Three Cupfuls

1

            Jim cringed at the warm Cheerio-breath of his son, wet on his cheek. Sam leaned over the console that separated Jim’s seat from his own and breathed through his mouth. White spittle flecked the sides of his cracked lips and a stray blob of food sat on the edge of his chin. Jim looked away.

            Sit down, Jim said, pulling the map further from Sam’s reach, but not before Sam had split California in two with a thick line of French fry grease, forever embedded in his fingertips.

            Is that where it is? He asked, quick inhales clipping apart each word. Jim nodded.

Yes, that’s where we’re going. Sam smiled and leaned in closer to the map until his seatbelt locked, the thwop of the strap tightening across his chest. They sat together in their parked Volkswagen, Jim holding the map with his arms fully extended. He squinted his eyes tight as if this would help him figure out where to go next.

How long ‘til we get there? Sam strained his neck against the thick seatbelt strap to see over Jim’s shoulder. Jim quickly folded the map at the well-worn creases and slipped it back into his pocket. He was a tired man, prematurely middle-aged, and his sigh was the kind that slowly sunk to the floor.

I don’t know, he said. A horn honked behind them and Jim remembered he was still at the gas station. He and Sam both turned around at the same time, their heads colliding.

Godammit, Jim groaned, rubbing his head. Sam giggled.

It’s not funny, Sam, that hurt. Jim rubbed his head for a little bit longer than he needed to, just to prove his point. But Sam didn’t look up, playing with the drawstring of the blue and green swim trunks that Jim couldn’t seem to get him out of. The horn honked a second time and Jim rolled down his window.

            Alright, alright. We’re going, Jim said to his back windshield. Facing the back, Jim’s eye got caught on the olive-painted pot that was buckled into the middle seat. Sam had made it in his first grade art class, and the teacher had called it extraordinary during their parent-teacher conference. Jim now resented the fact that it was slightly lopsided and he turned back around to face the front. He gripped the gearshift until his knuckles turned white and put the car into DRIVE.

            I think we take a right, Jim said to himself. They were looking for a brown sign on the side of the highway that read San Andreas Fault in big looping letters. All they could see was the never-ending highway laid out in front of them and the desert, dry and cracked, that spread out in all directions. Everything was flat and still: the road, the desert, the blue blue sky. Their Volkswagen was the only thing that moved through the landscape; it looked like an ant crawling across a sidewalk square.

            Jim drummed the steering wheel. He hated the silence, but even more than that, he hated starting conversations. Especially with Sam. He loved Sam, of course, but he couldn’t bring himself to seriously contemplate the strengths and weaknesses of a tyrannosaurus rex for the third time today. Jim silently wished that Sam were older. But since that wasn’t going to happen, he turned on the radio instead.

            An advertisement about Viagra filled the space between them, and Jim felt more uncomfortable than before.

            Jim rolled down the windows, and the tension slipped out of the car like a balloon, slowly deflating. A gush of wind pushed Sam back into his seat, and he let the fresh air puff out his cheeks as it slipped in through his wide grin. Jim sat up straighter, his stomach hanging over his belt. He wasn’t a fat man, but looked as if he were always bloated, slightly full.

            The quiet whoosh of wind was just beginning to soothe his nerves when Sam pointed to a crooked brown sign.

            There it is, Sam yelled. He had somehow managed to get his legs beneath him with the seatbelt buckled, and was now up on his knees.

            No, that’s not it. We still have a few miles to go. As he said it, Jim looked in the rearview mirror, just to double check.

            Yes it is, I saw it.

            I’m not going to argue with you, Sam, Jim said, and the words fell out of his mouth as if he were simply breathing them out.

            You have to pull over.

            I’m telling you— This is when Jim saw the second brown sign, slightly bent, that read: San Andreas Fault with an arrow beneath it. He slowed down and pulled their rusty Volkswagen to the side of the road. A cloud of dust circled the car as the tires screeched to a halt and they waited for the particles to find their way back to the dirt.

            Jim got out first and stretched his legs. It had been a long drive; they had left home at six in the morning, and Jim was tired. Arms out wide, he reached up and felt the muscles in his back pull tight. Sam yawned big, the skin crinkling at the corners of his eyes, and Jim thought of Annie. For the first time since he and Sam had got into their car early that morning, Jim smiled.

            Once he’d had a good yawn and a good stretch, Sam jumped out of the car and raced toward the sign like a spring that had been compressed for too long.

