How to Cook an Egg
About the Writer
Terre Ryan is the author of This Ecstatic Nation, a work of nonfiction. Her recent work has appeared in cream city review, DIAGRAM, and Weber: The Contemporary West. She lives in Baltimore and teaches writing at Loyola University Maryland.
First, forget your mother. Forget the childhood breakfasts of soft-boiled eggs pooled like yellow mucus in the bottom of a cracked coffee cup. Forget that you had to eat it all, even the undercooked white that dangled from your spoon like a rope of snot. Forget how your Catholic mother vacillated between indulgence and privation, forever waffling between Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, her mothering a wrestling match of demon and saint staged on the kitchen table: jelly donuts or eggs, cellophane-wrapped crumb cakes or Red Delicious apples, Bavarian cream or graham crackers, insisting that you clean your plate while fretting about your weight. “Billy was a saint,” everyone said when she died decades later, and you smiled and nodded.
Forget high school, and your mother’s faith in the transformative power of poached eggs, very low in calories, how she proffered them daily, pink-yolked and wobbling on sodden toast, her slotted spoon dripping puddles on your plate. You never wanted these meals and would have fixed your own breakfast of buttered toast and juice, a bowl of cereal and a banana, or fried eggs—the only eggs you liked, even though you understood that only fat girls ate fried eggs. You weren’t bold like your (thin) sister, who would toss unwanted provender directly in the trash, so you ate the poached eggs and wet toast dutifully, that you might become the thin daughter your mother wanted, just as you accepted the boiled cabbage in its own puddle at dinnertime, unfailingly served with the advice that cabbage was very good for your skin and very low in calories, that you might dwindle to the clear-faced, thin daughter your mother wanted. Forget how she whipsawed between love and loathing, how you sat at that Formica-topped table eating your mother’s disorders and dreams.
Forget college, where Sundays meant fried eggs and all the buttered bagels you could eat at brunch with your friends and the boyfriend you later married, how bagels gave way to muffins you baked on newlywed weekends, whisking eggs with milk and vanilla, folding in blueberries and flour. Forget the tuna and egg salad sandwiches you packed for his workday lunches, the day he said he wanted to quit his job with the insurance company, become a short order cook, and drop out of society, and the night he asked you to kill him. Forget that man and that tequila-fueled season, post-divorce, when you drank frozen margaritas as if they were Slurpees, stopped eating almost entirely, and tried to stuff your life with beauty—colorful clothes, designer linens—and the incongruity of those pretty trappings with your slender paycheck and modest apartment, where paint curled from the ceiling. When the bills grew uncomfortably fat, you put yourself on a spending diet and doggedly paid them off, conserving cash by eating poached eggs for dinner until one evening, in a stovetop epiphany, you looked down at the eggs floating like jellyfish in the pot and realized you were still eating your mother’s Ash Wednesdays, and you pulled out the frying pan.
Coat the skillet liberally with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Crack the eggs into the pan and forget your ovaries and their cyclical hatchlings, that month you counted down the days and prayed you weren’t pregnant, and the one time you hoped you were. Forget that man, too. Think instead of that August sunrise when you lived out West, the sky awash in rose and maize. Think of the topaz that sparkled on your sister’s ring. Think of France, and how when you told your mother you were going, she gave you a hard cover copy of Henry James’s A Little Tour in France. She didn’t know that since childhood you had cultivated the habit of escaping into books, but she understood you liked James and loved to read. Although you wouldn’t read this book, you recognized the love it represented and would keep it always, through dozens of moves, carrying it back and forth across an ocean and a continent, not knowing that your restlessness was pathological. Watch the eggs sizzle and remember lunchtime cafes in Paris, the Croque Madame on your plate, the egg fried, the Gruyère cheese browned and bubbled, the ham robust, the toast crisp, and afterwards long walks along Parisian boulevards, savoring European chocolates—Suchard, Lanvin, Lindt, you would come to know them all intimately—and wandering through museums beneath the opaque stares of Modigliani’s almond-eyed women, or circling Rodin’s earnest lovers—The Kiss and I Am Beautiful. Repeat aloud: I Am Beautiful. I AM beautiful. I am beautiful. Think of the blue and ochre bathwater of Bonnard’s bather, and Dufy’s petaled rooms—30 years, or la vie en rose, and how at 30 it was easy to imagine a long blossoming. Think of French flower markets, the bouquets you bought yourself, and in the south, fields of sunflowers, golden as yolk.