“Breakfast” by Sean Boyd
Frank was seated at the table when Dorothy brought his coffee. Theirs was a well-worn groove after all the years that had passed. First coffee, then two eggs over-easy with whole wheat toast and french fries, followed by Frank heading off for another day in the grind. They had settled into this routine, which could best be described as familiar, while living their own, separate lives. The one they shared was not the relationship either one spent the day thinking about; it was just a fact of life, like the sun rising. Every work day he sat at that same table and she brought him breakfast.
It was a spring day and all the world was buzzing with the fever of the season. Through the window Frank watched the children playing outside, disinterested, but vaguely curious as to why they weren’t on their way to school. Was there some holiday he wasn’t aware of? Surely the kid’s lives were as regimented as his own. They should be somewhere. He thought back to his youth. His thoughts of carefree days, great adventures hiding around every corner, and the feeling of excitement that came with each morning filled him with nostalgia. Was life really better then? He wondered. He had been anxious as a boy. He was anxious as a man. Maybe it hadn’t been any better than his life now. Perhaps it was a longing for the familiar that made him joyfully reminisce. Where had his spontaneity gone? Life had become so predictable that surely even Dorothy knew what his next move would be.
Dorothy watched Frank’s face and felt she could read his mind. She tried to brighten his day, but was that really part of her job? She had her own concerns. Her job, her friends, and her life demanded all the attention she had to offer. Once big dreams had filled her head, but now she felt bogged down in mediocrity. She still had a positive outlook on life, though she was conscious of how many years had slipped by. The children playing outside reminded her of the dreams she dragged around with her in case a day might come when they could be polished off and given flight. Her years at university had opened up so many worlds that never materialized. She owned up to her choices, yet knew things could have been different. Without thinking she got up and refilled Frank’s cup.
Realizing that he had hardly looked up, Frank thought of how robustly he had once shown his appreciation. Not just of her, but for all the subtle gifts he received from those around him. Now it seemed he was always heavily burdened by concerns he didn’t really care about. Sure his job was important to him, and it brought some satisfaction, but it took too much of his energy. What little energy he had left was consumed by the possessions that his job allowed him to acquire. The house always needed painting, the car needed to go to the garage, the refrigerator or TV or washer was broken, or the lawn needed mowing or the snow shoveling. Just to make a mental list of all his obligations exhausted him. Maybe he needed a break. He watched Dorothy walk to the kitchen and wondered when she had lost that lightness of step he had noticed when he had first seen her. How had he not noticed it missing before? Did she need a break too?
Dorothy came from the kitchen with Frank’s breakfast. As she set it down before him, he looked up from the morning paper and gave her a smile. She could tell it was forced, but she appreciated it all the same. She knew smiles were expensive. Cashing in a smile of her own she wondered when that most natural of expressions had become rare in her life. She had always been the girl with the ready smile. Where had it been hiding all these years? When had she become so disheartened? Surely she had suffered disappointments, but it was the same world out there, why had a smile become such an uncommon event? She had all she needed to be happy. Her life was in well-ordered; she managed her finances well, and even had money for extravagances. She realized she hadn’t moved from the table when Frank looked up at her and gave her another smile—much improved from the rehearsal.
As Dorothy walked away, Frank knew she had thoughts similar to his own. Did everyone feel like this at some point in life? Where does this feeling come from? Surely he had a good life, everything would seem okay to someone who looked in. Was okay enough? What was life supposed to offer? He had survived the overwhelming curiosity of youth and the awkwardness of his teenage years. His family was grown and he had achieved success in his career. How is it that life seemed out of control now? The normal routine had become oppressive. He wondered what dreams Dorothy still had.
So this is it she thought, the long ride out. This sameness would rule her days. Inside she felt a tremor of the energy that had once made her spontaneous. It wasn’t her age that held her back. Had she given up? Could she rekindle that spirit, the spark of hope that builds into dreams? Without his knowing she watched Frank eat his breakfast. She knew it was the same for him. But what could she do?
When she brought the check for his breakfast, Frank realized he was late for work.