Stirring : A Literary Collection

Alexander C. Danner


To Joel, the dry scraping of a knife across a piece of burnt toast was a good sound. Certainly, it implied that the toast itself had been overcooked, and may not even be edible, but it also implied the beginning of Sunday Breakfastóthe meal of leisure and decadence that he worked toward all week long. His wife, Emily, was just beginning to scrape the darker side of her own piece of toast. She paused just long enough to reach out and move the small vase of daisies that partially obscured their view of each other. They both smiled when their eyes met, then continued preparing their plates with the first round of the morningís hot food.

However, once their plates were full, they sat quietly, staring alternately at their plates and each other. Since neither of them particularly liked to eat in silence, and since they were both aware of how easy silences become after years of familiarity, they had established a rule: The Sunday Breakfast couldnít begin until an engaging topic of conversation had been proposed and accepted. The conversation didnít necessarily have to remain on that same topic all through the meal, of course. But there had to be a starting point.

"Iím thinking of having an affair," said Emily.

According to the rules of The Sunday Breakfast, there were two ways to signal the acceptance of a topic of conversation. The first, and more common, was to offer an immediate response that clearly perpetuated the chosen topic. The second was to simply begin eating. This slowed the conversation, but indicated that a response was forthcoming, but only after a few moments of thought to compose an intelligent and appropriate reply. Silently, Joel picked up a sausage and bit into it, taking the time to savor the meaty juices. With the topic thereby accepted, Emily took her first bite of pancakes. She chewed slowly, watching Joel while she waited for his response.

"With whom?" Joel asked, after he had swallowed the last bite of his sausage.

"I donít have anyone in particular in mind. Heís just sort of hypothetical. I donít think I even know anyone right now that Iíd be interested in sleeping with." She gave Joel a nervous smile. "Other than you, dear," she added quickly.

"Oh. Well, thatís fine then."

"Itís fine?"

"Could you pass me the syrup?"

She just looked at him a moment, then picked up the maple syrup and handed it across the table to him. He poured it over his pancakes, which already dripped butter, and began eating. Still staring at Joel, Emily just sat, holding her fork, but ignoring the plate in front of her.

"Youíre not eating," Joel said, after he had finished two of his pancakes.

She said nothing, but put her fork down and got up. She took a saucer from the dish cabinet and placed in on the counter. She cracked and beat an egg, then poured it into the frying pan, which was still hot from making the pancakes. Once the scrambled egg was fully cooked, she scraped it onto the saucer. Finally, she took a bottle of ketchup from the refrigerator and poured a ring of ketchup all around the edge of the plate, surrounding the steaming egg. She brought the saucer back to the table and cleared enough space so that he could put it down directly in the center. Then she sat down without looking at Joel. She picked up a piece of dry toast, and silently nibbled on one corner.

Even though the egg and ketchup werenít touching each other, the combined odors of the two made Joel faintly nauseous. Emily knew that the odors would have that effect on him, of course, and Joel knew that, in fact, they had the same effect on Emily.

"Youíre upset," he said.


"Whatís wrong?"

"I just told you that Iím going to cheat on you, and you donít even care."

"But youíre not really going to have an affair." Trying to ignore the stench of eggs and ketchup, he picked up his slice of toast and took a bite. The first bite settled his nausea a bit, so he continued eating the slice.

"I just told you that I am."

"You are what?"

"Going to have an affair."

Joel shrugged. "You told me that your Ďloverí is a hypothetical. Thereís nothing wrong with that. I create hypothetical lovers all the time. I assumed you did too."

He finished chewing the last bite of toast and washed it down with some coffee.

"Youíre talking about masturbation," said Emily.

"Well, fantasy at the very least. And whatever that might naturally lead to."

Joel moved on to his omelet. The flavors of the onions, peppers, and cheese seemed to blend together perfectly as he chewed.

"This omelet is wonderful," he said.

Emily shrugged, but said nothing.

"Even better than usual. Thereís something different."

"Itís just an omelet."

"No, Iím certain thereís something different in here."

