Author Spotlight & Review
Excerpt Below Review
by Roni Askey-Doran
Today is Emily Zylaz’s birthday. This is the day that she has chosen to kill herself. After struggling for many years to cope with the roller-coaster of mental illness, a devastating failed marriage, and a soul-destroying career that is going nowhere, she’s giving up.
Feeling like the only solution to all of her problems is to take her own life, Emily plans to hang herself at midnight. She believes no one will care that she’s dead, that she won’t be missed, and that everyone will be better off without her and her fickle moods.
As we journey alongside Emily, counting down the hours on her last day alive, we explore the twisted labyrinth of her troubled mind and learn why she so desperately wants to die.
Tasmanian born Roni Askey-Doran has spent her life seeking adventure, happiness and inner peace. A gypsy at heart, Roni has a wonderful sense of humor which shines through in all her work. Filled with passion, powered by her desire to tell her stories using vivid lexiconic imagery, Roni loves to share her experiences.
Roni has traveled through 46 countries over the past three decades. Despite her nomadic lifestyle, she is an accomplished chef, a talented wordsmith, an avid gardener, and her wandering feet dance to more than one beat.
Roni currently resides in a bamboo shack on a remote beach in South America with three cats, two opossums, a non-venomous Granadilla snake, some tree frogs, a large green iguana and several species of tropical birds and butterflies. A large huntsman spider named Horacio resides in her bathroom. She’s addicted to bananas, loves to cook fresh seafood with coconuts, is passionate about her tropical garden, and makes her own chocolate.
My Review of Broken
The above is the first sentence in Broken, a Contemporary Women's Fiction / Suspense / Drama, written by Roni Askey-Doran. This is exactly my kind of book. Although I rarely read first person, especially written in present tense, this book drew me in from the very beginning. How could it not? The first line makes you wonder upon reading it.
The story opens as Emily explains to the reader her plan to hang herself at midnight, on her birthday. We follow her day on an hourly basis, as she weaves us a tale of social anxiety, bullies, sexual harassment, abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, sexual) and more. There are flashbacks throughout the story giving us an in depth look into the forces that drove this woman to teeter on the brink of suicide. As the hours pass, characters are introduced that begin to give her a glimmer of hope. The hop of not feeling no so alone. Will she reject that hope? As the night moves along, secrets and twists unfold that shocked even me. But it's still not over as the crescendo of suspense forced me to finish this read in two sittings. What will Emily do? Will she give up on life or flirt with the prospects given to her throughout the day? There is only one way to find out. Buy the book.
The writing: As I stated, this is written in a first person, present tense. Ironically, this is my least favorite point of view, yet I was drawn to the character and the story. In the beginning of the story, the build up is all in Emily's head. Therefore there is no real action, no dialogue. Is seemed like a conversation you would hear from your best friend or a diary entry. As the chapters flew by, the characters and action became much better defined and developed. The emotions poured off the screen as the narration became better along the way. What I fear is that some authors and editors who shout "show, don't tell" will miss their opportunity to take a look into the true to life consequences of our choices, upbringing, and lack of understanding of others. The beginning is full of more storytelling, however, the author and character both seem to emerge from a cocoon. This leaves us an intense, gripping book touching on tough subjects while it hacks away at stigmas placed on the mentally ill.
Excerpt of Broken
by Roni Askey-Doran
It’s a good day to die. Most people don’t know when they’re going to pass, but I do. At midnight tonight, I’ll be no more than a bad memory. I reach across to pat the other pillow, but he’s gone. Oh, Dickens.
“A year from now, no one will even remember my stupid name,” I mutter to myself as I pull the bed covers up to my neck and try to forget that today is my birthday.
Weak rays of sunlight filter through the flimsy curtain, brushing my cheek as I snuggle between the rumpled sheets, gradually rousing myself from yet another night of fitful sleep punctuated with violent nightmares and too many startled awakenings as the witching hours passed slowly, tick by excruciating tock. Outside, gray clouds gather on the horizon, darkening as they come together to form a sinister cloak over the city. It won’t take them long to block out the sun.
