By November I will have been living at the co-op for three months. This morning I entered the kitchen to find a bouquet of 21 yellow roses, the 21st in the center slightly above the other twenty, a paler canary yellow and slightly less robust. Twenty-one yellow roses for the twenty-first of October. And while the day was not terribly sunny, the Cambridge sky its usual dull gray, the kitchen table glowed with the yellow of the roses.
Back home the morning sun would fill the apartment with so much light that it often seemed like Sunday morning lasted forever. I would wake up and enter the Upstairs where bald men in big chairs discussed the world in half an hour on Public Television. The modern urban-chic light fixtures hung suspended from the ceiling in a trapeze. Like unsure tight-rope walkers they would wobble at different frequencies as the room rung with Sunday sounds. Screeching chairs and egg beaters. Dad practicing oboe in the next room over.
Sunday morning meant dessert for breakfast: The too-big-bowl filled first with egg whites, quickly became too small, barely able to house the growing blob of white fluff, snow-like stuff. Then: powdered sugar and vanilla flavor. Once in the skillet, the whites browned on the bottom while mom poured the separated yolk on top. I would watch the yolk sink deeper into the mixture and change color: from orange-yellow to yellow-orange. The table would be quickly set, des oeufs à la neige (snow eggs) imbibed. How wonderfully civilized it was to have memorized all the steps. To have gone through them so seamlessly as if dreaming, snug in sleep.
I read the card tucked into the bouquet: "Happy Birthday little bear, sending you hugs from Nebraska! Love, Auntie Helen and the bunch" I smiled and stashed the note into my jeans pocket. Then eyed the bulbous vase and lifted it carefully with two hands, my fingers wrapped around the smallest part, and headed for the stairs.
Cambridge is a crooked city. My first apartment had hallways that sloped unevenly with the pitch most steep at the baseboard. It had been said that since the fifth floor was added after the fact, the foundation was not sufficiently designed to support a whole extra floor and so with every year the building sank inch by inch getting that much closer to the Chinese restau- rant below. Here, the stairs are treacherous. Unevenly spaced and steep, their treads like wooden planks. I stepped from plank to plank, so slow and cautiously ran the lines in my head while I carefully carried the vase up the too-high steps.
The Stars About my Head I felt about my feet: (the floor). Last week while carrying groceries up to the House, I slipped and fell down the first set of steps. Down came too our week's worth of eggs. I decided after so many mornings of watching my mom whip up snow eggs, to make the best of it.
The resulting texture was not the white fluff that I was dreaming of while stirring/whipping/whisking. Was instead wet and heavy. I'm unsure if I whipped too much or too little. Unsure if I had mis-folded the vanilla mixture into the mass of whites. The Joy of Cooking warned against—several times—over-whipping. Constantly, it reiterated how the crests of foam should not be too stiff. Should not be able to keep their shape for too long and should instead dissolve back into the thickened whites, shortly after being lifted.
Having just been defeated by a dessert, I decided to retreat to my work. I withdrew down the street to the Reading Room where I dissolved back into a mass of students (one of many egg heads). While stuck in homework, I practiced my new culinary skills and slowly folded a packet of sugar into my yogurt carton. Realizing then that the joy of cooking was an art to be discovered, cracked egg by failed dessert, I wrote my first five-line poem.
Folding sugar into yogurt
is an art.
Layer by layer, making white mountain
peaks out of milk
cultures and vanilla flavor.
I knew Not But the Next, Would be My Final Inch.
At first, I had placed the roses on the windowsill. While crouched to feed my bird, I looked up at the yellow roses. I watched the light filter through the bouquet and then realized that the windowsill was tilted and was leaning slightly towards the floor. Had the roses been slowly descending, millimeter by millimeter, while I wasn't looking? How long would it take for them to near the edge, in days, in months, until they inched their final inch and crashed to the floor?
Although at first it seemed that it would take forever, I thought about how often I had been wrong. For in my two years here I had learned that there was too-little time and much too little sleep between having and not having one's own mind. Life had placed me in this strange city as I had placed the roses on the windowsill. And so I left them perched there precariously, as if acting on a dare.