From the very first timeI never forgot the instructions:
gently crack open the egg
with the back of a spoon, then
as evenly as possible
– "nice and regular", he said –
cut the (stupidly named) round
of toast, or bread (that Daddy
always jokes that he
'puts on the table'
even though we can all see
that Mummy does),
"like soldiers in formation",
which you then
– (after saying Grace, the boring wait
while Mummy thanks
neither herself nor Daddy
"for what we are about to receive") –
dunk into the egg, making sure not to spill
the sticky goo
on the tablecloth.
At the same time the next week
(and the one after that,
and the one after that),
we marched into the kitchen,
at six on the dot,
took turns to kiss Daddy,
sat down in the proper places,
then quietly ate, just us,
waiting for Daddy's usual questions,
all of us happy,
doing something familiar,
where you know where you are...
And look! we're all here:
Daddy, Mummy, Matthew, me and Paul,
around the table,
quietly dipping our soldiers,
taking care not to spill our crumbs
on the tablecloth.
Ar first I didn't really like eggs much
but they said I had to finish them
and they were good for me
(like cough medicine)
and that if I ate them up
I'd grow up big and strong,
who sometimes eats six or seven.
But even though it was good for me
to eat stuff that I didn't like,
I used to have secret wishes
(that I didn't even tell Paul),
wondering what it would be like
to have pizza one week for tea,
just for a change –
but that would probably ruin everything.
Things just wouldn't be the same...
...like when the toast gets burnt,
or when Mummy doesn't slice the bread right,
or when "these are fucking Paki eggs",
or when everything starts too late
(she must know by now that he's got to be
in the King's Head
or when a stranger drops in
just as we're ready to eat
and sits in MY seat,
gabbling on and on and on and
not finishing everything on her plate and
spilling crumbs everywhere;
but worst of all,
nobody remembers to ask us
whether we got gold stars
or just silver
for our homework,
or how football went,
which meant that none of us
got extra pocket money,
which meant that Paul
(who doesn't like football
but got full marks in the spelling test)
wouldn't be getting extra pocket money
for the fourth week running,
because Daddy doesn't have much money
which means that instead of being happy
when we get him up on Sundays
to tell him about school and things
he says "well done"
but in a cracked voice that wants us
not to tell him about school and things,
a different voice
when we're having our eggs
So as she garbles on and on
I ask if I can leave the table
and go and watch TV
or play army with Paul,
but they say it's rude
to talk with your mouth full
so I chew and chew and say
"Can I leave now?"
"Not until you've finished".
"But I'm not hungry..."
"Well, I haven't finished yet
and nor has our guest. It's rude
to leave before everyone's finished".
And he slapped down his hand
as heavy as a Bible falling from the sky,
which made some of his tea
splash on to the tablecloth,
which was all OK because finally
Gabbler stopped talking
and then got up from MY seat
(before Daddy had finished his eggs!
Before she had finished her eggs)
and said "look at the time"
and that she had to be going somewhere
and then left in a bit of a hurry.
It all went quiet again.
I moved back to my seat and
carried on eating
the rest of my eggs
waiting for Daddy to say something,
but he just got up from the table
(without finishing his last two eggs)
then grabbed his coat
and left the house
in a bit of a hurry
before I could chew my soldier
and tell him...
...well, it didn't matter any more.