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July 4, 2013
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Sunday Pancakes

“I recently saw an old friend,” my mother told me on the other end of the line. “We used to see her at church every Sunday with her husband. He died of cancer a few years back.”
“Yeah,” I responded. “Sure. How was she?”
I nodded, searching my memory for a face or a name. We hung up the phone a few minutes later, and I set to remembering this woman, this old friend, someone with whom I had been familiar.

It was a Sunday morning in April when I was nine years old. I got up early to read on the front porch while fresh rain grazed the new green leaves the giant maple tree, huddled safely in my raincoat-and-cloak cave. One of the raincoats was my own, to keep me warm against the cold chill, and the other was my mother’s big red one, to keep me safe in the wilderness of my imagination. Underneath the coats was my white witch’s cloak, sewn for me by my grandmother for Halloween and containing far more magic than she wcould know. Anything unmagical can begin to take on magic properties if not only for the love put into the weaving, but for being around other magics, like word magic and weather magic, both of which I was a proud possessor. This was probably the fifth time I’d read the old library book in my small hands, detailing the life of a young fire-haired girl who wanted to be a knight. I would read a page and then close my eyes to listen to the raindrops and smell the earth and the paper and think about me battling centaurs and bullies with just my mind-weapon. I felt small and like I was part of the earth, my thirst for the eternal quenched by the permanent words on the page, the perpetual water of the sky, and my inner cadence.
A whiff of cooking pancakes drew me out of my reverie and into the house. In recent times, I prefer the blueberry variation, but plain pancakes, when I was nine years young, were the Sunday tradition. We’d each of us take five cakes and individually butter them with I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter then stack them as neatly as we could manage. After waiting for daddy to finish my sister’s pancakes, I’d give him mine to slice neatly. When I do it now, I stab them any old way, and you can see the prongs in each slice, but he did it so it looked as though there had been no fork involved, and each piece would be the same, perfect size. When we got them back, we’d put a thick layer of Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup over the pancakes and let the syrup drip all over the sides of the cap, and then we’d pound the powdered sugar out of the container until you could barely breathe and it looked as though a thick layer of snow had fallen. In my opinion, more sugar is always better, and it will always be that way.
At ten o’clock we all piled into the car to drive to St. Frances Xavier College Church, or at least that’s what we always planned on doing. We tended to end up getting out of the house much later than planned, driving too fast to make up for it, and still missing the first five minutes of Mass. I enjoyed the first part of the service, but as the priest gave his homily, my mind wandered and I imagined that the plastic speakers under the pews were passageways to the world inside the walls of the church. Children lived up in the alcoves and in the pillars. The spaces behind the curtains on the roof and the sides of the church were where they watched us as we prayed. Often, I slipped out of my natural form and cracked open the speakers to escape into the secret passageways inside of the walls. I could spend the whole hour having adventures in there, hatching plans with my fellow rebels and never listening to a word that the priest said. I almost didn’t hate the fact that my parents wouldn’t let me read a book in church, as long as it meant I could live in my imagination.
And then someone patted my shoulder and we all stood up and sang as the doors burst open to let the sun shine in as the priests walked down the middle aisle and Mass was ended with grand applause.
Perhaps, this day in mid-April, a man and a woman came to us with big smiles and commented on how my sister and I had grown, shaking my parents’ hands with great vigor. They talked about scholarly matters that were certainly my business. My sister ran around the aisles and tried to engage me in five-year-old conversation while I surreptitiously eavesdropped on their adult conversations, as I was often prone to do.
“Yes, the department chair…”
“The Dean was…”
“…at that meeting.”
“… In my opinion we…”
Though I had very little understanding of the context, their words fueled my curiosity. I analysed the couple before me, sure that my father would help me in my evaluation of them at a later time. He may have had a salt-and-pepper beard and thin eyebrows and a large nose. Her hair could have been brown, with silver strands here and there and her eyes a rich, deep grey. I probably thought they seemed nice and happy and probably didn’t that he looked ill.
“Well, I’ll see you guys later. We’re running late,” he said and shook my father’s hand and then my mother’s. They faded into the light outside of the church.
We went to the big pool of holy water. I dunked my hand in it and made the sign of the cross, letting the water leak across my face. The fact that I didn’t wipe it off my face like my sister meant that I was as resilient and well-mannered as the lady knight from my book. Outside, my sister and I ran ahead so that we could pretend to be statues and our parents would walk by us like they didn’t notice.. I fit in particularly well as the girl on the back of a boy’s bike. We froze until they finally came back for us and belted us into the back seats of the car, just like every Sunday.

I can hear the soft splash of rain on the concrete of the parking lot, a sound only faintly reminiscent of April showers on large maple trees. I can still smell the pancakes and I can still feel the life inside the church walls, but the old couple has faded into the stuff of dreams, far back in the tomes of my memory, somehow less real than the lady-knights of fantasy.

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Teenwriter1322 said...
Jul. 8, 2013 at 9:00 am
Very well-written and imaginative. The emotion that you have created in your story is amazing! Keep up the good work.
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