By Meghan Lamb

(Illustrated by Austin Islam)

dedicated to my ex-husband, like a bitter karaoke song


Our marriage was pancakes.
Soft on the inside, crisp on the outside.
Soft, like the heat of a hand in a glove.
Crisp, like the bite of a mind-clearing mid-winter morning.
Soft, like the calm when the sun stretches out and just starts to
touch all the right spaces.
Crisp, like the feeling of clarity gleaned from the gleaming of light
through the leaves.
Soft, like the warmth of the memory being a child and crunching the
leaves. When you’re smiling and trying to feel like a child even
though it is not quite the same.
Crisp, like the moment of dread when you’re crunching the leaves. When
you’re smiling and step on a stray twig that suddenly snaps.

Our marriage was pancakes.
Pancakes are comforting, wholesome, and easy to make.
You can put as much butter inside or on top as you want.
You can fluff them and flop them and flip them around in the pan.
You can add in whatever is there in the kitchen, whatever still needs
to be used.
The best part was seeing the pancakes stack up into piles of
plate-shaped perfection. That feeling made up for the fear of
mistakes, for the burned, the mis-shaped, and the badly mixed.
We forgot about all of those fears when we built up our tower of wet
wheat, our pillar of hot fat.
We looked at the tower and smiled at all of those pancakes.

Our marriage was pancakes.
Pancakes are boring, expected, and easy to make.
You have to add things in since they don’t taste like much of anything.
You can throw them away if they burn. Like, whatever. They’re pancakes.

I made most of the pancakes in our marriage.
This is not necessarily to my credit.
I felt boring making pancakes when they were not what you wanted.
Maybe I was too boring, or simply too lazy to learn what you wanted to eat.
I worked hard on those pancakes though.
I put lots of blood, sweat, and tears into them.
I would wring out the sweat from the ribbons I wore in my hair. I
would then wrap the ribbons around all my fingers like tourniquets.
I’d squeeze, squeeze, and squeeze like my hand had been bitten and
poison was lurking inside. Then I’d sit in a corner, a pot in my lap,
and lean over and cry.

I made most of the pancakes in our marriage.
The pancakes felt like failure. I could make much better things.
Like one time when I made the most beautiful cake out of nothing but
sugar and old re-used band-aids.
You peeled the band-aids so gently, like you were a cake and your skin
was the icing.
You nibbled the band-aids and swallowed and told me they tasted like bacon.

I made most of the pancakes in our marriage.
I made martyrs of those pancakes. I would serve them stacked up into shrines.
I made shrines out of syrups and jellies in crystal carafes, out of
sugars and starfish and coffee and tea cups and spoons, out of freshly
cut flowers in finely carved bowls, floating desperately just at the
surface on pools of sparkling water and shimmering wines and all other
diaphanous liquids.

I piled the shrines onto trays which I clattered and carried up
thousands of stairs to your bedroom where you sat in bed with a
mountain of cigarette boxes around you. You sat there all day long and
smoked in shrouds of velvet blankets. I stood crying in the kitchen
when I wasn’t making shrines.

The first time I brought you a shrine, you looked at me like, ok,
whatever, that’s creepy. You swallowed a forkful of pancake and looked
up like, ok then? All right, ok now, then? Thanks? The next time you
frowned like, wow, you have some issues. You still took the fork to be
nice. But you couldn’t quite swallow the pancake. The act of
ingestion, the fear of food processing, fear of it turning to shit,
and the fear of the feeling of filth grown inside you, gestating, yes,
that was all too much to take. So you spat it out into a napkin the
moment that I turned away.

I couldn’t take the hint though. I kept bringing shrines. You started
to chain smoke in front of me, now never taking the fork or the plate.
One day, you felt so angry that you stubbed out a cigarette into the
pancakes. The flame burrowed deep in the buttery flesh, then it died.

I couldn’t take the hint though. I brought pancakes full of cigarettes
stuck down inversely like a cake of smokey birthday candles. All the
shrines full of uneaten pancakes sat, smoking and burning. My fingers
were sticky with syrup and stained from the nicotine.

The shrines built up and up until one day the house caught fire. So we
leapt from the windows with no thought of where we would land.

We landed in a pile of fallen leaves. Somehow, we were lucky, and
learned that we lived in a treehouse. The tree was set outside the
forest, in a field. Even though the fires licked the sky, no other
trees burned down.

You wandered off into the forest, which was for the best. You put on
your coat with the pockets all bulging with cigarettes. Me, I stayed
inside that pile of fallen leaves. I breathed in the tang of their
fragrance, the smell of them starting to rot. I didn’t feel like a
child, but that was fine with me. I crushed them between my hands,
over and over again, and I smiled.


meghan lamb lives in chicago