Noaks pecked at a pale plate of scrambled eggs. Marilyn sat opposite, her glasses perched at the end of her nose, buried in a newspaper. The bird in the corner squawked.
“Shut up, Poptart.” She didn’t look up.
“Poptart?” Noaks ventured. “Is that her name?”
“His. Yeah. And it’s a better name than “E.” She folded the newspaper and her hands. “That’s not the first time I’ve been called an eccentric, and it certainly won’t be the last.” She pointed with her head at the Tribune on the table.
“You know I meant that in the best possible way.”
“Course you did, Chip.”
“Was the old block a writer too? You can’t convince me a writing style like that is all nurture and no nature.” Her body language indicated that the matter was obviously settled in her mind.
“No, actually. Neither my mother or father were writers.
The bird, Poptart, gave off a surprisingly un-parrotish tri-tone, and Marilyn tipped her face forward to dislodge the spectacles from her nose without unfolding her hands. “Storytellers always have stories,” she said. “And I happen to have all morning.”
“I still haven’t heard yours,” he replied.
Noaks glared. He liked this woman.
She sat, blinking at him, wrinkled lips pursed in expectation as he scanned her cluttered apartment for a metaphor.
“My life is like these scrambled eggs.”
“You’re not so dramatic in your writing, you know.”
He loudly cleared his throat.
“My own story really isn’t very interesting,” he continued. “It looks pale and bland on the outside, but the emotional scramblings and frying pans I’ve suffered through have made me—well—’tastier’ that I look. Where did you learn to cook, by the way? This really is a great breakfast.”
“Ah. Right.” He shot her a sideward glance that gave him nothing more. “So I was born in ’88, the elder of two boys. Mom was a republican. Dad was a democrat. Good people, but they obviously didn’t get counseling before they married—or they ignored it—I don’t know. They somehow thought that two ideologies could exist under the same roof without bumping into each other. They were wrong, of course, and it eventually drove them apart when I was six. Tragic, really. It’s what cracked me and sent me spilling into a mixing bowl of introspections and thoughts and feelings that no person of six should have to go through. And it’s normal in this day and age for kids to go through all the cracking and whisking and frying that comes with divorce. It kills me. So I turned to writing, scratching out histrionic haikus at seven, short stories at eight, novels at nine, lyrical sonnets at ten, and epics by eleven. I wrote for myself only, keeping most of it—in typical cliché fashion—in a shoebox under my bed. I guess my parents were, and are to some extent, still friends, but bouncing between houses wreaks havoc on the young psyche, you know? The experience can either burn you permanently or make you into something. For me, it made me sensitive to what makes people tick. I learned to read people and benefit from it. My scrambled eggs were seasoned well, as it were.”
Marilyn broke in. “Sensitive? That’s not the first word I’d use to describe you.”
Noaks nodded, perhaps conceding the point, or perhaps thinking on it. Marilyn couldn’t tell. He resumed his story. “My younger brother took it all far harder than I did. He’s in the military now. That semblance of structure is probably good for him in the long run.”
“I majored in journalism. Mastered it for another two years at U of C. Got a nice job at the Tribune. Writing for a living. It’s not all bad.”
“Still sore at your parents?” She asked.
“No, not really. I am what I am because of what they did.”
“Are you though?”
“Why wouldn’t I be who I am because of them?”
“They’re just the tools; the spatula, the whisk, the frying pan, the fire. They didn’t make you into who you are.”
“Who did, then? Myself?”
“Don’t be stupid, Noaks. The egg can’t make itself into a breakfast.”
“Fine. Then it’s a bad analogy.”
“Oh I don’t think so. There’s always a cook.”
“You’re playing games. What are you driving at?”
“Isn’t that the question of the century,” she mused.
Noaks sat back in his wobbly chair and looked at the city’s silhouette through the old woman’s thin, floral-patterned curtains. “Got any answers?”
She chuckled and shook her head. “Not just yet.”