She awoke to the sound of rain; it was steady, like a gentle heartbeat pattering on the windowpane. June had the tendency to be gloomy in western Michigan, with the air changing into its oppressive summer humidity. Elise lay under a faded floral patterned sheet, already damp with perspiration—it was going to be a hot day. She turned onto her side to see the rain storm decorating her small cottage window, long lines creeping down the glass in fluid gravity-led motion. Even the rain seemed to be dreading today. Somewhere faintly down the hall Elise heard her mother rattling various items in the kitchen. No doubt she was in another one of her “creative” moods. Elise sighed a deep sigh, her twelve year old body already weary, and made her way to the bathroom.
Roberta was clamoring away, looking for something with an intense vigor, deep within the cabinets of their small kitchen. Known to her friends as Bertie, Elise’s mother was all chaos and passion, with a tempestuous soul and a knack for making people feel small. She was immensely talented, intensely beautiful, and irrevocably adrift in life. She had decided to keep her baby, at age twenty-nine, because she thought she needed “taming.” She had never truly known who Elise’s father was, and frankly did not see fatherhood as an important fixture in the young child’s life. After all, what had she learned from her own father? Bertie burned through men faster than she sold her controversial art.
Elise was dressed and her hair was combed by the time Bertie had found the object she was searching for. Elise walked slowly into the kitchen and went to pour herself some milk and cereal, when her mother objected.
“No Lise, I’m making you breakfast today. Look, I found the waffle maker!” Elise hated it when her mother called her “Lise.”
“That’s okay Mom, you don’t have to. I’m fine with this—”
“Sweetie, I insist. How often do I cook for you?” Never. Elise sat down at the table and watched her mother butcher what had once been her favorite breakfast. The “Belgian Waffler” machine that Bertie owned was at least two decades old, with vintage brown and yellow print across the top. It was a circular shape, different than the typical square-style waffle makers available on the market from this century. Elise began to roll her eyes in teenage fashion when Bertie cranked the radio on to listen her favorite Sunday morning news broadcast. Everything about this day was horrid already, and Elise had not even asked her mother the one question she had been dreading for most of her short life.
Bertie managed to make three waffles that were not burned out of the batch, and presented one to Elise with a candid smile of accomplishment.
“Ta da!” Bertie exclaimed in triumph. “See, I can cook.” Elise smiled and sprinkled some powdered sugar over the top of her buttery waffle.
“Thanks Mom.” Elise replied, quietly. She took a bite and let the subtle crunch give in to the liquid sugar forming in her mouth. She really did love waffles. Elise glanced out the window once more, noticing that the rain persisted. “Mom, can we go to the movies today?”
“Lise, you know that Sundays are an important gallery day for me. I can’t afford to miss the summer tourists while they are here. Maybe another day this week.” Elise hated that her mom was an artist, hated that she was stuck in this tiny town, on a tiny lake, in a tiny cottage. Suddenly everything felt small. Elise took another bite and decided to ask the question she knew she was not supposed to ask.
“Do you know where my dad is?” Bertie had almost choked on her waffle as she sputtered.
“I told you not to ask me until you were older.” Bertie interrupted, indignantly.
“But I am older. I’m almost twelve.” Bertie regarded her daughter with absolute contempt at this moment. She should have told her that he died when she was younger so that this conversation never need happen. Wanting the conversation to be over quickly, Bertie replied in a brusk manner, not entirely suitable for a twelve year old to hear,
“Your father and I were not involved for long. I honestly have no idea where he is.”
“What’s his name?” Elise asked innocently.
“Enough! I’ve had enough of this talk. Eat your waffle. And make sure to wash up, I need to get ready to open the gallery.” Elise shed a tear at being so quickly dismissed by her mother. She tried to take another bite of waffle, but the tears kept streaming down her cheeks uncontrollably. At the sight of those tears, Bertie felt a pang of shame at having addressed her daughter so. She went back to the table and wiped Elise’s face with a napkin.
“Lise, listen. I’m sorry I snapped at you. I cannot be one hundred percent sure of who your father is, and it always makes me uncomfortable when you ask. Can we just forget about it? You know I love you, right?” Elise nodded. “Then there is no need for you to ask about a father that you will never have. Trust me, I had a father and he was no good to me. We have each other. That is more love than most people get in this life.” Elise blew her nose on the crumpled napkin and whimpered a bit, trying to breath.
“I’m sorry Mom. I won’t ask again.”
“Thank you.” Bertie smiled down at her daughter. “Why don’t you come into the studio with me today? I like it when you help me organize.” Elise nodded and stood up to go do the dishes. “Leave it. We can do them later.” Bertie said.
Elise went to the bathroom to brush her teeth and caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. Her face was blotchy and her eyes were still brimming with tears. Just once, she thought, just once would she have liked to spend a day with her father on Father’s Day. They could have gone to the beach, or watched a game, or eaten waffles together. Just once would she have liked to hear his voice, to see his face. She knew that her mother was not capable of loving a man for any particular amount of time and she grieved it. Even at the budding age of twelve, Elise knew that the way in which her mother loved men was not the right way. Somewhere in that deep gazing into the mirror, into herself, Elise made a pact that she would never give any of herself to a man the way her mother had. She turned out the bathroom light and put away that part of her heart forever.