I’ve decided to hang myself. That way, I can donate my organs, uncontaminated. The sum of my parts might do other people more good than they have ever done me. It might be a good idea to call the hospital, right before I push the chair away, and tell them to come and get whatever bits they need while they’re still hot. One thing that bothers me slightly is that someone might come just to take photos to post on social media.
“This chick thought she was a portrait,” they’ll post underneath a snap of my hanging corpse, with the hashtag #PortraitGirl added for emphasis on the joke.
When I think about my death and its aftermath, I’m not concerned about my soul, or what may or may not happen to it. Life isn’t a dress-rehearsal and once it’s over, we’re done. To think of an afterlife in paradise seems ridiculous. There are no second chances, no reincarnations, no coming back to do it all better the next time around. We become bones or ashes after we die.
“… and we commit his body to the ground, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust; and we beseech thine infinite goodness to give us grace to live in thy fear and love and to die in thy favor, that when the judgment shall come which thou hast committed to thy well-beloved Son, both this woman and we may be found acceptable in thy sight,” intoned the stern-faced priest presiding over the only funeral I have ever attended, as if it wasn’t obvious that an organic being would naturally decompose into the earth, regardless of what some divinity thinks.
I don’t believe in religions with all-encompassing deities in which devotees must live in fear. Tyrants rule with fear, threatening their followers with terrible judgments. Such oppressors even had scriptures written using subversive language, hot syntax and persuasive rhetoric to manipulate the minds of the masses—methods still in use today.
The concept of heaven and hell makes no sense either, unless we experience both while we’re alive. In which case, I have already served my time in hell, and it’s time for an early release. Life on earth has been intolerable so far and an eternity of the same in the alleged hereafter is unthinkable. The world would be more peaceful without all this religious hocus-pocus, and everyone would be better off. That won’t ever happen, though. After millennia of systematic brainwashing, people will always believe in invisible deities, and go on persecuting those who don’t. Religion has always been that way, so thickly coated with hypocrisy that it’s stifling. It’s too bad compassion and kindness aren’t profitable enough to be popular.
According to the endless, relentless barrage of non-denominational aspirations and quotes that zing daily into millions of inboxes in a vain effort to give us hope, it’s supposedly enough to have faith in oneself. Meditations. Chakras. Chi. Affirmations. Somehow, I’ve never been able to muster the requisite care-factor points to give credence to any of that balderdash. What good is hope when you’re surrounded by evil?
It doesn’t matter if they bury or cremate my miserable remains. My funeral doesn’t interest me, since I won’t be there to see it. Nor do I care what they say at the ceremony. Most of it will be lies. None of them know anything about me or my life. It’s all been a waste of time, anyway.
“Emily’s favorite pastime in spring was to sit in the park, eating pistachio ice cream, inhaling the perfume of the flowers and watching the children play,” no one will say. “It gave her great joy to see everything around her so full of life and happiness.”
No one has ever taken the time to find out what makes me tick. The last few years have been so lonely and pointless I feel like I’ve stopped ticking. From the tips of my split ends to the ragged edges of my toenails, I have felt nothing but numb. My brain must have been built by a software corporation; it has crashed and won’t reboot.
Raw from the embarrassment of her own daughter’s suicide, Mother will offer up dramatic displays of false sadness and grieving just to keep up appearances. Always the broken wing holding her back, she doesn’t even like me. Actually, that feeling is mutual. Unless Mother tries to turn my inhumation into another of her famous social events, it will be some kind of miracle if more than three people who personally know me attend. Inhumation. That’s the perfect word, isn’t it? The undoing of a human.
“Emily was … well, Emily was … she was broken,” Mother will say with her tightly pursed lips, disapproving of me, even in death.
