Before

One, two, three.  I measure out the coffee spoons.

Yellow light seeps through the kitchen like water through the paper filter.  Sparrows shriek a spring song outside the window.

“Faith?”  My father’s shout, muffled overhead.  “Out of there, now!  Other people need the bathroom!”

I smirk.  When I slept until the last moment, my sister would wait for me to get up, then dash into the bathroom two steps ahead, laughing.  Now that I’m first up in the house, she can stay locked in there all day, for all I care.

The timer buzzes, and I pour myself a big cup. Faith can’t have any—she’s not allowed for another year. I turned 17 just a couple of months ago, but already it’s not morning without coffee.

Sitting down with my mug, I open my English textbook.

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

I read it again, aloud.  I savor it for the fiftieth time.  It’s beautiful.

I glance up at the bowl on the counter.  Grandma’s bowl, filled with bananas and peaches, shining in the young sun.  Do I dare to eat a peach?

Pushing aside my coffee, I go over to the fruit.  One of the bananas has the first stanza of “The Raven” slowly ripening on its peel.  A few days ago, I wrote it there with a toothpick, knowing my mother would freak out when the letters showed up.  The peaches are flawless.

Do I dare to eat a peach?  I pick one up.  Heavy, fragrant in my hands.  I bring it back to the table, weighing it.

Well, do I?  Do I dare?

.

Yes.  Yes, I’ll always dare.

I bite into the peach.  The skin explodes under my teeth, and juice splatters my shirt.  I wipe my face with the back of my hand.

I’ll always be brave, and someday the mermaids will sing to me.

The hall clock chimes a quarter past.  I hear my father on the stairs, and close the book.

.

No.  What’s so daring about eating a peach?  I hold it up to the light, its fuzz glowing like a halo.  How does anything so easy take courage?  Wouldn’t not eating it disturb the universe more?  Like one of those fasting saints I read about, living on nothing but the Host for years.  Now that’s daring.  I’ll be brave as that.

I gently put the peach back.

The hall clock chimes a quarter past.  I hear my father on the stairs, and close the book.

.

Maybe.  The question suddenly seems too big, too frightening.  Maybe.  But soon.  I’ll dare soon.  I swear.

I drop the peach back into the fruit bowl.  For later.

The hall clock chimes a quarter past.  I hear my father on the stairs, and close the book.