the chattering of the two preteens could be heard through the ceiling.
The bacon was almost crispy, and the potatoes were starting to brown on all sides. Collin turned off the burner under the bacon and started scooping the strips into the potato skillet, folding them into the mixture evenly.
“Yeah,” Collin uttered, “I don’t think Lyla ever bought into the idea of me going to graduate school. She never understood what I did or how it added value to me. You mind if I use your eggs, Raf?”
“No, go right ahead.”
Collin retrieved Raf’s carton of eggs from the refrigerator. Then he continued, “After that schism, no matter what I said, she didn’t understand how what I had accomplished had benefited her or the children. She viewed my achievement as selfish. You know, she didn’t even organize a graduation party for me? Nothing.”
“Really? Zoe and I had already split, but my family came to my thesis defense and took me out to dinner.”
“Lyla did nothing for me. She did nothing to recognize what I been through or show the boys that I accomplished something.” Collin recounted bitterly as he cracked eggs into the potatoes and bacon. He then stirred the eggs into the hash mixture.
“Food almost done?” Raf asked.
“10 more minutes.” Collin informed.
“How do you want to do this?” Raf asked further.
“How about we feed the older kids first? Then the younger kids when they come back.”
“Sounds good,” Raf put down Asimov’s and got up. He went to the cabinets and started retrieving dishes.
Collin continued to scramble the eggs into the hash as they cooked and firmed up. “You know what, Raf?” Collin resumed, “My birthday is this month. I think I will host a birthday dinner for my myself. Do you mind?”
“No, sounds like a good time.” Raf confirmed as he placed a stack of bowls on the table.
“Lyla never threw me a birthday party when I turned 30. I can’t even remember what we did on that day.” The eggs were soft and no longer wet, so Collin turned off the burner to allow the hash to finish cooking and cool. He then went to stairwell to yell to the boys upstairs, “Zak, Tobias! Come downstairs for breakfast.”
The sound of two boys racing and then jumping downstairs filled the house. They dashed into the kitchen and landed in the two empty chairs laughing. Raf handed two bowls to Collin, and Collin filled them with the piping hot breakfast hash. Raf handed the filled bowls back to the boys. Tobias started scarfing down the food and burned his mouth.
“Hey,” Raf chided, “Take it easy, Tobias. I don’t want to have to take you to the emergency room.”
The rebuke made the two boys laugh. Octavia started to put her notebook away to prevent the animate boys from spilling food on her artwork.
“Hey, Dad,” Zak asked. “Can I have some milk?”
“I’ll get it.” Raf said.
“Me too, Dad.” Tobias added, “My mouth is burning.”
The two boys cackled at this joke. Octavia grabbed a bowl from the table and headed to the stove.
“Change your mind, Octavia?” Collin asked.
“Yeah, I am too hungry to make ramen,” She informed Collin, “but I want to try and pick out the bacon.”“Go right ahead.” Collin step aside as the young teenager brushed bits of bacon aside and picked out clumps of potatoes and eggs.