Large drops of rain splatter against the window and trickle to the wooden sill, where some of them leak in through a small hole made by industrious termites taking advantage of decades of neglect. The dribble of water runs down the wall to the floor, where it pools drop by drop. When the puddle is large enough, the surface tension of the water breaks as it runs toward the rug and is soaked up into the wool. When I first moved in, I often wondered how the rug got wet overnight. I used to think I must have spilled something while sleepwalking. It didn’t make sense. Not until that first night of leaping awake, breathless and afraid. Reluctant to sleep, I listened to the raging storm outside and watched the water pool on the floor while my mind wandered back to the first time I wanted to die. The betrayal had been so deep that after all this time, the wound has still not scarred over.
It doesn’t matter that I haven’t left a memorable legacy in my wake. There is nothing to remember. No spectacular feats, no miracles, no headlines. Fame and riches are not my destiny. I’m just a nobody that no one cares about. After tonight, I will probably become one more sad anonymous statistic on one of those ridiculous global charts people pass around on social media and pretend to give a damn about for one whole second until they’re distracted by something more interesting, like a movie star’s bared breast.
My entire life, I’ve been invisible. No one has ever looked at me and seen who I am, not even my husband. What was he thinking the day he married me? I didn’t really understand why he wanted to get hitched in the first place. I couldn’t grasp what he saw in me. He was a media relations manager for a car manufacturing company. I was an Economics student. I thought I was Cinderella in love with Prince Charming. How stupid. On hindsight, it all seems … I don’t know … preordained, just like one of Mother’s elaborate dinner parties. This morning, the distant nightmare of that train wreck relationship seems like it happened to another person in a different lifetime.
“You’re worthless and you always will be,” Garrett had snarled right before I left him.
It was the last thing he ever said to me. I haven’t seen him since. Not once since the day I walked out the front door with nothing but the clothes on my back and my purse in my hand have I ever felt any desire to see him. Garrett Yamble was the biggest mistake of my life.
“Darling, you’re perfect. You’re so beautiful and funny and smart,” he crooned during romantic sunset walks along the riverbank, peppering his self-depreciative conversation with manipulative self-esteem boosters, fully aware I was the kind of trusting fool who would gobble it up, hook, line and sinker.
Handsome and charming in the beginning, his true colors exploded right after our honeymoon, leaving me with a black eye and a broken collarbone one week after we arrived home. Aware that choking the life out of me with his bare hands was his ultimate goal, I have no doubt that he will receive the news of my demise with glee. He was right. I am worthless.
Mother would agree with him. I’m sure she will be relieved when I’m finally gone from her life. She has always treated me like a hairy wart on her nose, as if it was my fault for being there.
“You were an accident, too,” she announced abruptly when I was twelve, glaring down at me through her half lens reading glasses after I accidentally spilled her coffee on the precious living room rug.
“Yes, Mother. I’m sorry,” I responded tearfully, apologizing more for myself than for the coffee stain.
There is an ugly scar on my right hand where that scalding coffee burned my tender young skin; it’s a permanent reminder that I am nothing more than a terrible accident. As I lie in bed, I lift my hand out from the blankets to inspect the scar. It’s shaped like a bird, the skin shiny and smooth with three precise lines running through the mark from one end to the other. The wing is defined by one of the lines, the tail by another. The third splits the little bird’s head in half. When I first saw it, after the bandage came off, I thought it was a sign for me to fly away. I wish I had.
Never good enough, never meeting Mother’s standards, never measuring up to Madison, my perfect older sister, my mere existence has always been a blight on Mother’s otherwise impeccable life. From the moment I could walk, I tried to please her, to win her love and respect, but nothing was ever adequate. I don’t even remember when she stopped touching me.
“You look exactly like Father,” teenaged Madison sneered once, lifting one thin veil from Mother’s secret vendetta, as she brushed her golden hair the requisite one hundred stokes. “You’re the Brontë of an old joke.”
Even though I was just a little girl, Madison’s mean words stuck in my head. It took a long time to understand the connection. When the penny finally dropped several years later, I read Wuthering Heights over and over, searching the text for answers, but nothing was revealed. The only secret I uncovered was my own insatiable passion for books. While nothing could bridge the decade of infinity between my sister and I, the comfortable reading room at the public library was almost large enough to fill the void.
