The Moments Before We Woke
Nonfiction by Rachel Brandt
This morning I woke to a bedspread sun-stripped though the bars of your finch’s cage. He jumped from perch to perch, seed poised between two sharp halves of beak. I was sure the Earth had tilted on its axis as I slept and it was still night. The house was too quiet. There were no chairs scuffing across the linoleum, no humming. No Good Morning America static from the counter top television.
As I crept by your door, carefully, afraid to step too heavily and disrupt the world’s unfamiliar gravity, I saw you there, sleeping still. Soft snores blowing across your pillow and a milky grey cat twisted at your hip, her eyes mirrors reflecting my unease.
So I made the coffee. I scrambled eggs with half and half from the fridge, fried bacon on the griddle until it was crisp and unwavering, hoping the smell of food and drink would stir you and put things back rightly. I waited to put the bread in the toaster until I heard a groan from the bowed floorboard outside your bedroom.
You leaned into the door frame at the cusp of the kitchen looking at me like I was standing somewhere I didn’t belong. I’d never cooked you breakfast before, never woken before you any of the days I’ve woken in your home. You took the mug I was holding out to you to fill with the coffee I had made, adding ample spoonfuls of sugar from the dish.
There was a shift, but it was silent. It did not mobilize the violence I had expected. The worn oak table did not slide and slam into an adjacent wall, the china did not spill from its cabinet in the living room. Outside, the bird bath sat without a ripple. Inside, we sat and ate. You asked me for jelly and more coffee in your cup. I didn’t know what to do other than pass the salt when you gestured to the shaker. You were close enough to study each line on your cheeks and across your brow. How different from the photos of you and Papa on the mantle in my dining room. How old and beautiful, especially with your face not yet painted on and the silver hair I won’t be lucky enough to inherit hanging in front of blue eyes.
You left me in the kitchen, with my thoughts and a sink of dirty dishes. I ignored the dishwasher and let them soak as I listened to the pipes stutter water down to the basement shower. I washed and dried and put away, waiting for the sound of your ascent.
When you emerged your hair had been brushed with a hundred strokes. Your lips were pink, three silver hoops in each ear, and a sweater draped on your frame. Spry and younger than you had been half an hour ago, but now I know you sleep with two pillows, covers up around your shoulders. “My girl, my girl,” you whispered, pulling me close, even though I am taller than you now, your chin just barely reaching my collarbone, even though my hands were still wet from the dishwater, “I am happy you are here”. I could tell you knew that I knew. And after all this time, we know each other more than we did in the moments before we woke.
© Rachel Brandt
[This piece was selected by Frances Gapper. Read Rachel’s interview]
Rachel Brandt is a writer and photographer living in San Diego with her two kids, two dogs, and one husband. When she’s not writing or hiding behind her camera you’ll catch her stress baking, binge watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or planning her next trip abroad. Find her work on her website.