“Henry J, get down here and eat your breakfast. The bus is going to be here any minute.”
“Well, hurry up, already. I’ve called you now three times. I made oatmeal, your favorite.”
“Is that the burning smell?”
“There’s no burning smell down here. You can’t burn oatmeal.”
“Yes, you can.”
“You hurry up and get down here.”
I stood straight from my leaning posture against the bannister of the stairs. For some reason I thought my voice would carry better if my head was projected into the stairwell, itself. I turned back to the kitchen.
Maybe you can burn oatmeal. It does smell different. How did you do it?
Looking into the pan on the stove, I noticed the water was gone. I grabbed the pan, promptly burnt my hand, swore (just once) and got a towel. I moved the pan to safer surroundings, stopped only long enough to shovel a couple of spoonfuls into Henry J’s bowl. I was careful not to scrape the bottom of the pan; some of the oatmeal was already stuck.
I stuck my head back into the stairwell.
“Henry J, what the devil is keeping you? Hey, this is a first day back to school for me too, you know. Your breakfast is getting cold.”
I turned back to the counter determined to wash the pan before I left for work. I noticed her hot glove sitting there. I slipped it onto my hand; it wouldn’t clear my knuckles.
Why don’t I remember how small your hands were? They always fit so perfectly into mine. Look at this, my bear paws won’t even come close to fitting into your kitchen mitt.
I turned when I heard Henry J drop his back pack onto the floor and climb into his chair. I canted my head to watch him as he used a spoon to play with his breakfast.
“Come on, guy, eat up. It’s your favorite.”
“No, it’s not.”
“I thought it was.”
“It was when mom used to make it.”
I sighed and forced my throat to relax.
“Hey champ, mom’s not here. I’m doing the best I can. What’s the deal? Why is this no longer your favorite?”
“Mom put nutmeg and cinimmum in it.”
“Do you mean cinnamon?”
I turned back to the cabinets and after looking in several, found the spice rack.
Why didn’t I know where any of this stuff was?
I turned back to Henry J, who had not eaten a bite and was hovering over his bowl with his chin on his hands, elbows on the table.
“How much did she put in?”
I flipped open the lids of the little metal boxes.
Who was it that decided seven-thirty in the morning was too early to start drinking? I’d like a word with the person.
“Henry J, a little help here. I wasn’t in the kitchen when your mom fixed your cereal. I could use some help. How much did she shake in there?”
“She didn’t shake it in there. She put in the pan when she was cooking it.”
I had hoped to send him back to school after his mother’s passing with his little nine year old tummy full of his favorite. I’m defeated by a tin of nutmeg.
“I wish mom was here.”
I looked at him as his big blue eyes pleaded with me to fix this.
Oh, son, this isn’t a “broken toy” kind of thing.
I reached across the breakfast counter and tossed his light brown hair, his mother’s hair, “I know, son, I wish she was too. She’s not and it’s up to you and me. We got to work together. Come on, even if it’s not your favorite, you need to eat some of this stuff so you will last until lunch.”
He nodded and after a few sprinkles of sugar, made the best of a bad bowl of oatmeal.
As he ate, I put his lunch box in his back pack and placed it on the counter. I inspected my son to make sure he was ready to leave the house.
“Henry J, do you see that white stuff out there, covering the lawn?”
He nodded, “snow” around a mouthful of cereal.
I joined him in nodding, “That’s right and with the fresh covering of snow that fell last night, do you think you are properly dressed to leave the house?”
“It’s not my fault.”
“Really? Mind if I ask whose fault it is?”
“It’s the elf.”
He said it as if I should accept it.
“Henry J, are you telling me an elf took your shoe and so you plan to only wear one shoe to school today? In the snow?”
“He didn’t take it, it’s in my closet, he just lives in it.”
I’m an investment advisor, by trade, and I take pride in my ability to keep calm during economic and financial turmoil or crisis. Having said that, I acknowledge my nine year old son was getting the better of me.
“March your butt upstairs and get your shoe.”
“He’ll be mad.”
The boy shrugged, lowered his head and followed his directions. He returned a few minutes later, just in time to put on his coat and grab his back pack. We took a second to hug each other and he headed for the door. He opened it and then turned back to warn me.
“I wouldn’t want to be you today. He’s really mad and he said he’d get ya.”
I smiled, so confident, in an adult sort of way, “I’ll handle it. I’ll be careful.”
Henry J shrugged, turned and ran for the bus that was coming to a stop in front of our house. I watched him until he climbed aboard the bus. I smiled because at the distance I was, my son was little more than a backpack with legs and arms. I had about an hour before I too needed to be on my way; time to read the paper and enjoy a cup of coffee.
I reached for the paper and above the fold, the headline caught my eye. With a glance, I located my cup, my favorite cup, and reached for it as I refocused on the paper. I heard the cup crash to the floor.
I stepped around the counter and my cup, my favorite cup, my “World’s Greatest Dad” cup, given to me from Henry J, was in hundreds of pieces on the floor. Surrounding the broken body was the puddle of coffee it bled when it shattered.
I remembered my son’s parting words and quietly acknowledged, “I wouldn’t want to be me today, either.”
In 2014, an estimated 232,670 American women were diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Another 62,570 were diagnosed with the non-invasive type. That’s 295,240 families that will start their journeys through Hell. According to those expectations, 40,000 of those women, 40,000 of those families, the journeys will end like Henry and Henry J’s.
A kitchen that was once full of love, laughter and life is now devoid of those things and even the spices are a struggle to find. It is no secret each of my books donate a portion of their price to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. I think it’s time to change the statistics.
Thirty percent of all cancers in women are breast cancers.
Breast cancers are the second most common cancer, following only after skin.
This just shouldn’t be.
“The Elf in the Shoe” is an idea given to me by my cousin Elizabeth (Beth). I invite anyone who sees this on my blog, on Twitter, or comes across it on Facebook to write a chapter and send it to me. Just a couple of rules:
The elf is a boy and he is never seen. No descriptions of him. You are free to use any point of view you would like. I do reserve the latitude to edit your submission for language and other such stuff.