            Sam, you forgot the uh— vase, Jim called out.

Sam stopped mid-stride and came bounding back to Jim just as he had bounded away. His fastest run sometimes looked more like a hop, and Sam liked it this way. It reminded him of astronauts.

Did you unbuckle her? Sam asked, out of breath. Jim thought it strange, that Sam referred to the urn as her, but didn’t mention it.

No. This didn’t bother Sam, who opened the back seat and leaned in to grab the pot so that the only thing Jim could see was his butt sticking up high in the air. Jim heard Sam talking, but couldn’t make out what was being said in their private conversation. It sounded like cooing, and Jim shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

Hurry up. We want to get back on the road before the sun sets. Only being two o’clock, the sun wasn’t close to setting, but Jim wanted Sam to hurry anyways.

Sam cradled the pot in his thick arms and walked as if surprised he had feet, every step a new stumble. Jim waited for Sam to fall and the contents of the pot to spill out, and breathed out slow when he didn’t.

You ready? Sam asked, eyes big. Jim only nodded. He followed silently as Sam ran towards the San Andreas Fault in the distance.

Jim thought it looked like his incision after he’d gotten his knee surgery, the skin scrunched up and held together by thick blue sutures. He looked at the crack in the ground and bit his lip, remembering the twist of his knee when he played division three basketball in college.

Do you have the first letter? Sam asked. Jim pulled a white envelope out of the back pocket of his jeans. One was written in cursive on the front, and he slipped his thumb beneath the lip of the envelope. On a lined sheet of notebook paper, Jim read the first note. He knew why this was the first stop; Annie had told him the story. But Jim read the note anyways and Sam listened patiently.

When I’m gone, evenly split my ashes into three separate Ziploc bags.

            It was this precise wording that reminded Jim of Annie and he felt a sudden pang somewhere in his stomach. Annie had been a baker, and even in death, her every move was exacted into perfect parts.

They should be put in the olive green pot that Sam gave me for Mother’s Day last year.

This? Sam held up the olive-painted pot, and Jim bit his lip as it shook in Sam’s hands. Jim nodded. He hadn’t touched the homemade urn since the funeral. It sort of freaked him out, that the contents of his wife were all in that olive-painted pot. He knew it was absurd, but sometimes he wondered if he would find her brown eyes, perfectly intact, sitting on top of the pile of soot inside. Jim shuddered at the thought.

Don’t spill it, he snapped, imagining the gray ash mixing with the desert sand. Sam looked at his shaking hands and pulled the pot back into his lap, hugging it close.

Jim’s face softened. He felt a deep pit forming in the bottom of his stomach, like the acid was curdling, the words sour in his mouth. But he couldn’t help saying them. Jim grieved his wife in little snaps and snide remarks.

Take the first bag and empty it on the San Andreas Fault.

I want my ashes to drift like the glaciers, Annie had said, her voice nasally through the oxygen tube. Jim pushed his fingers through his hair.

Slowly moving in different directions, until I’m all around the world at once, Annie continued.

That’s enough, Jim yelled. He got to his feet, rubbing his forehead, and Annie stared into her lap, smoothing out the wrinkled hospital gown.

I need a coffee, he said before leaving the room. Annie didn’t look up when Jim left, rubbing the tops of her hands instead, the veins bright blue. But then Jim popped his head back into the doorway.

Want anything? He asked, a weak smile pushing at his round cheeks.

No thanks, she whispered, smiling back, and Jim left.

Tell Sam about the time my dad took me there.

Her dad, your grandfather, was a geologist. Or pretended to be one, anyways. He took Annie to this spot one summer to… Jim paused.

Well, to look at it. I don’t know what they did with it. Jim kicked the dirt. It wasn’t as exciting as Annie had described it. The fault was just a crack in the earth. The desert continued on the other side just the same as before. Sam crouched down low to feel the bumps in the ground. His eyebrows pushed together like he was concentrating hard, trying to figure out why the ground was cracked. They hadn’t gotten to tectonic plates in his geography class yet.

Jim had never met Annie’s father, but he pictured a tall man crouched on the ground just like Sam, holding the rocks so close to his face that they brushed his nose.

Sam slowly lifted the lid off of his pot and took out the first Ziploc bag. The bag opened with a soft zip, and Sam felt the ashes through the bottom of the bag, heavy in his palm. Jim watched surprise wash over Sam’s face as he felt the clumps of ash through the thin plastic. Sam opened his mouth halfway, as if he were about to ask a question, but quickly pressed his lips back together.

