Caroline stopped beating the contents of the mixing bowl, blew a lock of hair out of her eyes, and said, “Have some pancakes.” She continued to beat cradling the bowl in the crook of her left elbow and using quick, intent strokes.
Farrah’s eyes met mine. She snickered.
“No thanks,” I answered. “I only have time for a quick bowl of cereal.”
“Why don’t you make us pancakes?” Adhita asked.
“Your mom’s making them,” I said.
“You make perfect pancakes,” Adhita sighed. “Mom, why don’t you make pancakes like Mel?”
“I make good pancakes,” Caroline answered pausing in her labour.
“Mel’s pancakes are like corn muffins or biscuits,” Farrah said. “Yours are tough. The butter doesn’t even melt into them.”
“I make them from a mix, like my mother did,” Caroline said. “I don’t know how to make them from scratch.”
“Even when Mel uses a mix, they’re soft and fluffy,” Adhita replied.
“I make good pancakes,” Caroline insisted. “They’re just like my mother’s. I beat them just as she did.” Caroline continued beating.
“Why aren’t yours tough?” Farrah asked me.
Caroline stopped beating. My brow furrowed. I willed it into smoothness again, took a breath, and said, “I don’t beat the batter. I just stir the liquid into the flour until the dry ingredients disappear.”
“Nonsense,” Caroline said. “You have to beat them or there’ll be lumps. That’s what my mother always said.”
“Lumps are good,” I squeaked. I took a breath and continued at a lower register, “They make pancakes tender. Beating the batter develops the gluten and makes them tough.”
Caroline lit a cigarette and said, “I don’t know anything about gluten. My mother never said anything about that. They’re delicious pancakes. They’ve always been good enough for you girls. You should be grateful to have a mother who’s makes you breakfast.” She took another drag on her cigarette. “You could be forced to eat cold cereal, like Mel.”
My eyebrows raised. I lowered them before speaking, “They asked. I answered. You needn’t like the answers.”
“I’m not stupid,” Caroline said. “I make perfectly good pancakes.”
My forehead furrowed. I stared into her angry, blue eyes.
She looked away and took another drag of her cigarette, “If you want perfect pancakes so badly, then get Mel to make them. But she can’t, can she?” she asked the girls. “She has no time.”
I took a deep breath, got up, put my bowl in the dishwasher and said, “If I can’t answer simple questions about making pancakes without offending you, there’s something really wrong.”
“I’m not stupid,” Caroline said.
“Why do you keep saying that?” Farrah demanded.
“Mel behaves as if I don’t know how to do anything,” Caroline said.
“I asked Mel how she made perfect pancakes,” Farrah declared. “She answered my questions.”
I shook my head and left the kitchen.