Not Your Mother’s Pancake Recipe
I was never clean enough: I peeled garlic into my palms instead of over the cutting board, I spilled
drops of cream sauce and grains of rice on the table runners, I sent flurries of parmesan into the air
whenever I wielded the microplane. In the kitchen, he would pin my hips to the edge of the counter,
and he would murmur into the arch of my neck that it was obvious I didn’t cook a lot. In his bed,
broad fingertips would slide past eyelash lace, and he would tell me, voice soft with indulgence, that I
was just a dumb, inexperienced kid. Messy, messy baby
He insisted on feeding me, perhaps because it did make less mess. I licked garlic aioli off of his index
finger, tongued brownie batter off of a silicon spatula, took tiny bites of coconut ice cream from his
spoon. I said over and over that I didn’t want to eat breakfast, but each morning he kept putting plates
down in front of me, slices of quiche and nests of hash browns and twice-toasted bagels topped with
slices of melted cheese. A glass of water and a multivitamin. A steaming mug of chamomile tea. It was
nice to be cared for, I thought.
Once, he asked what I wanted. I just shook my head, mute with indecision. We played a little game of
twenty questions: savory or sweet? I thought about chocolate chips and strawberries and snowfalls of
powdered sugar, and I said sweet. He wrinkled his nose like I wouldn’t notice, but I knew that he liked
butter and salt, the lacy, cloud like white of an egg fried on high heat. But we were pretending that I
was in control. He said, pancakes or french toast? But he only had whole wheat bread in his freezer.
Brown butter and toasted oats or diner-style, old-fashioned? I wanted simple.
It was all my fault. I said that we should have included the berries he unearthed from the back of his
freezer, behind the nine dollar handle of vodka and the pile of breakfast burritos. Blackberries,
raspberries, and blueberries all melted into a uniform dark color. The pancake batter turned pale gray,
and it was all liquid, all wrong. We had no milk, only cream, and he had told me to look up a
conversion. When I said the fat content of whole milk was one tenth the fat content of heavy
whipping cream, he told me that I had to be wrong, that I should start over, look again. I mixed cream
with one part water and tried not to think about the ways in which I knew I was right.
In the end he washed the batter down the sink, an endless splashing of cold water, turning flour and
sugar and milk into water, and water, and water. I had to wash the bowl four times, because there was
no such thing as clean enough to blot out what he deemed failure. I would hang up the metal mixing
bowl on the drying rack, and three hours later he would take it down, point out the spots where water
had pooled and dried. That’s not clean, he would say. That needs to be washed again.
At the end of my nine-night stand, I stood at the threshold between his bedroom and the kitchen, and
my voice wavered as I said I wanted to go home. He snapped. He said I couldn’t leave him. He said that
he had taken care of me. He said ifI was sorry I wouldn’t go. I broke. I broke, but in all of the haze I
had remembered how it felt to be safe, and so I wanted to go home. I wanted. I wanted. I went.
When I was home, I curled up in the arms of my roommates and cried. And cried, and cried, and cried.
The next morning, I asked if they wanted to make pancakes with me for lunch. It surprised me how
comfortable it was, standing and laughing in the kitchen, a spatula in one hand and a smudge of
chocolate on my cheek. Then it hurt, like a glass of ice water slammed back on an empty stomach,
something foreign and frozen curling inside of my chest. How had I forgotten how it felt to belong?
I breathed in summer air and I remembered, in the warmth and light of my friends, that love can be
easy. Between my fourth and fifth ribs something melted, unspooled, unwound. Love can be so easy.
Love, even in the unrelenting mess.
Avery Nguyen writes from MIT, where they are a chemical engineering undergrad and moonlight alternately as a materials scientist, nuclear engineer, and words enthusiast. Their work can be found in Southchild Lit, indigo literary, and The Hearth Magazine. They tweet @systellura.