Reflections of a Waffle-Maker
Cause or Effect?
Why are there regular criss-cross lines inside my head? Little square compartments which control the way I think. I’m afraid to close my eyes in case I see them. But even if my eyes are open I know this pattern is still there knitting me together; keeping me apart. There’s no escape.
And another question usually follows suit. Was there something in me that turned me into a waffle-maker, or is it the other way around and I am what I am due to the job I do?
Then I get to thinking, maybe whatever came first doesn’t matter so much. I am this me somehow or another and I can’t remember if my mind was ever a plain blank sheet.
All through the morning I stir creamy batter into waffle pans. Each pan consists of a grid which makes the waffle possible – funny to think that without these gullies and ridges there would only be a pancake. At the end of the cooking process I rinse off the residues of the mixture, wash out my pans and line them up to dry for tomorrow. All is ready and I go out to sell the waffles. I walk up and down the pier, generally standing for a while at the head of a metal balustrade which sticks out over the sea.
The One-off Now
I’m in hospital with a broken foot. I fell off the balustrade and I’ve done that thing people talk about but which I never understood before. Gone to pieces. Now I see exactly what it means. I’ve been thinking about what I’d need to put myself together again and have finally come down in favour of a length of thread. The sort people sew with. So I have selected a strand of silk. There’s a lovely glossiness. Also it is blue. I run my fingers down the blue strand. In my imagination I mean. I’ve chosen blue because I want to picture the sky in summer. And I need to do that because it’s dark here so much of the time. The window is too high up to see out of. And today on top of that, it’s blurred with rain. I feel pity for anyone who is locked up, even for a minute. I think of this because the ward is how I imagine a prison cell would look. It’s dismal here and saying silk to myself gives me the shiny feeling which I crave. I picture myself balancing on a tightrope. (When it came down to it I could not even balance myself properly up on the balustrade – so I should know better!)
I’m sitting on my bed, and I am waiting for that special someone. He is late again. I’d rather be involved in action. I like jogging, and jumping, and cycling. I’m a sporty type you see. For a living I make and sell waffles, as I’ve said. The selling part involves walking up and down the promenade and also the length of the pier with my waffle tray most weathers. You could argue it’s not much of a career but I admire the perfect symmetry of the waffle and I feel a satisfaction in covering the metal ridges of each waffle pan with runny batter.
It is a summer job. There is no work in this place during the winter. In winter I sit at home in my flat quite a bit and study the patch of threadbare carpet by the balcony. I hope it will hold good and not become a hole.
Silky Is Not the Same as Shiny
Though the word silk tells you it is smooth and satiny this isn’t always the case. Silk sometimes has a rough texture to it. This, to me, is disappointing. It does not fulfil what was promised. That kind of rough texture would not help me hold myself together. It doesn’t do anything for me. The word has let me down, or the reality has let me down. The two don’t match and they bloody well ought to match.
If you take a bit of material between two fingers and you rub it and it is gritty and bitty that is horrible. When I say silk I’m visualising smooth and satiny. I need it to be this way so I can slip my fingers easily along the thread. And to be blue. As I’ve mentioned, now I’m in the hospital ward I’m focusing on blue. Blue for summer sky. Because I want all the thrills bound tight together beautifully, and the pains kept out.
But there’s another level of question. Do I really need to have silk after all, when I could just have waffles? I am reminded of the day when I expected silk but silk betrayed me. Because it was not smooth. The silk I touched was coarse and grainy and I had been led to believe it was always shimmery and shiny. Silk, all silk. Then there is the case of the carpet. The carpet had once been softly furry. Nothing animalish. Just nicely fine and even. I felt it under my feet; felt I had got somewhere in life to have such a texture underfoot, but it did not last and this was a tragedy. The soft was no more. What remained was a plasticky ribboned skeleton. This happened near the balcony door. Because of the rain that seeped through. Over time the pleasant surface had worn away which was a shame. I had to avoid walking on the plastic lines as after a while they might have worn away too. Leaving a hole. I had to keep to the carpety part of the carpet. I was shocked by the thought of how carpets could deteriorate and wither. This carpet as well as other carpets. There could be a hole. I did not want to fall into this hole and end up as nothing.
This is a word which I sometimes enjoy the look of, but not always, because of there being more than one meaning. I see myself standing half way up this metal staircase – which had firm strips too just like the carpet where the fluff had gone. Along this metal staircase there were even square-shaped gaps through which you could get a glimpse of the world below. I am embarrassed to say recently my face was covered in sores. The sight would have been enough to put me off if I’d been a potential waffle customer myself. Because when you ate the waffles you might catch a germ which had spread to them. Maybe the waffle-maker did not wash hands. Also when you chewed the waffle and tasted the moist sweetness you might think of jammy liquid; suppurating sores. As if this wasn’t bad enough, I had one bloodshot eye which stared out – across the metal balustrade; across the happy-go-lucky crowd below. The rough red scourge of life’s sweet dreams.
