The little girl loved the poets (which she had cooked by herself) so much that she forgot all about her missing father and the special delivery package lying where she left it on the kitchen counter. She even forgot about the little puddle of eye sludge glistening on the linoleum floor. As she ate, she trembled from the exhilarating high one gets as a result of a perfectly cooked meal, and a meal of poets especially, for poets have some mighty powerful effects, which is why eating them is still frowned upon in certain cultures.
When she was through with her breakfast, she wiped her mouth of the succulent juices, wiped her eyes of ecstatic tears, and bumbled drunkenly to the sofa, where she passed out for three quarters of an hour.
She woke up with long legs and slender arms and a pair of modestly rounded breasts. In her mind loomed a certainty that stood over her like the shadow of a hundred-year-old tree, looking as if it had always been, and always will be, and most certainly is right now. This certainty impressed upon her the fact that she was now a woman. She stood up, and was surprised at the way her hips moved—her proportions were completely different from those she possessed when she walked to the sofa not an hour before. She did not know what do to, so she took a shower.
In the steamy chamber that she had always taken baths in, rather than these upright deals with the concentrated jets massaging into her neck and shoulders and newly prominent cheekbones, she was tall enough to look in the little basket where her father kept his razor. Carefully, she took its handle into her palm, and inspected the blade through the pillow-soft puffs of fine water that billowed around her and stuck to the walls like liquid dust. She knew better than to slide her finger along its edge, for her father had given her an exhaustive demonstration of the effects of mishandled razors one afternoon on the freckled backside of a poet who had refused to die in the deep fryer. Because father would never cook a poet more than once—he thought it not only a health hazard, but also a category of moral deviancy—he had brought the razor to the tough-willed bard’s back, shaving half of it correctly, and slicing the other half to mincemeat, before sticking the fellow into the mulcher, to be shoveled into the lawn as compost later that afternoon.
So effective was her father’s hands-on tutorial, that in a surprisingly short time, the young lady had successfully shaved her legs and the crook beneath her arms without a single abrasion made by the blade into her skin. And with the intuition that is widely accorded to her sex, she lathered, rinsed, and repeated without a single glance at the fine print marked on the plastic bottles she squirted pasty gish from. She stepped from the shower silky and smooth in all the right places.
Two towels adorned her as she walked down the hallway to her bedchamber. One look at her closet, however, brought her to the verge of her first tears as a woman. She owned nothing that would fit her new shape and size. But no sooner had the tears began to swell in her clear hazel eyes, than she shook them aside, and stalked to her father’s closet, and donned a pair of his breeches and a maroon button-up shirt which she had always adored on him.
After she was dressed, she sat on the corner of his bed, and quickly succumbed to boredom. What was she to do now? She could not imagine what young ladies are supposed occupy themselves with. She idly thought of her father, his promise to find her something different for breakfast, and his disappearance the day before. With a gasp, she realized what the sweet-voiced young man in blue could have meant by those puzzling words that morning.
When she proposed to him that the package could have been for her papa, rather than for her, the young man answered “Not likely!” And what could that mean but that it was her father who had sent it. Of course Papa could not be the receiver, for it was the very stuff he had promised to achieve for her. The package contained her brand new breakfast!
She trampled down the stairs, and ravaged the package like the little girl she had been not two hours ago.
Underneath the crinkly brown paper was a plain brown box. On its top was scrawled this note:
What is in this box is for breakfast only. You must not open it up, or look on or even think of its contents at any other time of day than in the morning, when we usually have our little meal, which you have grown so tired of.
Your loving father,
P.S. I will always love you, come what might.
Already, she was salivating. She wanted to sup on the mysterious new repast. She wanted to eat it now, but the authority of her father’s command held her back. Of a sudden, she doubly didn’t know what to do with herself. She could not stand to be in the presence of this taunting box, and so ran from the house and straight to the park without bothering to find a pair of suitable shoes.
This was the first time she had been in a park alone. It was quite thrilling for her, in the way that new and not wrong experiences can be. She strolled around, sat on a bench or two, and observed the children and squirrels and birds. She was amazed at all the particular things she could notice, now that she was an adult. It was as if the whole world had expanded, had grown more full of details and happenings. But along with this expansion came a new sensation. A restlessness rumbled in her feelings. In order to quell it, she rode on a swing until her hips were sore and strap-marked. Then she tried to make things in the sand, but soon tired of that, too. She needed… she needed… what?
“What do I need?” she asked aloud, and, as if in answer, a blackbird swooped down from the sky, and perched on the jungle gym before her.
“Trouble,” it seemed to squawk at her.
“Ka!” it cackled, “Trouble! Trouble is what you’re looking for!”
“Um, I don’t think so, strange little bird. Trouble is something I’ve never really needed, and now especially not! What in the world gave you that idea, anyhow?”
