When Graham reached Peggy Lee’s door, he heard voices inside. She was talking with Ian. He could not make out what they saying, but it sounded serious. He knocked and the door immediately flew open. There was Peggy Lee standing in the doorway, looking radiant in jeans and a white polo shirt. Graham's stomach dropped. Adrenaline, pure and powerful, surged through his veins.
“There you are,” Peggy Lee said.
“I promised to be here at seven. I’m sorry if I am a few minutes late.”
“Late? Not at all, Graham, not at all,” Peggy Lee replied. She was definitely a morning person, Graham thought. Her eyes positively glowed – despite the institutional lighting. “Shall we bring our stuff now or will we have a chance to come back to our rooms?”
“If your bags are ready, leave them by the door.”
“Ah Graham, if it’s all the same to you,” Ian said, “I’ll keep the holographic equipment by my side. I’m sure your boys are careful and all, but I have some very expensive lenses in here and it’s my ass if I return them broken or damaged.”
“Fine by me,” Graham said.
As they approached the mess hall, Graham smelled bacon and pancakes – Wednesday morning’s usual fare. The bacon was soy, but smelled and tasted real enough. The aroma of syrup and salty grease always comforted him.
Yet this morning, he felt something else. He wondered what it would be like to eat something other than pancakes on a Wednesday morning. What would it be like to walk through a buffet line at an outdoor café, to pick up a slice of melon, a bowl of real strawberries, and a bagel with lox and cream cheese? Many people still enjoyed such delicacies in parts of the world. What would it be like to linger over a gently rustling newspaper while sipping coffee? He imagined green, canvas umbrellas overhead and brightly colored, triangular flags fluttering in a light, warm breeze. He thought of pinwheels and the smell of baking bread.
His mind wandered to childhood breakfasts at the farmhouse. His father had been a firm believer in big breakfasts, which usually included bacon, eggs, toast, and grapefruit sprinkled with hot sauce. Pancakes were reserved for the weekends. At the head of the breakfast table, his father pored over the newspaper. “Corn futures are down again today,” he would remark. “Damn government’s threatening to raise our taxes. We’ll be eating Chinese bacon before too long.” Then he would peek over the paper and wink at Graham, a secret message just for him. Don’t worry. We’ll be okay.
Graham remembered one particular April morning when he was eleven years old. He came down to the kitchen early and hugged his mother, who was busy at the stove. The morning promised a hot, glorious day. The crabapple trees and lilacs had bloomed nearly a month prior. All along the Missouri River, all of the snow drifts – even the stubborn ones hidden in the shade of the river’s steepest banks – had long since disappeared. Summer was coming and that meant long hours of fishing, homemade plum pies, and afternoons spent helping his father around the farm. Graham set the kitchen table for breakfast and threw open the nearby window.
During breakfast, Graham noticed a rooster’s head bopping up and down just above the windowsill. The rooster had hopped onto an old barrel under the window and was attentively observing breakfast. Graham’s parents did not notice. When his mother got up to get more coffee, the rooster jumped up onto the sill. It stood resolutely as it surveyed the kitchen table.
Graham got up and threw out his arms to scare the rooster back outside. The rooster, however, fluttered into the room instead, coming to rest on the back of his mother’s empty chair. Graham’s father calmly put the paper down. Then, like lightning, he stood and took a quick swipe at the rooster’s legs. The rooster jumped just in time and landed in the middle of the table. Graham reached for him, knocking the milk jug off of the table, but again the rooster was too fast.
Graham’s mother grabbed a broom, backed into the corner by the stove, and held it defensively in front of her. “Get that damn thing out of my house,” she yelled.
Graham’s father laughed. “You’re a silly old hen, my dear, but I love you anyway.”
As the rooster proceeded toward the living room, Graham and his father closed in. “One, two, three,” Graham’s father whispered, and then they pounced. Graham could smell his father’s deodorant as they kneeled next to each other, holding the warm bird against the floorboards.
They got the rooster back outside and closed the window. Then they tried to convince Graham’s mother to let them clean up the mess, but she had none of it. So they grabbed their plates and sat down on the front porch steps. Three goats looked up and then went back to chomping on the long grass next to their pen.
Graham’s father put his arm around Graham’s shoulders. “It’s a good thing the Queen of England ain’t coming for breakfast ‘til next week, right son?”
“Yeah, dad. Good thing.”
The early morning sun glistened off of three metal silos in the distance, and for a moment the farm was completely silent.
Graham opened the door to the mess hall for his guests and found himself, quite by surprise, acutely missing his father and the life they had once shared on the farm.