by Iris N. Schwartz
I. In Dreams
Her father turned toward her at dinner, said, ‘Please pass the freckles.’
‘Oh Daddy,’ the eight-year-old giggled. ‘You know I can’t do that.’
‘Why not? There are a few extra on your nose and on your cheeks. I can just reach’ — and with that he made believe-lunged for her face — ‘and grab a few.’
She pretended to be scared, inching back in her heavy chair. Mommy was coming up behind her, carrying to the dinner table a platter of yams, broccoli, and deep-fried chicken thighs. The eight-year-old felt the chair cushion Mommy’s soft belly and breasts, and her own half-inch boot heels jut into Mommy’s shins.
Her mother fell on her behind. The serving dish slid across the floor. Only the broccoli dropped off.
The oldest daughter, twelve years of age, simultaneously guffawed and applauded.
Daddy addressed both girls: ‘We didn’t like that mean old broccoli anyway, did we?’
Mommy narrow-eyed Daddy but he was too busy chortling to take much notice of her. My mother, florid, still sat on the linoleum.
Daddy continued to ask his youngest daughter for extra freckles, she grown up and married, visiting him and Mommy in their assisted-living home. He questioned his youngest directly after she and her husband walked into her parents’ apartment, never at meals. His timing made his daughter laugh even harder.
II. In Life
Her father turned toward his eight-year-old daughter at breakfast, said, ‘Pass the e-g-g-s, please.’ And with that he laughed the way he always laughed when saying it every morning.
Every morning the eight-year-old, her twelve-year-old sister, and Daddy and Mommy gulped down scrambled or fried eggs; pork sausage links; honeydew, cantaloupe, or grapefruit; rye or white toast with margarine; and frozen reconstituted orange juice. Mommy and Daddy drank strong coffee, too. The aroma was almost bitter but inviting — like lots of thing adults enjoyed.
Daddy also favored ketchup, smacking the bottom of the jar until the thick, dark red stuff billowed out, almost hiding the eggs on his plate.
‘I don’t know why you think that spelling is still funny,’ Mommy chided Daddy almost every day. ‘At least ask the girls,’ she added one morning, ‘to pass the p-u-m-p-e-r-n-i-c-k-e-l.’
The eight-year-old wondered why Mommy didn’t understand. The sisters knew how to spell anything that was atop, under, in front of, or behind a table. They had been reading since way before kindergarten. Both had entered spelling bees. Furthermore, why would Daddy spell out that kind of bread when the family always ate r-y-e or w-h-i-t-e?
At Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, where both daughters periodically visited their father’s grave, they each thought, separately, that they might be visiting him in the flesh if Mommy and Daddy hadn’t passed so many e-g-g-s.
*Ab ovo: Latin meaning ‘from the egg’ and later adapted to ‘from the beginning’ (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).
Iris N. Schwartz’s fiction has been published in dozens of journals and anthologies, including in Anti-Heroin Chic, Blink-Ink, Jellyfish Review and Spelk. Her story collection My Secret Life with Chris Noth was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and her upcoming collection Shame contains the Best Microfiction 2018-nominated story ‘Dogs.’