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  • Two days before I was born, Bill turned 65. My memories of him are both vivid and dim at the same time. He passed away on my parents wedding anniversary 40 years ago, when I was 16. When I try to remember him this reel plays out, like a scratchy silent film, sepia and glitchy.

    He sits alone in a dark room; his cigarette smoke yellows the cloth venetian blinds. He is always sitting there like this when I arrive at his apartment every morning for breakfast. He moved to this small one room studio a few blocks from our house after his return from the South Pacific. He left us when I was five and returned when I was 10. I am greedy and longing for him and all the mornings we missed out on all those years.
    I knock quietly, I open the door and he looks at me from the sofa where he sits hunched over the coffee table, in the dark with the TV on, cigarette smoldering between his fingers, dressed in a perfectly laundered long sleeve white shirt and impeccably pressed brown pants. I can see the garters that hold up his socks, the v-neck undershirt is visible under his crisp clean shirt. I go to kiss him on the cheek, he smells of tobacco, burned butter and All Spice after-shave. I look around this room. There is a white vinyl sofa that he sits on, a Murphy bed in a closet against the wall, a dresser with a television on it, a mirror above it with photos of me and Kathleen, Yvonne his wife, his two sons from his first marriage, Lloyd and Jack, sisters, Nell, Margaret and Gladys, all tucked in around the frame. There are sterling silver candy dishes filled with coins and cuff links and war medals from WWI and II, a matching shaving brush and comb, silver trimmed and fine , refracting the light off the television bouncing back light to the mirror. Silver. A wallet. All these things in their right place. Everything, always in their right place.

    Smoke fills the air as I open the door and the sun invades the space with a violent intrusion of light. The drone of the freeway overhead growls morning traffic and startles Bill and the vapors so carefully construed. The light makes the smoke shimmer a strange yellow, as if a Djinn had entered the room. The black and white images flickering on the screen, there is static from the cars driving by, a bus drives under the overpass, the small studio rumbles.
    I sit beside him on the white vinyl couch, he puts his arm around me and gives me a squeeze “How is my pumpkin?” says he with his fine Welsh lilt.
    I look at him, the fine nose, combed back grey hair, the lines of life about his deep brown eyes, somewhere a twinkle, twinges of bitterness, ancient Celtic grieving, black horn rimmed glasses.
    I reach up and tenderly touch his double chin. “ All the Hughes ‘ have this but I don’t think you will, you favor your mother’s kind, those damn camel jockeys !”.
    Bill is getting older. He looks like he could be my grandfather, but he is not.

    He offers me breakfast and we go to his small kitchenette that for me, now having adjusted to the darkness is too bright with the overhead light on.
    I sit at the table and he opens the fridge and pulls out an already poured glass of Knudsen’s Extra Rich Milk. Pops open a can of V8 Juice and pulls out another glass out of the fridge, perfectly chilled and pours the juice into it for me. He walks over to the stove and in a prepared pan whisks up the batter and begins to make my breakfast. The first splash of batter hitting the pan, a shot of steam rises, the hiss of batter to butter, the scents of vanilla and sugar. Flip goes the first crepe, ten more to follow, each one brushed with clarified sweet butter. Bill says, “ always clarify the butter or the moisture in the butter fat will turn your crepes to mush”. I watch him, transcended as he conjures my breakfast as would some mystical Druid Magician, flipping crepes as if an altered state, me, right now, in a state of grace.
    He pulls a warm plate from the oven, builds his tower, pours warm maple syrup all over them, and delivers them to me proudly, “The Queen of Sheba never had a better breakfast!”
    Sometimes he'll make ‘Bread in Sine’, white bread fried in bacon fat, a poached egg on top and slathered in Lea and Perrins.
    Bill loves his Prime Rib rare and Perfect Manhattans. He is an old hotel man who, back in the day ran first class hotels up and down the Pacific Northwest.
    Yvonne met him in Seattle in the early 50’s, where, after they married and had us they lived in penthouses, employed nannies and valets until he and Yvonne moved to Los Angeles where their marriage ultimately collapsed.

    Bill is all Welsh and Northwestern and LA is killing him, anyway that is what I think. Yvonne says it is his many years living in the South Pacific. Wake Island, Kwa ja lin, Ana We Tak. He was running the food service for the troops and contractors and technicians on those islands that were testing the Atom bomb. He would send us photographs of mushroom clouds over the Pacific Ocean at sunset that he took with his Kodak camera. He was so proud of those mushroom clouds; he thought they were” magnificent”.
    He lived on those islands for five years and when he returned at 75, I was ten years old.

    The crepes are and eighth of an inch thick at the most light as gossamer, etheric, slathered in butter and sugar, too hot it burns my tongue, blow by blow, crepe by crepe they are all exactly 7” round, the color of golden wheat, lace patterns decorate each one, crisp on the edges and a blast of salty maple at the back of the mouth.

    Yvonne says “ I think it’s the radiation from those damn nuclear bombs that has made him sick”.
    Bill is now despondent, broken, resigned to some kind of distant glowing, that not merely his age or patriotism can define. A far deeper departure resides in him in this dingy bleak yellowed apartment. His culinary prowess had not failed him, nor had his longevity. Perhaps it was love, or jealousy, the impossible determination of Yvonne, whose willful, stubborn, argumentative nature was the opposite of his impeccable controlled British demeanor.

    “She never cooked! I taught her how to boil water! “
    He always said.

    Perhaps it was something else.
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