Jim wondered if the cremation had hurt Annie. He knew she was dead, of course, but he couldn’t help but wonder what it must’ve felt like.

What should I do with it? Sam asked. Jim watched as the ashes slid from one side of the bag to the other, trembling in Sam’s hands.

Dump it, Jim said, crossing his arms. Sam took this quite literally, fumbling the bag, and the ashes plopped to the desert ground, landing in one baseball-sized pile. Jim groaned.

Not like that, Jim snapped, getting onto his knees to blow the ashes into the fault. Sam quickly crouched down next to Jim and started blowing the ashes towards the large crack in the ground. Spit flew from his mouth as he pushed out big mouthfuls of air, and the ash slowly drifted into the wind.

I’m sorry, Sam whispered, but Jim said nothing, shutting his eyes tight. He blew the last of the ashes into the air. And with his eyes squeezed shut, Jim forgot where he was and let the cool air brush past his face. His heart rate slowed and he breathed in slow, the only sound being the ashes whistling in the wind. Then, Jim sighed and stood up.

Sam shook the bag, making sure each gray fleck floated into the air. He then carefully folded the bag into a small square and slid it into his pocket.

Ready? Jim asked. Sam put the lid back on the olive-painted pot and stood up.

Yes, Sam mumbled with his chin pressed to his chest, barely a whisper.

2

            The sun was less white and less hot as they got back onto the highway. This time, Sam held the olive green pot in between his legs, his sticky hands wrapped around its lumpy exterior. Jim thought about the cremation again and wondered whether or not Annie could feel her skin burning. He desperately wished Sam would ask him about it so that he could air out his thoughts, like well-worn shoes that need room to breathe.

            Jim turned on the radio again.

            Some pop song with a catchy chorus came on and Jim tuned it out. He wondered why Annie hadn’t picked the spot where they met as the first location for their post-mortem road trip.

            It was the first California day that was cool enough to justify ordering a hot drink at the Corner Café, and Jim had already set aside his three dollars and seventy-five cents for a small latte. Back then, Jim always liked to pay in exact change. It was a quirk of his, which he thought to be charming, but secretly annoyed all of the cashiers, bartenders and baristas he encountered throughout his twenties. He liked to think of his ability to pay in exact change as an art form, the swift motion of his hand slipping out of his pocket with just the right assortment of coins. However, this took preparation, fumbling for coins in the bottom of his wallet. And he couldn’t always watch where he was going.

            On this cool California morning, Jim bumped into Annie. It was the friendly sort of bump that permitted a soft spoken sorry and a dismissive hand wave. Jim looked up and saw Annie.

            Jim didn’t want to tell this story to Sam, however. It was his, and so he turned the volume knob up and leaned his head back against the headrest of his leather seat. Just three more hours.

            When they got to the right exit, Sam was asleep. The lid on his olive-green pot had been teetering for the past twenty minutes, and yet Jim still hadn’t lost his concern for it toppling. The sun was now setting, but Jim could still see out of the front windshield without turning his headlights on.

            Sam’s head fell against the side of the car and the light bump drew Jim’s attention. He decided that he liked Sam when he was sleeping, his face relaxed and eyes closed. Sam had his mother’s nose, which flipped up at the end. And Jim smiled, loving that nose without the heavy breathing and snot dripping down.

            They pulled into a lot facing the water and parked the car slightly crooked. A slew of stringy haired high-schoolers sat in a circle at the other end of the lot, passing a joint around. Jim watched the red glow at the end pass from hand to hand and sighed. Part of him wanted to walk over to them and sit down, crossed legged on the gravel. But his knees no longer bent that way. He tapped Sam on the shoulder.

            We here?

            We’re here, Jim repeated. Sam cradled the pot in one hand and swung the passenger side door out wide with the other. Jim then popped the glove compartment open and grabbed the envelope labeled two.

            The second Jim stepped out onto the gravel lot, the high school kids scattered, and Jim winced. He wished he didn’t look so old.

            You ready? Jim asked, surprised that Sam hadn’t sprinted away from him already. Sam yawned wide, cracking the dried spittle that outlined his chapped lips, and they walked out to the shore.

