Sofrito | Fred Arroyo
Sleeping In | Micah Bateman
On The Road Again | Tyson Blanquart
Kohlrabi | Rebecca Bodicky
Chili-Mac | Michael Castro
Breakfast with the New Madrid | Ian Dorward
Delicious | Hilary Hitchcock
Transmigrated Duck Heart | Thom Fletcher
Improvising | John Garcia
Lines in the Van, Lines in the Sand | Chris King
Hermetic Rice | K. Curtis Lyle
Don't Forget About Your Veggies | s.c. truckey
Mastication | Brett Underwood
Tables | Justin Visnesky
Breakfast with the New Madrid | by Ian Dorward
My hypnopompic dreams, in their ideal state, involve the enacting of horrific violence upon my alarm clock. I engage it in a death clutch, squeezing and grunting until the red LED screen shimmers and squiggles and finally bursts; I launch it off my balcony and laugh as it impacts into a thousand black plastic pieces on the pavement below; I stomp it again and again until all that’s left is a pile of shards coated by the bloody pulp of what used to be my heel.
Today these images wash over me and recede as they always do, and as always the most I can muster in my bleary state is an exaggeratedly rueful press of the snooze button. But I rise: 4:10 a.m.
I shower in the fluorescent monochrome of my bathroom. The water that seeps into my mouth tastes battery acid-like. I think about the drizzle of acid rain and all the little newts and frogs whose species verge on extinction. How I envy them, the last survivors of a lame-duck breed. Think of the passion of their mating! Every thrust a revolt against inevitability, every cloacal expulsion a shove against the last domino of history in its final stage of tipping. We search our whole lives for that kind of romance.
When I step out of the shower, I hear the alarm clock come to life again in the other room — beep, beep, beep like a dump truck about to back over me. Condensation fogs the bathroom mirror, and I start to brush. Those could be anyone’s teeth, and that mouth could have been anywhere. I scrub until my fluoride-raked nerve endings sear.
Someone, it seems, has booby-trapped my bedroom, planting socks here, books there, a backpack over there, all coalescing into a banal minefield for me to stub my toes. I tread carefully to the closet and pull out my clothes.
I descend the stairs in darkness, feeling my way with cotton-cloaked toes. When I reach the bottom, I begin to hear birds chirping. They know! They love breakfast too! I begin to smile with them, to mimic the upward curve of their beaks, and I try to whistle the same tune. My kitchen looks tidy and clean — had I cleaned it?—as I walk towards the pantry.
I slide open the doors like a magician completing his
act. Voila! I stare at three long rows of cereal. My
fingers do the deliberating, tapping on the cardboard
boxes, palpating labels, fingering images of flaky wheat
and crisped corn bathed in impossibly white milk. But
there could be no question as to the choice, really—I
had known it all along, from the first devitalized beep
of my alarm this morning. This will have to be a Life
Cereal™ morning, if I am to salvage any semblance of a
good day from this wreckage.
The key to eating Life Cereal™ is to create optimal conditions of sogginess. It doesn’t do at all simply to pour milk over it and begin eating—no, a certain period of dairy-deluged incubation is essential. To that end, I find my largest bowl, fill it to the rim with those tasty little whole-grain oat biscuits, and then drown the whole thing in milk. A certain measure of surface tension is a requisite, as the proper pour does, in fact, bring the level of milk higher than the actual rim of the bowl. This technique ensures proper inundation of the Life™.
Having completed my cereal preparations, I check my clock. Perfect timing — 4:20am. I have just enough time to carry — ever so gingerly — my cereal to the Metrolink stop, and then enjoy my perfectly soggified breakfast in the calm of morning as I await the 4:48am train.
I cannot understate the care with which I carry my cereal under these circumstances. There is no margin of error when the milk threatens at every bump and twist to breach the rim and spill all over ground and shoe, marring what could otherwise be a perfect start to the day. So by marshaling every neuron in my cerebellum, I begin transporting my cereal out the front door of my home and down the street to the Metro stop.
The key is fluidity. One must hold the bowl in such a way that the inevitable shocks cannot spread to its contents, but rather become absorbed on the way there by the looseness of joints, the delicacy of posture, the tenderness of fingertips. Walking and carrying the cereal this way requires a practiced and artful care, a calm and devoted touch.
As I near the MetroLink station — just 50, 60 more steps and I’m there! — I hear danger approach from behind. A semi-truck rumbles up, the cacophony of its diesel engine and the rattling contents of its cab enough to upturn completely a cereal bowl held by less skillful hands. I freeze, staring at the bowl, freeing my elbows and my wrists to capture and nullify any tremors the truck might transmit. The rumble grows, and my concentration peaks; I imagine every wavelet of energy moving up my body and being met by an equal and opposite contraction of my muscles, canceling the threat with perfect destructive interference.
Soon, the spasms of the ground recede. As the truck passes by I allow myself to exhale, to release the vigilance that had clutched every nerve and synapse. I continue walking: up to the MetroLink entrance, down (carefully!) the stairs, and then to the nearest bench to enjoy my breakfast as I await my train. Before I wield my spoon and begin to dine, I glance up at a nearby clock — 4:37am — and grin freely in anticipation of a breakfast engendered with as much effort and skill as anything a gourmet chef could create.
I scoop my first spoonful with a surgeon’s touch, careful not to disturb what I had so carefully wrought. My mouth has begun to salivate. As I bring the exquisitely soggy oat squares to my mouth, I close my eyes and prepare to savor the perfect bowl of cereal…
And then the earth shakes. I feel it in my feet first, as though a wanton god had grabbed the ground beneath me and tried to wrench it out from under my soles. The bench follows next, bobbling beneath my bottom like a cheap amusement park ride. It catches me, of course, totally off guard, and the agony of what follows can only be assuaged by the knowledge that there was nobody else around at the early hour to witness it. My spoonful of Life™ plants itself roughly one-third between my mouth and my earlobe, hinges against my cheek, and frees itself entirely from my grip. My left hand, reacting to this clumsiness and finding itself, for the moment, completely oblivious to the bowl it has been holding, begins to assist my right hand in capturing the wayward spoon in mid-fall. Meanwhile, the bowl of cereal — my perfection, my Life™! — catapults squarely into my chest, unleashing a white arc of lightly-sweetened milk into the morning air.
The earthquake subsides after roughly five seconds. I slouch on the bench, my chest caked from nipple to nipple in supersaturated oat squares. It’s all I can do to sigh—a ponderous, heavy-hearted sigh—as my bowl rolls away from me down the MetroLink platform, coming finally to a stop against (you guessed it) a little billboard advertising Life Cereal™.
Ian Dorward has been a St. Louis resident since starting med school seven years ago and works at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Some of his writing appears or will appear in Bellevue Literary Review, Ars Medica, a special fiction edition of The Lancet, and a few other places. Most of his other writing languishes on his hard drive, and the recent earthquake was the most action it's seen in months.