“Where in hell have you been?” Mother shrieked when I arrived home after dark.
“At the library. They have a wonderful new collection of Dickens,” I responded, shrugging off her ire after an afternoon of caressing first edition gilded green leather covers, and turning delicately inked pages with original woodcut illustrations with such inspired awe that time became irrelevant.
The problem with my tardy behavior consistently failed to present itself to me. Mother, on the other hand, began flying into uncontrollable rages whenever I wandered into her presence.
“You’re just like your idiot father!” she yelled on several occasions, before disappearing, with her fingers cupped over her mouth, behind a slammed door and not coming out for ages.
I don’t know my father. We haven’t met. I’ve never even seen his photo. The man I knew as Daddy when I was a child was Mother’s second husband, Bryce. I saw him a few times after Mother threw him out, but I haven’t set eyes on him for several years. When I was little, he sometimes picked me up from school and drove me somewhere to eat hamburgers and ice cream. We’d lie on the grass in the park and point out the changing shapes in the clouds. He always took sips from a small leather-bound flask in his pocket. One time, when I was about eight, the police made him stop the car on the way home. When they figured out he was drink-driving, they took him away in handcuffs. One of the officers took me home. After that, Bryce spent much less time with us. When they got divorced, he didn’t make much of an effort to stay in touch, although Madison still sees him from time to time. This lack of parenting makes me feel as if I don’t have any real sense of who I am.
This is not the first time I’ve thought about killing myself. All the other times there seemed to be some tenacious reason to hang onto life. Hope has arrived at my door in so many different disguises, each time fooling me into believing that life will get better. It hasn’t. My life still sucks, and it’s been getting steadily worse each day. After endless nights of lying awake and thinking about it, combing through my abysmal past and depressing present to figure out what purpose I serve on this planet, I cannot find one solid reason to live. I can’t think of a single person who would truly miss my presence. I don’t see any point in prolonging the torture of my life for one more day. In any event, from the day that we are born each of us begins a march toward death, so the end is always inevitable. None of us gets out alive. I just think it’s time to speed up the process. What difference does a couple of years make anyway? Okay, maybe a decade or five, but whatever. Who in their right mind wants to suffer that long?
The day of my birth is the perfect date for the day of my death. It’s a precise mathematical figure which adds up to an exact number of years that I was alive. The same date of entry and exit will be put on the headstone. It’s neat and tidy, with no messy numbers. I’m not keen on mess, and I dislike leaving things in disarray. I don’t want my body to be found covered with blood, or electrocuted in a tub of water with the toaster. Pills, gas or exhaust fumes would only contaminate my organs. Bullets are too hard to come by inconspicuously. Besides, shooting myself is too noisy, and jumping from a bridge is too public. I don’t want to attract attention. I’m not sure how much mess is made by a hanging. In any case, I got a large tarpaulin to cover the floor. Determined to be discreet, I bought it from a camping store. The rope came from a hardware store on the other side of town. The kitchen chair was discovered in the back room of a second-hand furniture store. I’ll need it to stand on when I tie the rope through the exposed timber beam on the balcony. There is a hook where the old chandelier used to hang when my apartment building was a stylish hotel almost a century ago, but it’s too high for me to reach. Naturally, I haven’t told anyone about my plans. This isn’t a call for help.
As I squeeze the last precious moments out of luxurious pillow time, hugging my teddy bear to my chest underneath the warm covers, the raging storm outside begins to slow. Sheets of icy rain have swept the city clean, leaving it fresh and shiny. Some of the roofs glisten and wink happily at each other. The washed windows hug droplets that cling for one last kiss goodbye. Streams of rainwater rush into gutters, taking with them the dust and grime. The sparkling city is about to waken. It’s time to get up.
As my feet touch the worn carpet, I wonder why I’m even bothering to get out of bed. What’s the point, really, when today is my last day at life and there is no reason to feel responsible about anything? The rope won’t tie itself, I guess. The tarpaulin will need a little help to spread itself over the floor. The chair will need a lift out to the balcony. It’s currently in the kitchen, one of those folding wooden chairs that will collapse on impact with the floor. There’s no going back after it’s been kicked over. Today will be a day of lasts. The last time I do everything I usually do.
