Flash Fiction: Breakfast for Papa
She set the wooden tray on the table next to his bed, and then reached over to pull the curtains away from the window, letting in the noontime sun. His head stirred on the pillow as she leaned down and brushed her cheek against his.
“Papa, wake up,” she said. “It’s time to eat.”
His eyes fluttered open and he squinted in the light. “Blast, girl!” he bellowed. “Must the window be open?”
“It’s past lunchtime, Papa,” she said. “You’ve been sleeping all day. Here, I made you something to eat.” She helped him sit up to rest his back on two pillows laid against the headboard. With him situated, she set the tray on his lap; on it rested a bowl of strawberries in cream, a cup of coffee, and a glass of milk.
“Now, don’t fidget and spill,” she said.
He ignored her and feasted on the strawberries until pink cream dribbled from the corners of his mouth. He chewed, swallowed, washed the food down with coffee, and then leered suspiciously up at her.
He sternly asked, “Where did you get the money for these berries, Celeste?”
Her first thought was to lie about the berries, but he always knew when she was fibbing. “I won’t say, Papa,” she answered. “You’ll be angry with me.”
He dropped his spoon into the bowl, pushed the food away, and frowned. “I won’t eat,” he said, flustered. “Not until you tell me.”
Celeste lowered her eyes, walked to the foot of the bed, and gazed at her feet.
“You have such beautiful, delicate feet,” Lorenzo had said. She hadn’t believed his compliment. Her toes were red with dirt and dust from the market, where he’d first approached her with his proposal. She’d rebuffed him initially, but then he’d offered an amount equal to a whole month of peddling eggs to the merchants. How could she refuse such a sum? And how could Papa be angry with her? Tending the farm was especially tedious since he went ill and she had to do everything. Why shouldn’t she be industrious with her talent? Her “celestial elegance,” as Lorenzo had called it. She looked up from the floor.
“I posed for a painting,” she said. “A painter hired me for a…” What had he called it? “A study.” She defiantly raised her chin and stuck her hands on her hips. Her father scowled grimly from his sickbed, eyeing the tray, illuminated by the sunlight shining from the window. The food and drink glowed like treasure.
“Did he ask you to take off your clothes?” he grunted.
“Papa!” Celeste exclaimed. “Of course not! He only asked me to sit on a bench in the park with a basket of roses. He paid me for modeling. That’s all.”
“I’ve heard of these artists,” he sputtered. “They have strange ideas, immoral ways. Some say an artist’s creativity is a mask for something more sinister.”
“That’s ridiculous, Papa,” she said, stepping to his bedside. “He was a perfect gentleman.” She brushed his graying hair back from his forehead and kissed his furrowed brows, felt him soften as she reached over and slid the bowl back in front of him. “Eat Papa. You need good food to get well.”
He sighed and ate another spoonful of berries. She watched him lovingly, glad to see him using his appetite. He looked better today, happier, most likely from the unexpected bounty of food.
When he finished his meal, he peered up at her, his blue eyes twinkling, rosy color rising in his cheeks, and said, “Thank you, my darling.”
“You’re welcome, Papa.”