            Jim sat with his legs out in front of him, the meat of his palms holding him up. His shoes and socks were off and placed to his right. He had rolled up the bottom of his jeans and let the water tickle his toes. Sam was uninterested in the water, afraid that it might be too cold, and so he sat cross-legged in the sand next to his father.

            Why don’t you take off your shoes? Jim asked.

            I don’t want to, Sam said, looking the other way.

            But the water feels good. Sam pulled his feet up further beneath him, and Jim sighed. When the wind blew sand into his lap, Jim brushed it off with an exaggerated swipe of the hand. Sam lifted the lid off his pot and Jim slipped the next envelope out of his pocket.

            This letter was shorter, with the handwriting slightly shaken, the letters wobbly like drunken teenagers who couldn’t stand up straight. It took Jim a moment for his voice to hurdle the lump in his throat.

            Empty the second bag into the ocean, the spot where we had our first fight. Maybe don’t tell Sam that story.

            I would’ve brought my water shoes, Annie said. Jim thought about her perpetually sandy blue shoes that separated each toe into its own waterproof shell. He thought they made her look like a tree frog with strange black toes. They usually turned him off, transforming her pink feet into weird alien extremities, so Jim just shrugged.

You really can’t enjoy the beach without them? Jim looked out at the horizon, a thin blue line splitting his world in two, but Annie could only think of her feet.

That’s not the point, she said, it just would’ve been nice to be prepared. Carrying her shoes and socks at her side, Annie cringed each time her bare feet made contact with the beach. She liked the feeling of sand between her toes in theory, not practice, and longed for her tree frog shoes.

But we have to be spontaneous every once in a while, Jim paused, don’t want things to get stale. Of course, he didn’t think things were getting stale between them at all, quite the opposite. But Jim liked to think of himself as a “free spirit,” always looking for opportunities to flaunt his spontaneity. However, it was no coincidence that Jim was always the one who planned these spontaneous getaways, not really the free-spirit-type at all. But he liked to think of himself in this way.

Annie wiped her free hand on her blue jeans, staining her thigh with a muddy brown.

And what about the movie that I’ve been dying to see? Jim shoved his hands into his pockets; it was a bit colder than he had expected it to be, and he wondered how long they would have to walk the beach until they could get back into their car and drive home.

It didn’t look that good anyway, Jim grumbled. They were supposed to be seeing the fourth installment of some teen-romance-fight-to-the-death movie with Carla and Rick, but Jim didn’t want to go. It wasn’t necessarily the movie that inspired his beach adventure idea, but Carla and Annie’s constant whispering and Rick’s loud popcorn chewing that motivated Jim’s romantic gesture.

C’mon, Jim, Annie whined, let’s go back to the car. We can probably still make it if we speed a little. The wind smacked Jim in the face and for a moment, he thought about turning around and going to the theater. But then he crossed his arms.

            No, we’re already here. Annie groaned.

            Fine. I’m waiting in the car. Annie spun around and headed in the opposite direction, her footsteps heavy. Jim kept walking, arms crossed, and slowly counted his steps. As Annie sat in the car, Jim waited until it got dark before he headed back to the lot and drove Annie home.

            Skimming over the letter, Jim wondered if this was Annie’s way of getting her sweet revenge, leading them there, and laughed.

            What’s it say? Sam asked, leaning over Jim. Jim felt Sam’s sticky fingers grip his shoulder and he held the letter out so Sam could read it.

            Mom doesn’t want me to tell you about our first fight, but I’m going to tell you anyways. Sam smiled; he loved when his father broke the rules.

            So believe it or not, I used to be a free spirit. Sam tried not to laugh, holding his breath, but then snorted, a smile cracking on his round face.

            I was, Jim exclaimed, but Sam only laughed harder. Although he wasn’t completely sure what being a free spirit meant, Sam knew that his father was definitely not one.

            Well, I was, and I took your mother here as a surprise, but she didn’t like it. Sam looked around him at the beach, littered with crushed beer cans, and nodded.

            It’s a dump, he said, pushing the sand around with his fingers. Jim laughed.

            Yeah, I guess it is. And yet, he remembered the salt in the air that day and Annie’s thick braid falling in between her shoulder blades.

            Why would Mom pick this spot for her ashes? Sam asked after a while.

            I’m not sure, Jim said, I guess we both remembered it a lot. Jim couldn’t explain it any better, really, and Sam nodded. He then pulled the next Ziploc bag out of the olive green pot.

