Breakfast at My Place

@jan

If you look up lethargy at Wikipedia, you’ll probably find a picture of a Kounicova, tousle-haired and groggy. Monday mornings are about as welcome as termites in our home. Not that we have anything personal against Mondays. It’s just the timing—as in my family and I are still on Brno time. We haven’t Americanized in that respect.

This morning begins like all the others, with my dad lurching out into the living room and rasping, “Time to get up.”

I lift my head, open my eyes, yawn. I watch in mild fascination as Dad moves across the living room and into the kitchen with zombie-like coordination. I can hear plates and mugs being set on the table; as usual, Mom has gotten up five minutes early to pull the bread and cold-cuts out of the fridge.

“Come, Jan,” I hear her say. “Time to get up.”

As if I didn’t hear Dad the first time.

I move from my bed to my desk in a single rolling/rotating motion. Once in the chair, I straighten into a somewhat more respectable posture as I wiggle the mouse and wake the computer screen. My SuperMegaNet windows are lined up on the right. I can see Eva’s already awake and is blow-drying her hair. She waves, smiles—she’s a total early bird. I don’t know how she does it.

Theo and Ernie, on the other hand, are night owls, and while I know Theo, regardless of how much or how little sleep he got last night, will be dutifully arising in a few minutes, Ernie looks totally bricked, his arms and legs tangled in the blanket, his mouth hanging wide open, his hair sticking out at all the wrong angles. In the week I’ve known him, I’ve never seen him awake in the morning. I wonder how often he makes it to school on time.

“Jan!” Mom calls. “Nasnídat se!”

I can tell she’s getting impatient because she’s losing her English.

I go into the kitchen and seat myself at the table. Mom’s poured coffee for Dad and herself, tea for me. In addition to the meat and cheese, there’s butter, jam, honey, and rolls—my mom’s attempt at serving a traditional Czech breakfast even though none of the food’s homemade, and me and Dad are in our underwear.

We sip our coffee, our tea.

I start to butter a roll.

Dad clears his throat and asks, “So, where did you disappear to last night?”

The knife eludes my hand and ends up falling onto the floor with a loud clatter. “Last night?” I ask, leaning over to pick it up. I hope to God my parents didn’t catch me uploading to Theo’s place.

“We saw that you’d arranged the pillows under the blanket,” Mom says. “We figured you’d run away to a happier home.”

My dad chuckles, takes another sip of coffee.

I use the dropped knife as an excuse to go over to the sink. As I run it under the cold tap, I try to determine just how much my mom knows. She’s got a gruff way of putting things, and it’s sometimes hard to tell when she’s being serious and when she’s not. I thought I’d positioned my desk and dresser in such a way that it’s difficult to tell whether or not I’m sleeping in my bed, but apparently that isn’t the case. I might be busted. My parents might have seen me upload. Worse, they might have been poking around and found my cache of naked muscle babes. Oh, stupid, stupid Jan! I always assume they disregard me when we’re at home after school and work. They hole up in their room, I tuck myself into my corner, and we don’t speak to each other unless it’s to say “goodnight.” I always thought our respective worlds were separated by classic Czech formalities. Even when they pass by, to or from the kitchen, they never look in my direction. But that doesn’t mean they were never watching.

It’s a revelation.

It’s a nightmare.

I hate this apartment.

Back at the table, I try to sound amused as I ask, “Why would I run away?”

Mom looks at Dad, Dad looks back, and I can tell they had one of those discussions last night involving finances (or lack thereof), goals, timetables, and the like.

After a moment, Dad sighs, slips cheese, salami, and a dollop of honey between two slices of bread. He takes a hearty bite. “I promised you and your mom it would take six months to turn things around here in America. It’s been two years. I’ve moved us from a nice house in Brno to a decent apartment in San Angelico, to this cramped hotbox while I try my darnedest to make the business work. Now you’re a week at a new school, with new teachers to mind, new friends to make…” A bit of honey trickles down his wrist; he licks it up. “I thought you’d finally had enough and decided to strike out on your own.”

He’s joking. I know he is. And yet he’s testing me. That’s how he does it. “Your mom and I thought you ran away” means “Are you okay? Is everything fine?” He knows I’d never just up and leave like that, and it has nothing to do with my being only twelve.

“I stepped out for a while,” I say, hoping I won’t have to out and out lie. My parents brought me into this world. They’ve always treated me right. I respect them greatly—but it would be asinine to tell them with a straight face that I’ve been uploading and downloading from the Internet. They’d think I was making it up as a cover for something else. Drugs or alcohol. A promiscuous relationship with a girl, maybe.

There’s a tense silence in the air. This could turn out to be One of Those Mornings.

But it doesn’t.

Dad starts chewing again—as if the passage of time is directly related to the pre-digestion of his food. “Sounds like the boy merely has a healthy affinity for fresh air.” He winks at me when Mom isn’t looking.

Mom smiles, though not as easily convinced as Dad. “You didn’t hitchhike back home?”

Stupid question. I force a laugh. “How would I do that?”

“Maybe one of those large foam hands,” Dad offers. “You know, the ones you see at the ball games. You could stand on the runway and flag the planes down.”

Mom slaps him on the shoulder. “Don’t tell him how!”

Promiňte, promiňte!

I watch my parents play-fight, Dad dodging as Mom pinches his cheek, and I realize I’m off the hook.

I can breathe again.

Breakfast winds down. After a while, Mom leaves to get ready for work while Dad and I finish stuffing our groggy faces. Afterward, we put the leftovers away, set the dishes in the washer. Then we tag-team the bathroom.

I’m quiet during the car ride to Boca Linda High. Ernie often says I’m too much like Theo in that respect, but he’s only partly right. Theo’s shy as a wallflower; I’m just…homesick, thinking of Brno most of the time, remembering this little pub Dad used to take me to after work. They let me taste beer there. I never got drunk or anything, but it felt good to be included with the men. Here in America there are so many rules. I know hindsight is clouding my judgment, but it feels like all you can do here is go to school, then straight home, wait for your parents to get off work, go to bed, then wake up the next day to do it all again. At least, here in San Angelico. It’s so…big. There are people everywhere, but none of them have any time for you.

My parents are quiet, too. I know what they’re thinking. They want this to work, but as time passes it seems less and less likely that’ll happen. Still, this morning could have been such a homesick one. Dad turned it around. I owe him.

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jesse

Book designer and formatter based in southern California. Supreme overlord of the SuperMegaNet pseudoverse.