Breakfast Noir


He made eggs the way he made love, she realized: overheated, with an unnecessary amount of cackle and spatter, and a definite preference for the sunny-side up.

She was just glad that after today he’d never again go back for seconds.

“AC man comes at nine. I want the kitchen clean before then. That doesn’t seem a huge favor considering all I’ve had to do to tickle your jollies.”

“‘Had to,’ huh?” He smirked, winked. He liked his eggs peppered while they fried, but he couldn’t just sprinkle the skillet. He riddled it. Like he was Machine Gun Kelly or somebody. “Serve yourself. But what do I care whether the AC man thinks we’re tidy? Clean kitchen, dirty kitchen—either way, guy gets paid. You’re home at five; kitchen’ll be done by five. When before then the doing gets done is my business.”

Beside the skillet a stick of butter turned to mush. Green onions chopped as fine as microchips lay scattered on a cutting board alongside sweaty bacon and flaking toast. That was just his food. He liked to start the day with a Bloody Mary, too. Scratch that—a drink was the second thing that got his mornings going. The first just dried of its own accord, unlike the vodka, tomato juice, and Worcestershire dribbled across the countertop.

Like clockwork this slop, she thought. Predictable as the calendar.

The only good thing was that a man of habit wasn’t hard to surprise.

“When the AC man shows up,” she taunted him, “be safe and ask for ID. I’ve read stories. Folks’ll open their doors for anybody in blue coveralls. False sense of security. Next thing these folks know they’re on the floor with a claw hammer in their head. Ask for ID, hear? Because I’d hate to come home to your bashed-in brains.”

He scraped the onions over the eggs, but thanks to the stove fan most fluttered everywhere but. “Yeah, you’d hate that. You’d hate it so much you’d stand over me bitching about the eyesore I left you to clean.”

Looking outside, she spotted an idea of order and in it, freedom. The sord of mallards that dived the basin behind her house had returned after a dry winter. Some splashed dunking while bathing while others sliced incisions across the surface just by gliding. Two fat, wobbly ones whipped ripples to froth beating their wings airborne. Whatever the commotion, the lake absorbed the disturbance and lapped itself smooth.

She liked that.

She respected any mess that could straighten itself without leaving a trace.

“Y’better get to work,” he said through a mouthful. “Make us some money.”

She took another peek at the unruffled water and then frowned at his last meal on her way out. She knew come nine o’clock her counters would still be filthy.

Well, what did she care whether the AC man thought her untidy?

Clean kitchen, dirty kitchen—either way, the guy was getting paid.

~ fin ~

Kirk Curnutt is the author of two novels, Breathing Out the Ghost and Dixie Noir, as well as a book of short stories, Baby, Let's Make a Baby, and several nonfiction works on F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Gertrude Stein. His most recent book is Brian Wilson, about the Beach Boys' resident genius, not the baseball player. By day he wages a hopeless battle at Troy University in Montgomery, Alabama to save the apostrophe from extinction.