An eggshell floats counterclockwise in a bowl of cake batter. Maribel hasn’t noticed.
She’s staring intently at the radio — quite a large radio, yellowed-white plastic casing, from BJ’s — with her eyes screw-focused. A sketch just ended. A song is about to play. She wants to commit the title to memory.
Maribel feels ill-made for the times. She can’t check her email/between writing in Word/between games of Snood/while waiting for dinner to finish. She can’t even drive with the radio on! She can’t focus on the words, or she drifts offroad. Or overstirs.
Maribel went through school in a dread-flash, stumbled into a 1st grade classroom, and now she’s in a kitchen committing to memory a song title that, after this longwinded introduction from the band and show host, will come. Oh, but what about the cake?
A wooden spoon’s set next to the bowl, batter sluicing through the tile gutters in the countertop. The batter is lumpy.
The eggshell floats. Counterclockwise.
She can’t help but think of her life like that. Can’t untangle her memories into little chunks. It’s all a solid block of time, hard to distinguish one college day from another, one halfhearted party from another, one class from another class. Can’t remember her kids’ names by next fall.
She’s even regained her old title: “Space Cadet Noddam.”
They’re in 5th now, right? 6th? Two former students outed her after she mixed up Judy Blume and Junie B. Jones during a shared Library. Now when she asks the boys to open a window or shift stations, they reply, “Roger, Space Cadet Noddam!”
They don’t know what the older kids meant by it. She hopes. It’s not even catchy.
Was it 5th graders? When she tries to remember little Susan vomiting into the frog tank or what’s-his-name straddling the windowsill, she hears herself say, stop that, and the children radioing in, Roger, Space Cadet Noddam!
But Susan and what’s-his-name were in her class for 9/11. They’d be 8th grade, maybe high school now. I’m either mad or senile. She thinks this jocularly; her memory’s been this way since she can remember.
One big, colored block. Teaching: orange block. School: blue block. Job hunting? Mystery. High school? A sliver, yearbook-width. Middle school, black. Everything before then? A swirl.
That’s when she hears applause preceding a woodwind whistle of a man’s voice. Drat, drat, drat. Even in her head, she uses 1st grade-appropriate language. Missed it. But there’ll be another. I’ll — the cake!
A quiet drawl and the woodwind whistle of a man’s voice call and respond, out of focus. She has a fisheye lens on the cake. She tries not to think about all the bacteria gathering in the tile gutters. Why do they make these l — cake. Cake. Cakecakecake. She’s stirring the cake.
And all she can see is the batter. Every glassy thud sounded by the wooden spoon ringing the bowl like a firecracker. I can’t focus like this. Every clang is a slo-mo recording of a Notre Dame bell for eight hundred seventy million o’clock. Every spoken word from the radio, every clap and chuckle from the audience, a decay. For an inevitable, metered pang, bing, zunk.
Pang-aaang. Bing-iiing. Zunk-uuunk.
She tries to keep her mind off. But there isn’t much to focus on while staring at the bowl. She tries.
But the eggshell. Floating counterclockwise.
She was stirring left-handed. Clockwise. Sometime after the first three dozen hours of 870 o’clock in Notre Dame were sounded, they stopped. And Maribel stirred, purposefully, slowly, so that the spoon drew a dragging sound from the bowl. Clockwise.
The eggshell moved counterclockwise.
She stirred counterclockwise.
Counterclockwise. Not at the same speed. Slower. Floating.
Before a beat of utter silence, she puts the bowl down. Anywhere between 37 and 870 o’clock in Notre Dame, now, by the sound of it. She leans her face in close — strands of hair before her ear trail the sweet oil-batter. Her narrowed eyes thin further. Her nose threatens to plunge in like a mosquito mouth. Her hand drew into the bowl and
That was then. Now, she’s calm, smiling. Leaning on one leg, chest stuck forward, examining the eggshell.
Just an eggshell. I’m still on orange. A peel of applause from the audience agreed.
She let the moment hang with the eggshell in her hand, expression still-content.
When a sound like a sword drawn from a sandpaper sheath roars from the eggshell, turning her head into a wickerwork ball with a dull, white motion. Near-instant.
As she falls forward, the integrity wavers before limply, unevenly collapsing against the bowl. It weakly drags the bowl to the countertop’s edge before snapping an uneven half off the rest.
The snap obscures the one-word song title. Something beginning with an R.
The smooth batter faintly fractals red and yellow where the hearty bands of crushed bone, brain, fat, and skin lay. Scattered braids of hair carry beads of it. The body starts to arc, front-first. Maribel’s head now lays partly on her upper back like a fishing net.
A lap steel bends its pitch from the radio.
Then percussion, guitar. And a drawl.