The chipped green tiles on the bathroom floor chill my bare feet as I cross from the doorway to take a seat on the throne.
“See that chick over there with her saggy old panties around her ankles?” I ask the corner of the mirror that peeks my way, dangling catawampus on its hook as it displays parts of the bathroom no one would see if it hung straight. “That’s me, the queen of poop.”
Feeling a wave of revulsion, I turn from the looking glass. The pathetic creature reflected back every time I dare to look makes me want to slap her. Twice.
“Don’t look at me like that! What’s wrong with you?” I repeat the exact same phrases I heard from Mother so many times that it has become a kind of self-loathing mantra.
It used to make me cry, hearing that. Now, I feel nothing but disgust.
“You look like you’ve been dragged backwards through a cheese grater and slapped with a toilet brush.”
If I look closely at my reflection, I see a wan face covered in pale skin bereft of sunlight and a good night’s sleep, large dark rings and bags of exhaustion bordering sad hazel eyes with too-short lashes, a pointy nose with a bump on it where Madison threw The Hobbit at me one night when I was late for dinner, a small mouth with thin chicken lips that are too scared to speak up for themselves, a square chin with a dimple that is not as cute as all the magazines make it out to be, and ears with no lobes because when they built me they used that extra skin on my butt. Who has no earlobes, dammit? The one time I asked for earrings as a birthday gift I could still hear Mother and Madison laughing downstairs an hour later. I sometimes wonder if my father has earlobes or dimples.
Stepping out of my panties, I take off my t-shirt and turn on the shower. The ancient pipes grumble and groan loudly enough for me to wonder if it’s their last day too. The landlord has been promising to fix them for two years. Alfonso Garcia is one of those guys who will wait until they finally explode and destroy several apartments, then claim on his insurance to pay for the repairs. When it comes to spending money he’s a scrooge, but not once has he ever been late to collect the rent.
“What do you mean you don’t have it?” Alfonso screamed at me once, his black eyes popping and thick frizzy hair leaping away from his skull as if in fright and trying to get away.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t get to the bank. I’ll come by later and pay you.”
The truth was that I had spent the entire day curled up into a tight ball, crying into my pillow. I couldn’t even get up to make myself a sandwich, much less force myself out into the street to find an auto-teller. When a massive wave of depression hits, I can do nothing except feel helpless and alone while plummeting down the bottomless abyss. The rent is the last thing I care about.
The shower takes ages to heat up. While I wait, I stand with my back to the mirror intently watching the wasted water gurgle down the plughole, vaguely wondering where all the pre-shower drizzle ends up. Does it get used for anything? Or is it gone forever? Focusing on the drain prevents me from turning around. A fully naked reflection of myself is the number one thing to avoid at all costs while in the bathroom. I don’t need to be reminded how ugly I am, how fat, how stupid, how worthless. I already know.
When the water is tepid enough to bear, I step carefully over the side of the high tub, supporting myself as I pull my body upright, fully aware of the irony. If I slipped and fell, smashing my skull on the baked enamel, no one would call it suicide. Mother wouldn’t be embarrassed by my accidental death. Madison would be able to discuss it with everyone she knows.
“Emily was always such a klutz,” she’ll say, pretending to feel some kind of loss, lapping up and savoring the outpouring of synthetic sympathy from her friends for as long as she can.
My biggest fear is that falling in the bathtub won’t finish me off, and I’ll end up with some silly injury that makes no sense, like a broken elbow or a twisted knee. Or I’ll break my neck and end up lying there stark naked, dying slowly of thirst and starvation before anyone finds me. I don’t want to be found naked. Even though I’ll be dead, there is still an awful feeling of humiliation attached to having complete strangers touching and peering at my bare graying skin as they scrape my decomposing corpse out of the tub.
