The Old Man was in a Black Study.
“What’s his damage?” I asked Alex.
“Our Father contends that what the hotel has supplied here in this… ‘Breakfast Room’… does not constitute a Continental Breakfast,”
“Incontinental, more like” Pop muttered under his breath, slumped deep in his chair, arms folded, hair every whichaway, still in his P.J.s, the striped ones so old and threadbare you could see the pock marks on his knees
“WHAT?” Our Mother shouted at him, Firing up an unfiltered Camel, “WHAT?”
“IN-continental, as in incontinent, as in peeing oneself against ones will, and also, wordplay wise, UN-continental, as in NOT… CON… TINENTAL!” He snapped, rising so suddenly the small table launched his uneaten bowl of Cheerios at Our Mother who deflected it deftly with the contemptuous back of one boney hand.
“PERFECT!” Mallory howled, bolting for the ersatz comfort of distance, quickly pursued by Alex not even bothering to feign concern, leaving me alone with them.
“I ought to check on Great Aunt Ginny, see if she’s still alive,” I tried, but the Old Man was quick.
“You’ll stay. Because you being the youngest, it’s my duty, a Father’s duty to educate you.” Here he paused, assuming the professorial mantle, “A continental Breakfast is a light breakfast, usually consisting of a breadstuff, a toast or croissant, perhaps a pastry… accompanied by coffee, tea or other unspecified hot liquid.”
“That’s exactly what- “ Our Mother tried to interject
“The ‘continent’ referred to is Europe which you may read as France, since at the time this phrase was coined, French culture was dominant.”
“Exactly what they have supplied us!” Our Mother finished, the essence of reason, “Look. Look. Look at that Lucite cabinet on the counter. What’s in it?”
“The ‘Continental’ breakfast is a quite deliberate and antithetical response to the ‘English’ Breakfast-
“Danish” Mom hissed, teeth clenching so hard her cigarette severed,“Danish, Danish, Danish, which IS-
“The ‘English’ Breakfast being a veritable bacchanal of self indulgence”
“A PASTRY, ARE YOU BLIND, DO YOU NOT SEE-
“A hideous yet magnificent conglomeration fried in a single gargantuan pan; of bacon, eggs, ham, sausage in its link form colloquially known as ‘bangers’, tomatoes, the optional mushroom-
“THE PASTRY IN THE LUCITE CABINET?”
“Fried bread, fried left over mashed potatoes Called by some, though not all, ‘Potato Cakes’”
“It’s made of Lucite so you can SEE-
“And Black pudding.”
“THE CONTINAL FUCKING BREAKFAST!”
“I think,” I offered, “That those little devices over there are waffle makers. You can make your own waffles.”
“Do you know what Black Pudding is, woman?” Our Father asked. “By her silence she infers she does not. I think she does. I think she knows very well. But you, son, are far too young and innocently ignorant to know anything of Black Pudding, indeed if you did I’d have to beat the knowledge out of you as it’s not the sort of thing a boy still in short pants ought to know.”
I checked my pants reflexively. They were jeans, and long.
“Black… Pudding,” said the Old Man, standing now, arms akimbo, addressing the collected guests, a senior couple and regrettably the family from last night at the pool, “Black… Pudding… is black. It is not a ‘pudding’ in the American sense, when the British say ‘pudding’ they generally mean any old desert, but confoundedly black pudding is a misnomer in that it is decidedly NOT a sweet, meal ending treat!”
“Don’t do this” Our Mother sottoed, “The boy!”
“Black pudding… BLACK… pudding is, in fact, a sausage, or ‘banger’ if you like,” said leering at Our Mom, “made by cooking blood to a temperature such that when allowed to cool, it… congeals!”
“Damn you.” Our Mother whispered, lighting a new butt off the embers of the last.
“It is, in point of fact, revolting, even secretly to the very British who claim it as a food. Pig or cattle blood is most often used, but poultry blood, sheep’s blood, cat’s blood, monkeys blood can and will do in a pinch. Not a treat. Not in any way to any one. It is named ‘pudding’ as a joke, the way my old man sometimes called a whupping with his belt ‘yer birthday present’.”
It was so quiet then in the breakfast room.
“SO!” He continued, “So, the English breakfast is a manifestation of brute strength, colonial dominance, and most of all, arrogance. To which… the ‘continental’ breakfast… is… a response. Do you see,” he said, tweezing a croissant between his thumb and forefinger “Do you ALL see that simply providing a ‘breakfast room’ that has an array of breadstuffs, little packets of jam, and sub standard coffee kept near as damnit to the boiling point to hide it’s inferior taste by burning the drinkers tongue, is only ‘continental’ in the letter of the law, in fact it misses the whole point, in fact it takes the word ‘continental’ to mean ‘cheap’, ‘shitty’, ‘insulting’; and so is in no WAY continental, because the continental breakfast opposes the English breakfast in that it is simple yet ELEGANT!”