The bird gave her a peculiar glance, and scratched its long beak with a frightfully curved talon, but said nothing.
“Trouble indeed!” she whispered beneath her breath. “I probably just want something to do. That’s all, just something to do.”
But she couldn’t turn from the bird just yet. They held each other’s eyes for a little while, both unmoving. After a bit, the young lady’s nose caught wind of a repellant odour, and from a behind her came a scratchy voice:
“Excuse me miss, can you spare any change?”
The young lady crinkled her brow, and turned to face a bent, ragged man who extended a wobbling hand towards her, palm up.
“Spare a dollar so I can get something to eat?” asked the man. She felt her eyes drawn into his. She was overwhelmed with two desires that gripped her as intensely as the need to pee that strikes in the middle a dream. One desire wished her to turn away from this man, and say nothing to him, while the other wanted her to bring him close to her body, and give him something warm and meaningful.
Thus compromised, she stood stock still.
“I— I,” said the smelly man. “I—I don’t mean any harm by asking…I’m just hungry. I’d like some coffee…”
“Coffee?” asked the young lady. Hearing the name of something so simple, so real and steamy from the lips of this wanting creature shook her from her heart’s stalemate. She suddenly knew what to do.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” she offered.
“Tea? Well, I don’t know about that…” The man’s face went in three directions at once. He was simultaneously scowling, smiling, and concentrating.
“Earl Grey, with honey… and hot water, of course!” she nearly laughed.
Before the man could wrestle his face into one expression, she had taken him by the arm and began to lead him to her house.
She was overcome with embarrassment at the state of her home when they got inside. The front room was littered with blankets and misarranged cushions and last night’s tv dinner, and the kitchen still bore the marks of her solo breakfast venture. She hurriedly set the smelly man at the table in the dining room, and gave him some nice words to keep him company while she fixed the tea.
She nearly slipped on the sticky splotch of eye goop as she darted between the sink and the stove with the kettle held in her hands. She tisked at herself, and furiously tidied up whilst the water came to a boil. When she brought the man a tray loaded with tea and leftover poet fingers, she found him rocking gently back and forth, his hands folded gracefully on the table, his mouth busy chewing on his tongue.
“Here you are,” she said, setting a plate, cup and saucer before him. His eyes widened and grew peersome as she poured his tea.
“One spoonful fine?” She stirred a bit of honey in, then asked “Do you like poets? They are my favorite… or, at least they were. Here, have some fingers. Watch out for the bones, though, they can be quite brittle sometimes, and I wouldn’t know what to do if you began to choke on one.”
He sniffed, then licked his lips. “Thank you,” he replied.
“You’re welcome.” She sat down, after pouring out a cup of her own, and taking a couple fingers for herself.
“So then… its about snack time, wouldn’t you say?” she bantered.
“Well, when me and my papa have snack together, we always tell each other stories. I’m sure you must know thousands of stories, don’t you?”
“Stories?” he looked up, passing his eyes from her to the wall to the ceiling. “Stories…”
“Yes. But there is always one condition that me and my papa have, when we tell stories at snack time. Would you care to guess what that condition is?”
The man’s eyes began to rotate slightly. She didn’t know if he was answering her, or thinking of an answer, so she continued.
“The condition is that we absolutely must make the story up. It can’t be a memory, or something we remember from real life. If you want to, you can tell a dream, but you have to make it a little more real than a dream, you know? My papa say’s you gotta fatten it up, because dreams aren’t real stories yet, they’re just a sack of ideas.”
The man’s eyes suddenly shot at her, and he pinched them tight, like toothpicks, poking at her. The young lady almost blushed, but looked down at her tea instead. When she glanced back at him, he was looking with a bit less force.
“Miss,” he said, his voice not so scratchy, but firm and important. “I’m too old to tell lies. I’m too old to be making things up.”
“But you don’t have to lie, you just—“
“It makes no difference,” he seemed to be raising his voice without speaking any louder. “I’m not able to be so wistful with what I say…”
She resisted the urge to sulk, then resisted the urge to get upset with herself. Funny, how she didn’t think to get upset with him. ‘Maybe that’s part of being an adult,’ she thought, ‘getting in trouble with myself before I can blame it on the other person.’
“I’m sorry,” she began, but he spoke over her.
“I can tell you a story, if you would like. I have my own conditions to what I may tell, of course, but there is no reason why they should get in the way of you listening to me.”
He began to smile, showing three grey teeth to her. She felt at her own teeth then, and realized she had a whole bunch of them, now that she was an adult.
“Please, it’s snack time,” she said. “It wouldn’t be right without a story, even if it’s an out-of-the-ordinary-story. I don’t see why things always have to be ordinary, do you?”
“I do,” said the man, “but it should matter very little to you how I look at things.”
Daintily lifting a poet finger to his mouth, the man began his tale.