The scent of sandalwood soap is relaxing. I bought it at a weekend farmer’s market from a man who makes natural soaps and cleansers. Tall and thin, with an unruly mop of bouncy black curls, he smelled like fresh pine needles. I sensed an unhurried mellowness about him, and lingered at his stall, enjoying the aromas, scraping and sniffing pieces from his little baskets of samples.
“Good morning,” he greeted. “Can I help you with something in particular?”
Speechless, I bit my lips and smiled shyly, twirling my finger around in an open jar of shaved soap chips. He smiled kindly and nodded, seeming to understand immediately that I’m not a good conversationalist. Or maybe he just thought I was a crazy woman with a natural soap fetish.
“I think you’ll like the sandalwood. It’s subtle and won’t be too harsh on your skin.”
He held out two bars and offered me an end-of-market-day discount, dropping them into a bag with a friendly grin. Blushing fiercely, I bought them and fled, mumbling thanks as I stuffed the recycled paper bag into my back pack. He was right, I love his soap. It’s gentle on my delicate skin and it smells like a walk in the forest at dawn. The last piece of the first bar glides over my arms and chest, washing away the final threads of the jumbled nightmares still clinging to my memory. Madison will inherit the brand new second bar.
Almost done, I brush my teeth in the shower, mostly so I don’t have to stare into my own eyes in the crooked mirror hanging above the wash basin. A therapist had once suggested that I learn to gaze honestly into my eyes in a mirror every day. She insisted this exercise would help me to love myself. Tears pricked my eyes and I gulped in sobs as the horror unfolded. The agony of seeing that deeply inside my wounded soul was unbearable. This intimate introspection made me feel so broken that I gave up therapy instead. The confused psychologist left several messages asking me to please come back, but I was so distraught by what I’d seen lurking at the back of her perfectly square redwood framed mirror that I didn’t ever respond.
There doesn’t seem any point to brushing my teeth before breakfast, but I always do it because it doesn’t feel right not to, and then need to brush them again afterward, subjecting myself to the freak-in-the-mirror torture again. At times it feels beyond ridiculous, but I can’t not brush my teeth. I keep toothpaste and an extra brush in my bag so I can clean them again after lunch.
On the way past the kitchen, I plug in the coffee machine, then go to get dressed while it gurgles to life, dripping organic Ecuadorian arabica into the painted ceramic mug I bought in Italy four years ago. Each night, before bed, I replace the filter and add new coffee grinds to the new one so I can flip the switch on the way to my room. The old coffee grinds go into the potted skunk plant sitting under the bathroom window. If Alfonso doesn’t spirit it away when he finds me, the police will probably have no problem figuring out what to do with the marijuana.
It’s a daily dilemma, what to wear. Honestly, I would happily put on the same outfit every day if I thought I could get away with it. Apart from significantly less laundry days, there would also be minimum trauma attached to my choice of attire. My wardrobe is a mish-mash of colorful bargains from second-hand clothing stores, one-off designer gowns, and dark, sensible, pre-loved office wear.
As a teenager, I resentfully adopted every ridiculous fad the teen magazines dictated was vital to be fashionable, beautiful, intelligent and loved. The clothes, the diets, the ways to put on lipstick. Mother insisted I keep up with her stylish trends. She forced me into designer stores and made me try on one hundred horrid dresses, choosing whatever she liked best, regardless of my opinion. Most of these teenage torture sessions were endured in complete silence. When I didn’t embrace her monomania she pretended to be embarrassed and refused to take me out dressed in clothes that I liked.
“Go and change. We’ll be late. Put on the pink dress with the rose at the waist. It’s pretty.”
One time, while I was at college, I arrived at the house wearing bright tie-died sweats I’d picked up cheaply from a yard sale. My hair was messy and my face bare of make up after studying all night, then taking an exam before driving home. Mother was mortified. She looked around to see if any of the neighbors had seen me arrive and pulled me inside.
“What are you wearing? Get off the street before anyone sees you! Never wear your hippie pajamas outside the house! What were you thinking?”