Now the spots have faded and my skin has returned to normal, I’m glad to say. It was only an allergy. But it has left me feeling ugly and tainted as though the spottiness were always visible. And this is another reason I am afraid to close my eyes. When my eyes are closed I can’t help seeing the worst of me. There I am, plagued by eczema, and holding a square brownish object up in front of my eyes.
‘It’s a waffle!’ I’d like as not be screaming – in case this hadn’t been generally understood.
The pier is as noisy as a marketplace, so I doubt if anybody would have heard me though. But whether they would or not, this is when all the bad thoughts crowd in on me. Like, I have been used too often. I am shabby. I am quite hard up. (It’s not so lucrative being a summer season waffle-seller.)
To speak metaphorically, the pancake mixture has all worn off. Instead of the honeycomb effect goldenly holding its own, there’s a taut grid of criss-cross lines. Have you seen a fitted carpet when the tufts have gone? No absolute holes, just this gnawed-looking grating.
Blood can appear that way. I had been standing on the metal balustrade with my waffles on a tray. I saw the beach below. On the beach was a woman who had cut one foot badly. I was above the pier; the beach ran right underneath the pier. Then I was on the sand. The blood on this woman’s foot was so shiny it was unbelievable. And yet it was so believable that I shrank and closed my eyes so that I wouldn’t have to keep on seeing it. I have to stop myself here because there is something funny going on: I distinctly remember I was all for shiny and that I saw it as an emanation of beauty. The only silk worth having. This shiny blood was connected to pain, to loss and despair. And death. The woman was wounded; would she die? She was lying on a stretcher and was being shuffled forward. Stretcher-bearers moved her inward from the sea-line. In towards the promenade. Help was available; she would not die. All would be well. I tied a strand of blue silk around the moment and moved on. I hoped for the best, or had feelings to that effect. I fell from the balustrade and this accident did something strange to my head. The woman with the cut foot may have been myself yet I saw her clearly as though she were somebody else. So I can’t be certain.
Waiting for someone can make you feel a little strange. You go through all kinds of stages without knowing if any is an accurate depiction. Panic, hate, love, despair, fury, indifference. Your thoughts are activated by the thought that the one you’re waiting for is not going to appear, and what could this mean? That they couldn’t care less? If so, why did they say they were coming to see you? I don’t know any more than I know if I myself was the woman on the stretcher on the beach. But one thing’s for sure: I’m chucking out the blue silk idea. It stinks. Wanting to be reminded of the sky. What kind of sentimental crap is that, when it comes right down to it? I don’t want to be beguiled. Head in the clouds, doesn’t know the fucking difference. Prey to all the putdowns that may be flying in my direction. I’m not having it. A waffle is nothing more than pancake batter poured onto a metal tray of a certain shape and I want to keep it that way. The waffle-seller understands all this perfectly in cases where the waffle-seller is also the waffle-maker.
This is the word that describes how I feel when I wait for him and he does not come. He’s over an hour late now. I’m being forced into the position of moaner, or the idiot position of one who puts on a bright-free smile when the man arrives. I don’t want my mental space to be dominated by this kind of shite, don’t want my good energy all sucked up. But I am mad. He is getting to me. I feel worse for wear, as though the untrammelled surface soft had been trashed, and for what? This hard and bony structure of unappealing lines. Feet have sunk into me. His feet. And not just his. Many feet have been doing their best to walk right over me to get to the balcony. Maybe to trivialise or demonise or to crush. Me-and-the-carpet. We have been described as a bit of fluff and as hard as bone in our time. And we’ve had feet doing their special effects on both of us on more than one occasion. Right now my own foot is aching badly. Am I destroyed? I wouldn’t be at all surprised.
saying that which doesn’t destroy me makes me stronger is a nice strut to lean against in contemplation. It feels more solid than a balustrade-or-a-balcony. But I can’t help wondering if that isn’t more material for the construction of yet another myth. Because sometimes, nowadays, I feel as though I were just crawling along helplessly, hardly knowing where I could be heading. And, actually, there isn’t a real rope present after all. It was all my invention, or somebody’s invention, which I bought into. The bitter reality is I am always falling and I’m powerless to stop this happening. Here and there I can be bold and sneering, true. But doesn’t this only indicate another kind of loss? A loss of love. I don’t think I’m so much more powerful in its absence. He’s so late again, and sometimes he doesn’t turn up at all.
Even if there is a thread that’s reliable it can still disappoint, or mess you up in a thousand unthought ways. Show me two threads and I’ll show you a tacky tangle. Could be I’m a lot better off on my own.
Evening falls, darkening the hospital ward, and I mentally wash out all my waffle pans with a dishcloth. I ask myself whether I am now stronger, weaker, or more or less the same as ever.
Jay Merill lives in London, UK, is Writer in Residence at Women in Publishing and has recently been published in The Bohemyth, The Honest Ulsterman and Trafika Europe. More work will be appearing shortly in Fictive Dream, Jellyfish Review, MIR Online and Unthology 10. Jay is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee and the winner of the Salt Short Story Prize. She is the author of two short story collections (both Salt): God of the Pigeons and Astral Bodies.
Image credit: cinefil_