"I found an extra-sharp cheddar last time I went shopping," she said. "I thought you might like it."

"Yes, very much."

"Thereís a specialty shop for just cheeses over in Islip. Maybe for next Sunday we should go pick a few things out."

"That would be perfect," said Joel. "Just perfect."

He gave Emily an appreciative smile as he ate another bite of the omelet.

"When I said that my lover was hypothetical, I didnít mean that I was just planning to make him up."

"You know what would be really good in an omelet like this? Pepperjack. Definitely pepperjack."

"Iím serious Joel. Iím going to have an affair."

Joel rolled his eyes.

"Look," he said. "If thereís no one that youíre interested in sleeping with, then how do you intend to have an affair?"

"Iím sure I could find someone suitable if I put my mind to it."

"So youíre actually planning to go out of your way to find a lover? Thereís no one who actually has your interest, but youíre planning to go ahead and have an affair anyway."


"I think I see what youíre telling me."

"Iím telling you that Iím going to have an affair!"

"No, I mean what youíre really trying to tell me." He paused to swallow a few more bites of pancakes before continuing. "If there were a particular person in whom you were interested, then your thoughts of infidelity could be attributed to a powerful attractionóan outside influence. While that would be troubling with regard to the state of our marriage, it would not be a direct reflection on me personally. But in your case, youíre planning this hypothetical lover purely for the purpose of supplementing our existing sex life. So, what youíre trying to tell me is that you feel we donít make love frequently enough."

"No, thatís not it at all!"

"You donít think we should be making love more often?"


"Youíre satisfied with our sex life?"

"Our sex life is fine."

"Well, then if it has nothing to do with our existing sex life, but you still feel the need to turn this hypothetical lover into a real lover, than the problem is obvious."

"Never mind. Itís not important."

"Itís your fantasy life thatís failing to satisfy you. Itís not me that youíre looking to supplementóitís your own imagination. Youíre unable to satisfy yourself through your own fantasies, so youíre looking to supplement them with something more adequate."

"Then why wouldnít I just sleep with you?"

"EmilyóIím your husband. I canít be your fantasy lover anymore. Thereís too much familiarity."

"Oh. Of course you canít. Thatís absolutely right."

"Yes, of course."

"In fact, this is all nothing at all." Emily stood up again, and went to the counter. She opened up a package of crumpets, and dropped them into the toaster.

"You arenít really thinking of having an affair at all, are you?"

"Of course Iím not. I wouldnít. Letís just forget it. Iíll just make some crumpets, and we can forget it."

"You know, I think I understand this perfectly now. You were never really thinking of having an affairóyou just wanted me to believe in your lover, because if I believe in your lover, that would make him more real for you."

"Yes, yes, thatís exactly right. Would you like some crumpets?"

"Yes, crumpets would be very good."

"Good. And Iíll put some honey on them."

"That would be just perfect."

The crumpets popped from the toaster, golden brown and steaming. Emily took them out and put them on a plate. She turned over the honey jar, drizzling honey across both of them.

"You just tell me when theyíre sweet enough," she said.

"Not too much. I like them just a little sweet."

"I wonít put too much. I wonít put too much at all."

"There, thatís plenty," he said, when both crumpets had a light coating of honey. "Thatís perfect."

"No, not yet," she said softly. "Theyíre not sweet enough yet." She kept pouring the honey, covering them up.

"No, thatís enough. Itís too much. Emily, thatís too much."

"No, theyíre not sweet enough yet. Not yet." The honey began to run over the edge of the dish, onto the counter.

"Emily, please stop. Youíre ruining them. Theyíre ruined. I canít eat those."

"Just a little more, dear." The honey began dripping onto the floor.

"Just a little sweeter," she said softly.

Date of Birth: 1/23/76
Location: Selden, New York
Publications: Disquieting Muses, Dust On Our Palms, Lynx Eye
Awards: Nominated for a Pushcart Prize
Other: Poetry Editor for the literary magazine, Shades of December

Stirring : A Literary Collection

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