It was the loneliness that he had felt so often. It was the sadness that had taken hold of him. Whenever Lionel would be standing by in the kitchen on a Sunday, watching Mrs. Anderson cook, he always thought about his mother. He kept promising himself that he would not, he tried to push her out of his mind, but Cheryl was persistent. Mrs. Anderson cracked eggs on the side of the frying pan with more effort than his mother had ever used. She breathed heavily and constantly placed a hand on her chest or her waist or used the front part of her wrist to wipe sweat from her forehead as Lionel watched her curious struggle.
“Hand me that oil over there, boy,” she would say.
Lionel would hurry over to the bottom cupboard and grab the clingy plastic bottle; he would shut the door abruptly and thrust it into her outstretched hand. She never looked in his direction. And Cheryl would appear in his sight. He couldn’t help but compare her to this common woman, who breathed heavily and always stopped to catch herself. Nothing she did carried the same hypnotic ease with which Cheryl executed all tasks. Cheryl, in some flowery negligee, seemed to almost float around the kitchen. She was spellbinding. Her wrist was too delicate to be used for anything as gouache as swiping perspiration from her forehead. It was held out and away from the flame and there was always some trinket hanging off of it. Cheryl would hum tunes that young Lionel might have heard in the same house the night before at a party. Occasionally, Cheryl would turn to her son and smile, as if to reassure him that she was there in the flesh. She loved him. He could feel it. She would descend slightly and bring her face inches away from the pots to inhale the aroma. It was her measure of what else needed to be added. She tasted nothing. She would pull back the refrigerator door as if it were a magical treasure chest that had transformed itself in the interim to produce some surprise that would please her. She held the long steel spoon like a wand, or a scepter depending upon her mood. And to make a request that was vital to her art she would say…
“Lionel, sweetheart, reach up to the top left cupboard and hand mommy the salt…”
“Lionel, love, bring mommy de burn sugar from the table...”
“Lionel, baby, fill this mug with water for me…”
“Lionel, darling, pull the big chicken outta de fridge to defross...and careful not to hurt yuhself with it…it heavy.”
And Lionel would hop down from his post on top of the stool to carry out his charge with honor. He would carry out each chore with pride, happy that he was valued enough to be included. She loved him. He could feel it.