“Now,” he says, one hand indicating the TV high on it’s corner shelf, a tiny anchorman caged in crawls and insets, “Does any of this,” his other hand, fingers splayed to indicate in turn the complimentary copies of USA today, the toasters, Lucite cabinets and waffle makers, the juice machine and coffee station, “Seem ELEGANT to you?”
Our Mother had, at some point, departed the scene, an overflowing ashtray the only evidence she had ever been there.
“Gin,” the Old Man said, “What kind of self respecting continental breakfast is not accompanied by a few damn bottles?”
I tried to make eye contact with the girl across the room, wanting to communicate ‘Wow, Dads, huh?’ but she was gone.
I hoped to sneak a few quiet minutes of solitude in the bathroom of our suite, but no sooner had I key carded the door than Mallory pounced and had me by the collar up against the hideaway ironing board.
“Listen,” She hissed, “the Old Man’s full of shit.”
“Mallory,” I said, “your teeth!”
And indeed, there they were, neat as you please, just a few centimeters from my face, gleaming, straight, white and naked! Utterly bereft of train tracks! No criss crossing lattice of elastics, no buckles, clamps, pins, stays, not one mechanical device at all, her crisp white enameled beauties sparkled!
“Braces,” She said, “are also a lie. I took them off myself just now, while you were all squalling in the Breakfast room. Used a pair of pliers from my beading bag, it hurt like hell if you want to know, but blood is a fine antidote for mendacity! At no time in the entire history of orthodontia has a single kid’s mouth, once spellunked, been found adequate, i.e. NOT in need of braces! That’s how yachts get paid for. But never mind that Alex, we’ve got six good minutes before the Old Man and his Bride come to defribulate Great Aunt Ginny awake and I need to know who’s side your on!”
“Where’s the dog?” I wheedled, playing for time as my sisters fingers twisted the neck of my shirt into a noose.
“She’s got problems of her own, pipsqueak! I’m putting my cards on the table.”
“There’s a table now?”
She let me go so suddenly I tumbled in a heap amongst the flip-flops and wet, cast off hotel towels.
“It’s not the end of the world” she said, showing me her back. “Everybody always thinks it is, but it isn’t ever. This is just a scam, the Old Man’s showboating, he’s on a toot, something got him up against it so he’s pulling a runner, and we’re along for the ride!”
“What?” I fumbled, “Wait, no, Mal, we all agreed we saw the signs”
“The writing on the wall, then,” I pleaded.
“That’s his graffiti, don’t you see? It’s all a big flim flam so he won’t have to pay for anything! And I will not get stuck holding the bag!”
“The bag of crap and comeuppance this family vacation will inevitably end in. I’m looking out for the main chance. When I see it I might be inclined to cut my kid brother in, out of sentiment or to increase my chances of survival.” Here she made an odd sign, tugging the skin beneath her left eye down with her middle finger, a gesture full of meaning I’m certain but a mystery to me. I dropped my head for only a moment, but when I looked up she was gone.
In the parking lot I found the Old Man holding forth unto himself while stuffing this and that into whatever tiny spaces presented themselves within Matilda’s gaping hatch.
“I should have told them about the Irish Breakfast. That would have learned them to the point of understanding. The German Breakfast,” he continued forcing a single shoe into the wall of our junk where it became a fulcrum for a tennis racquet lever, ”I did not deign to mention, it being far too frightening to be employed as metaphor” Putting his weight into it now, forcing the racquet handle down, the stringed end slowly lifting the great weight of suitcases, rucksacks, stuff sacks, winter coats in case a sudden unforeseen and violent climate shift should bring another ice age, just enough space so that the Old Man’s foot could lift a canvas toiletry bag and with an ankle flick, slide it in. “The Icelandic Breakfast can only be consumed while sledding and on fire. I know you’re there, Andrew, it wouldn’t kill you to lend a hand.”
“Mallory doesn’t think the world is ending,” I offered.
“Oh, that. Well, she’s a girl, isn’t she? Thinks scams are necessarily untrue. That’s the female mind. What do you think?”
I? Me? My opinion called for? I pondered only a moment, basking in the unprecedented. Since that long ago family meeting I hadn’t thought much at all, to be truthful. But the idea that my Old Man could be wrong about anything, could even deliberately lie about something… well, that existed outside the laws of physics, like God.
“I think we’re all hosed,” I said.