Pancake

“You gunna eat that?”

Jess sits at the kitchen table, staring at the plate of pancakes heaped before her.

“Mmm?”

“I asked you a question.”

“Huh?”

“I said you gunna eat that or what?”

“Mmhmm.”

“That’s my Pancake.”

Momma walks from the sink to the refrigerator and back again. She seems not to notice that Jess doesn’t move.

“How was the doctor?”

Jess weighs the fork in her hand, half-listening.

“Boring.”

“What did he say?”

“Doctor stuff.”

“Typical. Good for nuthin’ know-it-alls. You know, I been thinking about getting a new doctor myself.”

Momma turns on the faucet and lets it run over the sink-full of dirty dishes.

“Momma?”

“Yes, Pancake?”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Not hungry? But it’s your favorite!”

Jess looks from the fork to the plate-sized pancakes, studded with savory chocolate chunks.

“I’m not hungry.”

“Do you have any idea how lucky you and your sisters are, getting three square meals a day?”

“I know, Momma.”

As Jess ponders the pat of butter melting into the mound (and the pats in-between, because Momma always says that pancakes taste best when butter’s on every layer), Momma opens a drawer and takes out a cigarette. She lights it then takes a big, heavy drag.

“When I was your age, I never knew where my next meal was coming from.”

Jess and her sisters certainly aren’t starving.

“I don’t know what’s gotten into you kids these days. I do everything right, and ain’t nobody thanking me.”

Momma tosses her pack of Virginia Slims on the counter and takes another drag, the smoke she exhales slowly filling the small room. Still weighing the fork in her hand, Jess watches the syrup seep from the stack and up the sides of her plate.

“Momma?”

“Mmm?”

“Can I go to the park this weekend?”

“Now, Pancake, we have to help your Aunt Josie with her pies for the church fundraiser. You know that.”

“But Daddy said-”

“I don’t want to hear another word about your stinkin’ good for nuthin’ father, and that’s the end of it!!”

Momma turns off the still-running tap, the pile of dishes no smaller, and draws again on her cigarette.

“I didn’t pick up the night shift so you could let perfectly good food go to waste. So you gunna eat that or what?”

“Mmm.”

“Are you sure you’re feeling alright?”

“Mmhmm.”

“What did the doctor say?”

Jess sinks back in her seat, the warm, buttery pancakes towering before her.

“Nuthin.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“He said…”

“Yes?”

“He said-”

“Well?”

“He said I needed to lose some weight.”

“He said WHAT!?”

Jess sinks deeper into her seat.

“You hear me now, okay? You don’t need to go changing a single thing. You are perfect just the way you are. Don’t you ever, ever let any stinkin’ good for nuthin’ man tell you otherwise. Do you understand?”

“Mmhmm.”

“I said, do you understand?”

“Yes, Momma.”

“Good.”

Momma finishes her cigarette and puts it out in the sink. As she exhales, the smoky room fills, and Jess coughs quietly. Momma, seeming not to notice, trudges out of the kitchen, her heavy breath still audible in the room next door.

“I’m…hungry.”

Jess plunges her fork into the pancakes. As she sits at the kitchen table chewing in silence, the bittersweet chocolate melts over her tongue and drips like blood from the corners of her mouth.

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