A simple hello would have been nice. There was a time that a peck on the cheek from her was special. It meant she acknowledged my existence. Nowadays, the thought of Mother’s cruel dry lips touching my skin gives me the heebie-jeebies.
A knee-length navy linen skirt with matching jacket and a plain white silk blouse will do for work today. I zip the skirt and button the blouse, wondering what will happen on Monday when I fail to show up. I have considered not going to work today. Firstly, it’s my birthday, and secondly I’m going to hang myself tonight. However, if I’m not sitting in my seat at the call center by nine, Yolanda Bruxtine, my insufferable boss, will call all day, giving me no peace. If I turn off my phone, she’ll call the emergency contact number I provided: Mother.
“Hello? I was wondering if you might know what happened to Emily. She didn’t come to work today,” she might say in her ever-so-polite phone voice, disguising her penchant for trouble-making.
It often astounds me the lengths some people go to be obnoxious. She wouldn’t call because she misses me, or is truly short-handed on the phone lines. She’d call to yell abuse and have something to hold over me, like an unauthorized sick day—as if something so trivial truly matters. If she calls Mother, who will wonder why I didn’t go to work, who knows what will happen next. Just by being imperious, Yolanda could mess up my plans. I can’t risk it. It’s safer to go to the office, to behave like everything is normal. Besides, it will occupy the sluggish daylight hours. It’s not as if I have anything better to do today. I sit on the wobbly dresser chair to lace up my navy camel-leather brogues.
“You have high arches,” the shoemaker said while he measured my feet. “I will have to lift your inner sole a little.”
I wanted to ask if he could lift my outer soul a little too, but couldn’t open my mouth for the rush of unbreakable shyness that envelopes my entire being every time I find myself in the presence of a congenial, well-mannered gentleman.
In the kitchen, I sip my delicious hot brew—black with no sugar—and cut some of the German sourdough rye bread I bought from the bakery on the corner a few days ago. While the thick slices are in the toaster, I break two free-range duck eggs into the cast-iron pan on the stove. About once a month, I like to drive a few hours out of the city to a permaculture farm to buy eggs, milk, butter and cheese, and whatever fresh fruit and vegetables they’ve harvested that day. Every time I go out there I wish I could leave everything behind and live like that too. The Johansson family always look so happy and healthy. I can’t go any more. The car is gone. I miss those weekend journeys.
“Take some extra apples with you, dear,” Mrs Johansson would say, adding a dozen more to the already crammed vegetable box. “You look a little pale. The vitamins will do you good.”
Taking organic salted butter and a jar of home-made apricot and ginger jam that I found at a weekend crafts market out of the fridge, I place them on the mat in the center of the table. Beside them, I sit a glass shaker of Himalayan pink salt and a wooden grinder of black Tellicherry peppercorns. One knife, one fork, and one spoon are set beside my woven hemp placemat. The three pieces of silver cutlery are placed exactly one inch from the edge of the table, one inch from the edge of the mat, and one inch from each other, exactly how Mother always insisted they be arranged. When I’m satisfied they’re lined up correctly, with the tips of the handles in a straight line, I turn back to the eggs. Yolks runny, whites cooked through, I turn off the gas. The toast is perfect, with crispy crusts. I place both pieces on a white plate and scoop the eggs from the pan to place on top of one slice. A mono-eater, I’ve been having this exact same breakfast for the past three years. Sometimes, I buy chicken eggs instead of duck.
“Don’t lick your plate!” Mother shrieked, smacking me sharply in the back of the head, chipping my front tooth on the thick edge of the cereal bowl.
It was a baby tooth. When it finally fell out, I saved it so I could examine the chip every day. Sometimes, when I’m sure no one can see me, I still like to lick the plates clean, especially if there is some kind of delicious sauce smeared across the center. I love to taste the mingled flavors of the juices left from my meals. I’ve never told anyone I do that. It’s my dirty secret.
I wash the dishes in scalding water, leaving them to dry on the rack while I go to brush my teeth again. As the clock ticks toward my last hour, I open the front door and step out into the vast emotional desert of inner city life, feeling as if the game has already been lost.