Go for it, Jim said, and Sam opened the bag with a soft zip. He leaned over the top of the bag, looking inside of it, and Jim suddenly wondered what it smelled like. He thought about asking Sam, but decided against it and waited for Sam to dump the bag’s contents instead.

            What are you doing? He asked Sam after a long moment in which neither moved a muscle. Sam opened his mouth and closed it again.

            I— I don’t want other kids playing with it.

            What?

            The ashes. When they get all mixed up in the sand. Other kids will be making sandcastles out of little pieces of her arms and legs and— Sam stopped. Jim looked into the bag and wondered which part of Annie was inside it. They both stared at the gray mass in the Ziploc bag, the silence washed out by the crashing waves.

            Why don’t we bury it in the ocean? Jim asked suddenly, like a great idea had just shot through him.

            We can go out there up to our hips and then bury the bag in the sand beneath the water. That way, kids won’t play with it. As Jim said it, he knew that the tides would probably push the sand back to the shore, but Sam nodded and so Jim got to his feet. Sam took off his shoes, then socks, and Jim grabbed his hand. Together, they waded out into the water, which Sam thought was a little cold, and buried a piece of Annie beneath the waves.

3

            The drive home was dark and quiet. The empty roads unsettled Jim, like he was driving into an apocalyptic storm that hadn’t shown itself yet. He looked over at Sam, who was sleeping quietly, and thought about waking him. Not to talk, but maybe just to hear his heavy breathing.

Jim was forced to focus on the quiet hum of the car’s engine, and the road that was only visible in the streak of yellow his headlights made. The olive green pot now sat between Jim’s legs and he shifted it from the right to the left. With the sun gone from the sky, it was too cold to put the windows down, and Jim missed the white noise of air funneling into their car and out the other side.

            Jim’s eyelids felt heavy, and he repeated the periodic table of elements, in order, to keep himself awake. It was a trick that Annie had taught him. He started with Hydrogen, and moved through the noble gases, and then on to the metals and so on. Annie always joked that this would put most people to sleep, but Jim and Annie both loved chemistry. Jim loved to draw out the molecules in the margins of the morning newspaper, and quickly flipped through a chemistry textbook every time he was at a bookstore that sold them. Mostly, he loved the pictures.

            Annie loved chemistry slightly less than Jim, but loved it all the same. Particularly, she loved the precision of chemistry when she was baking. The perfect pinch of salt with just the right amount of butter made for the best chocolate chip cookies Annie had ever tasted.

            It was a quiet moment, when they both discovered their mutual love of chemistry. They were studying at a coffee shop and spent hours arguing over which molecule diagram they liked best. Jim liked H2O for the symmetry of it, but Annie liked CH3OOH for its complexity. It was an argument that was never resolved, but constantly revisited whenever Jim and Annie didn’t have anything else to talk about at dinner.

            However, it wasn’t a popular debate to bring up with friends, they discovered, and their mention of it quickly bored most of the couples they went on date nights with. So they kept the conversation for themselves, and when Jim repeated the elements forwards, then backwards, as he drove home, Annie’s trick woke him up and calmed him down all at once.

            It was almost eleven when Jim finally pulled into his long driveway. Sam woke up, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hands.

            Are we home yet?

            Yes. Sam unbuckled his seatbelt slowly, careful not to let the silver end smack him in the face.

            One more envelope, he muttered, half-asleep. Jim wrapped his arm around the olive green pot and stepped out of the car, Sam following close behind.

            Throwing his keys on the kitchen counter, Jim slipped the last letter out of his back pocket. The edges of the envelope were bent, and he smoothed them out with his thumb before carefully opening the envelope and pulling out the slightly yellowed paper. Sam still hadn’t taken off his shoes, and little clumps of sand fell loose from his sneakers with each step.

            Cookies? Sam asked after a long pause, spinning on one of their silver bar stools. Jim, with both elbows on the kitchen counter, used one hand to hold the letter and the other to force his fingers through the knots in his longish hair. He read the letter again.

            Open the drawer beneath the microwave and find my mother’s chocolate chip cookie recipe; it is (was) my favorite. Make one batch in the porcelain bowl in the cupboard above the kitchen sink and empty the final Ziploc bag into the dough.

            Jim’s eyes caught on the last line, and he read it again.

            Empty the final Ziploc bag into the dough.

            Empty the final Ziploc bag into the dough. Add chocolate chips— the good kind.

            Jim threw the letter onto the counter.

