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Night Thoughts

John Reibetanz
From:   Near Relations, McClelland and Stewart, 2005.

Sometimes when essays I've been grading all day wake me in the middle of the night,
and their lines of brassy split infinitives and thumping sentence fragments parade
around the same small track like a high-school marching band whose morning practices
make the whole neighbourhood thoroughly sick of Christmas by late October,
I think with envy of my father-in-law who, untenured and unprivileged,
rose early every weekday to do all the cooking for the little lunchroom he ran.

I envy his mornings spent among the surenesses of milk, butter, flour,
his never having to tell the bread to be more specific or the tea more clear,
his providing certain nourishment for those he served, and being able to watch
as they took it all in and made it part of themselves, licking every last crumb
of wisdom from his forks. Most of all I envy one particular winter night
when he looked at the clock and mistook 12:20 for 4:00, his usual wake-up hour.

Flipping off the alarm so it wouldn't wake his wife, he rose, washed, dressed,
and walked through dark, deserted streets to the restaurant's kitchen door,
where he struck a match, as usual, to guide the key into the lock. Stepping inside,
under fluorescent dawn he started his day — hands rolling, shaping, setting pies to bake,
then the stew's bladework assembled for the daily special, then pots of coffee —
wordlessly conducting in the lunchroom air his silent symphony of aromas.

When he was just beginning to wonder why daybreak was so long in coming,
Constable Reilly, also in wonderment, used his passkey to come in at the front door.
Their misapprehensions soon cleared up, the two of them sat and ate slices from the sun
of a lemon pie, and toasted its early rising with fresh coffee. That's what I envy, when my
night kitchen serves up only those bowls of dense comma splice noodled with dangling
participles, those plates of rancid cliché that not even a hungry policeman would go for.

John Reibetanz's works copyright © to the author.

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