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Peace-and-quiet Pancake

I settle Dad into one of the few chairs with armrests and ask if he’d like me to fetch him a magazine.  He shakes his head almost before I’ve finished speaking.  It’s his standard response these days: if in doubt, say no.

The street door opens and a couple come in with a little girl.  They’ve not yet sat down when the buzzer goes and the screen flashes above the reception desk: Mrs Tracey Palmer to Dr Aziz Room 5.  The woman hitches her bag up her shoulder and sidles out.  The little girl scurries across to the huddle of toys in the corner and the man flops onto a seat nearby.

He’s wearing a red football top with a name on the back and the figure 8.  I could pretend I think he’s the real Steven Gerrard and ask him for his autograph, but all I’ve got to write on is Dad’s repeat prescription form.  I could ask Dad about Liverpool’s prospects this season, but he’s turned off his hearing aid against the jangling Muzak, and me.

The little girl shuffles pans on the hob of a red plastic cooker.  She has a shock of curly hair that’s almost too big for her, like Crystal Tipps from long-ago children’s TV.  She turns to her dad, a wide grin revealing the gap in her front teeth.  “What do you want?”

Beside me, my dad’s breath rattles in his chest.  Steven Gerrard says nothing.

“Do you want tea?”

“No.”

“Coffee?”

“No.”

“Pancakes?”

“No.”

No warmth, no manners, but no anger or irritation either.  His gaze fixed on an empty space midway between the reception and his daughter, so secure in his refusal he needn’t even feign absorption in his phone or the small ads in the local rag.

“What do you want, then?”

What, indeed?  I steal a glance at Dad.  I’m relieved, in a way, that his eyes are closed.  It would be embarrassing to witness this together, take me back to being a teenager squirming between her parents at a sex scene on TV.

“Peace and quiet,” says Steven Gerrard.

In one smooth movement, Crystal Tipps returns to her pots and pans.  Her smile doesn’t waver, like a prima ballerina programmed not to notice the pain in her toes.

She stirs the air in a yellow frying pan with a wooden spoon.  I could tell her I’d love a pancake, and tea, and coffee too, but it’s her dad she wants to feed, not me.  He sits, immobile, betraying no interest in his child.  His mind, perhaps, on bigger problems: his wife’s diagnosis; the bills that can’t be paid.  Concerns we couldn’t dream of, his little girl and me.

Dad makes a noise that’s half cough and half burp.  His wrists are stick thin in his frayed shirt cuffs and there’s a cluster of bristles under his chin where his razor didn’t reach.  People will judge me for it, but I can’t help him if he won’t let me.

Crystal Tipps holds out a blue plastic plate towards her dad.  My stomach clenches.

“What’s this?”

“Peace-and-quiet pancake.”

Who could resist such ingenuity?  Who could resist that smile?

Staring into space, Steven Gerrard keeps his hands by his side, as if his daughter doesn’t register at all.  Whatever his worries, surely he could find room for an imaginary pancake.  Surely yes would be less trouble than no.

Crystal Tipps returns the plastic plate to the toy-box.  She packs away the wooden spoon and the pans.  Spirits away her feelings with the toys.

How many real pancakes will she have to rustle up before she makes sense of this moment?  How many squirts of lemon juice, how many spoons of sprinkled sugar before she’s assured it’s not her fault?  It could take until she’s middle-aged and watching another little girl fail to charm her father, for her to truly understand.

By then, it will be too late to make him eat her peace-and-quiet pancake.  Too late to tower over him, forcing him to swallow every chill rubbery bite.  Her father will be too old and fragile, his hands too unsteady to hold the plate, his gums too delicate to chew.

Dad’s head jerks forward as the buzzer summons him from his doze.  The screen reads: Mr Herbert Grayson to Dr O’Callaghan Room 4.

“Mustn’t keep the doctor waiting,” says Dad.

Fixing my smile, I rise from my seat.  I offer Dad my arm, but he shakes his head, pushes against the armrests and, little by little, shuffles to his feet.


Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin writes fiction, short and long, from flash to novels, and a blog that hovers somewhat closer to reality. Her first short story was published in 2007 and she now has thirty-five short fiction publications. Recent credits include Amarillo Bay, Short-Story Me, Metazen, Pygmy Giant and Foliate Oak. She loves fiction for the freedom to contradict herself and is scared of bios for fear of getting it wrong. The portal to her writing world is through her website http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/ or sneak a snapshot at http://en.gravatar.com/annecdotist.

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15 comments
Rebeka E Bujnowska
Rebeka E Bujnowska

This is so beautiful! I read the whole thing out loud, slowly, under my breath. And there were moments which truly took my breath away.

Jackie
Jackie

This is wonderful! I'm teary-eyed knowing that I have a 5 year old as well. Just beautiful!

NorahColvin
NorahColvin

Anne, Thank you for sending me to this story. it is beautiful. I agonize for and with the little girl and the woman whose pain, though separate, intertwine. I couldn't make it to the end without crying it moved me so much; the connection was real. It makes me want to cry out  "Take notice! She needs your love!" How hard is it to give a smile or a kind word, to accept a gift  that is more than just a pretend pancake. It is a gift of love. 

Every rejection shuts down a little more inside, but the need still remains, and like the woman, we may continue all our lives striving for that recognition, only to be passed over once again for someone else more important or valued; no time for communication with the dutiful daughter, but eager to jump for the doctor.

Just recently I watched helplessly while a young mother responded in such a way to her toddler who was harnessed beside her. Every few moments he would crawl across the coffee table (which was at a perfect height for this) and she would angrily and repeatedly respond, "Get off the table!" Once when she pulled him off onto the seat beside her, she harshly said, "Stay!" as if talking to a dog. There was nothing else to entertain a toddler, nothing else for her to do. I wanted to tell her to just play with her child, tell stories and sing songs, to just have fun with her child. But it is not appropriate for an old busy body to interfere. I felt sorry for her. She was probably spoken to in that way as she grew up, and is probably still surrounded by people who treat each other similarly. And now her young son is learning the same dysfunctional behaviour. My heart goes out to them and those around them. How can we break this cycle? Governments are pouring money into top-down education. Don't they realise they need to start with parenting education. Parenting is a privilege, not a right, and should be fun for both parent and child. 

i apologize for the lengthy response. This is one of my hobby horses!

AnnMarie
AnnMarie

I LOVED this story and especially the subtle way that the narrator brings her thought back to her own relationship with her ailing dad.

Inspired by this story, I thought long and hard about how I treat my own toddler. I wrote a story about what if the parent could have an experience of realizing their error... I have an excerpt on my blog at http://52storiesin52weeks.tumblr.com/little-monsters. But it's not as masterful as this one!

HewankuSukatanamanPeduli
HewankuSukatanamanPeduli

I am trying to figure out what is behind the scene, as though something is as meaningful as my experience in my lovely home

IdaSmith
IdaSmith

Anne, Thank you for this beautiful story. I like the implied correlation between the narrator and her father and the little girl and her father. Without delving into the narrator's past we knew there were similar experiences that stewed under the surface as our own experiences do in our own minds.

Leximize
Leximize

Knowing the title, one had to wonder, how was the author going to work that into the story? You did it, and well. A wonderful stop-and-smell-the-roses type tale. Thanks.

Linda Rosen
Linda Rosen

You grabbed my heart with this story, Anne. I felt the narrator's angst wanting to tell the little girl she'd be glad to eat her pancake, and her inner turmoil in regards to her aging father. Beautiful, heartfelt piece.

Linda
Linda

Simply and beautifully written. One of those stories that will stay with me for a long time.

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  1. […] the hub of British psychoanalysis. In my neck of the woods, as reflected in my flash fiction piece, Peace-and-Quiet Pancake, I’m more concerned about a shortage of praise and encouragement than an […]

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