            Seriously? He laughed, but the sour kind of laugh that lingers in the air too long.

            Cookies? He yelled to no one in particular, throwing his hands up into the air. Sam chuckled to himself.

            This isn’t funny, Sam, Jim said, and Sam looked up.

            But you were just laughing, Sam whispered, his voice breaking in the middle. Jim paced back and forth, eyeing the drawer beneath the microwave and the cupboard above the kitchen sink. He didn’t know what else to say, and ran his fingers through his hair, convinced each time that he could pull all of the hairs out at once.

            What are we even doing? Jim yelled, and Sam now knew not to answer him. Jim kicked the corner of the oven as hard as he could and the door popped open, smacking into his knees. He jumped back.     

            Godammit, he yelled, and Sam looked down at the floor as all the noise got sucked out of the room on Jim’s final t. Jim could feel the blood already staining his socks. The stinging in his big toe only made him angrier, and Jim immediately regretted kicking the oven. Dammit dammit dammit, he muttered to himself.

Sam slid off of his bar stool and grabbed the letter. He wasn’t the best reader, and stumbled over the words microwave and porcelain.

            Pork-y-lane, he repeated softly to himself, tapping the word with his index finger.

            Porcelain, Jim snapped, tearing the letter from Sam’s hands.

            Right there. Porcelain. He tapped the word sloppily scribbled on the page and Sam’s face burned red. He then looked at his shoes, glad they had no words for him to read.

            Sorry, he whispered to the floor, but Jim heard it and ran his fingers through his hair again.

            You did nothing wrong, Jim said, letting his breath whoosh out slow. Sam eyed the letter, lying face down on the tile floor, and remembered his mother writing it. He had told Jim this story, right after Annie died, and Jim quickly remembered it too as Sam walked over to the letter on the ground.

Sam had watched her write it one Sunday afternoon as he sat across the room, playing a game on his mother’s phone.

            Why don’t you come sit with me? Annie asked. Sam shook his head without looking up. He didn’t look up because he knew that her arm was dangling in the air, too thin, beckoning him over to her, and he didn’t want to go. He didn’t want to be up close to see the bluish gray bags under her eyes or the thinning brown hair. He didn’t want to have to hug her and feel the bones in her back. So instead, he played this game where the snake has to eat all of the dots, and sat on the couch.

            Sam’s knees cracked when he crouched to the ground and Jim watched his son flip the letter over. Sam traced each letter with his finger and Jim sighed again. Standing up, Sam then smoothed out the crinkles on the edge of the kitchen counter and laid the letter out flat once he was done. He fumbled the knobs on the different drawers until he found the right one beneath the microwave. It slid open without making a sound. Jim didn’t so much as breathe, afraid to distract Sam from his quiet mission. He simply watched as Sam scanned the recipe with his eyes, and then swung open the heavy refrigerator door and climbed up to the second shelf. He grabbed the egg cartoon and tilted it slightly so that it slid into his arms.

            Next he got the milk, the flour, the little bit of sugar, the chocolate chips. Then the vanilla, the baking powder, salt. The butter, and the dollop of sour cream that made them extra good. Jim shuffled from side to side, careful not to get in Sam’s ways. Sam ran through the ingredients in his head until every one of them was sitting on the kitchen counter.

            After checking and double-checking the recipe, Sam read Annie’s letter again.

            Por-ce-lain, he whispered to himself. Jim perked up at the word and quickly opened the cupboard above the kitchen sink. He grabbed the porcelain bowl, painted blue and gold, and handed the bowl to Sam, who looked him in the eye and nodded his silent thank you. Jim rolled up his sleeves and stepped up to the kitchen counter next to his son.

            What can I do? Jim asked after a while, his voice soft. Sam handed him the carton of eggs.

            I can never crack them without getting shell in, Sam explained. Jim opened the carton and started cracking eggs on the blue and gold rim. Sam grabbed a measuring cup and dipped it in the tub of flour. Lifting up a tall pile of white, he packed the flour into the cup with the flat of a knife as best he could, and then dumped the flour on top of the eggs.

            One cup, he said. Sam then submerged the measuring cup into the flour again, repeating one cup to himself, just to keep track. He wanted to get the recipe exactly right.

            You know we aren’t eating these, right? Jim asked. Sam wiped the flour from his forehead with the back of his hand.

            Yeah, he said finally, moving on to the sugar. Jim nodded, throwing the last egg shell into the sink, and reached for the butter.