BREAKFAST FOR TWO • by Rumjhum Biswas

She’s brewed a pot of Darjeeling. No tea bags today. She’s cooked an omelet with six eggs and two kinds of cheeses, creating a creamy blue and yellow striated, slightly pungent centre that she hopes he’ll like. It’s a new recipe she concocted in a sudden brainwave. She’s also made his favourite Melba toast. There’s French butter too, instead of their regular margarine, preserves from the deli, and a jug of fresh grapefruit juice to go. She’s brushed her hair, and put on lipstick the same plum shade as her Chinese silk robe.

He woke up earlier than usual, but remained still, eyes closed, until the quiet beside him announced, cruelly, that she’d already got up and left. The bed. His. Theirs. The sheet, cool beneath his fingers, the imprint of her body barely there. He’d brought lilies last evening. She’d said they were dripping all over the carpet and quickly shoved them into a jug. She’d looked at the clock once, for a long moment. He should have said something. But now it’s already morning. So he shaves, showers and irons his shirt. He smells the divine steam of Darjeeling as he walks down the stairs. He sees a blur of plum from the corner of his eye. And something nutshell hard seals tight in his heart. His mouth twists down as the words spring up in his mind: Jack-in-the-box. Lid up. Jump up and grin. Lid down. Stay down and be quiet.

Now she divides the eggs unequally on the pan. She serves and sits down at the table with him. He pores over his morning paper. She pours out his tea. He takes the cup. She takes a quick bite of her smaller portion. They eat together in the morning light, looking almost like an advertisement for breakfast cereal. And, the air of compatibility remains, even when he unceremoniously forgets to carry his portion of the breakfast things to the sink, but with a slight quiver now, not unlike a reprimanded lower lip.

His eyes graze hers. Their breaths hang together, frozen between them. The pine of his aftershave prickles her skin as he leans forward to peck at her cheek. Like he does everyday. He picks up his briefcase and adjusts his tie, as usual. He walks out with firm strides. He stands on the steps leading away. From her. A fierce emotion grips him. Blinds him to the bright day outside, and almost drives him back. To her. But he’s already shut the door behind him.

She remains at the table, fingers playing with the ring. She seems not to listen to the soft click of the shutting door, and the silence that howls, circling the house like an abandoned dog. He’s gone. Like everyday, on the dot. The whole thing seems so normal. A thought strikes her and a laugh cracks out, hurting her throat with its brittleness. A pair of zombies! In their neat little zombie house! The thought begins to spit and hiss. But the hammering in her heart speaks of blood rushing inside. Warm and desperate.

He’s in the car now, with the engine idling. His head angled so he can watch the window curtain without seeming to. It should fall back any moment now. And the door should open. It has to. It had better. But already a leg has slid out of the car, without informing his mind.

Rumjhum Biswas has been published in countries in all the five continents in both online and print journals and anthologies. One of her poems was long listed in the Bridport Poetry Prize 2006 and is also a finalist in the 2010 Aesthetica Creative Arts Contest. She has won prizes in poetry contests in India. Her poem “March” was commended in the Writelinks’ Spring Fever Competition, 2008. Her story “Ahalya’s Valhalla” was among Story South’s Million Writers’ notable stories of 2007. Her poem “Bones” has been nominated for a 2010 Pushcart by Cha: An Asian Literary Journal. She was a participating poet in the 2008 Prakriti Foundation Poetry Festival in Chennai. She was a featured poet during the Poetry Slam organized jointly by the US Consul General, Chennai and The Prakriti Foundation in December 2009. She blogs at and

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Every Day Fiction

  • I was put in mind of the Phil Collins song ‘Separate Lives’.

    Very well written, perhaps a bit over-written (i.e. it wouldn’t take a giant leap to say ‘on impulse’ instead of ‘in a sudden brainwave’).

    You need to watch out for weasel words like ‘now’. I counted it used five times, twice in the last, short paragraph.

    All that aside, a great, well observed character study.

  • Samantha Memi

    First impressions: beautifully haunting. I’ll need to read it again later to appreciate the subtlety.

  • fishlovesca

    Love it.

    Five stars.

  • AJ Smith


  • Thank you all for reading and your comments.

    Paul, thanks, al lot. In hind sight “on impulse” is better, although I had intended to show, in few words, the woman coming up with the idea of an omlet, because she was already thinking of ways to ease the friction between them.

    I use to have another weasel word – and! 🙂 But seriously, I deliberately used “now” twice in the last para. That word is from the two people’s perspectives, the two individual “nows” that happen at the same time, and hopefully means something/leads to something.

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  • On the whole I liked the story. You build up the tension between the two very well.

    In the ending I think you tell us too much when she says ´two zombies´, though. We already know that. And after the switch to her point of view, it is difficult to see if the last paragraph is him or her thinking.

  • Thanks Dorte. Every story written is a learning experience. I appreciate your/all the comments.

  • A thoughtful piece. Two married people at odds with each other, and having difficulty over-coming whatever it is that has come between them. It’s not as if they aren’t trying; he gave her flowers, she made him a special breakfast, and yet their words won’t flow.

    I think this line says why: “And something nutshell hard seals tight in his heart.” It’s, by far, the most intriguing line in the story…for me. Why does he feel that way? He seems to be the one carrying the biggest burden. But, we don’t know what, so we are left to fill in the blanks ourselves and take solace that at the end he’s headed inside once again (unless he turns around at the door and gets back in the car). Oh my.

    Bottom line: I liked it. A lot. Four huge stars from me.

  • Jason Windham

    I’ve got to tell you, this doesn’t do anything for me. I am aware that it is well-written and that the calm pace of the story and the intricate descriptions of the surroundings and the minimalist actions of the characters all add to the subtle nature of the piece. I suspect that this story is more sophisticated and smart than I am, with this insecure admission I reluctantly give up three stars.

  • I love the leg leaving the car at the end. This story made me slow down and read carefully and the reward for doing so was there. Really beautiful writing Rumjhum. 5 from me.

  • Angela

    Beautiful & haunting!!

  • I didn’t find this an easy story to read, but please don’t take that as a criticism, Rumjhum, far from it. I’ve been married twice, you see, and you have encapsulated a dreadfully complicated situation that always seems to arise sooner or later in a long-standing relationship. Something triggers a confrontation. Nobody’s ‘in the wrong’ but something is wrong, and you’re both to close to see what it is. The more that’s said, the worse the situation gets, but, paradoxically, if communication dies, so does the relationship.

    I hope this couple do wake up and see what they’ve got to lose – a lot of love, I’d say. Dr Oscar says, make some special time together, away from the usual surroundings.

    See, Rumjhum, you roped me in. The magic must have worked.

    😉 scar

  • John Im

    I’m guessing from a recent poem that this is also on the
    theme of a man unable to control his rage at the slightest
    variation from their mechanical rituals which she is
    quietly rebelling against in the name of spontaneity
    ‘her blood rushing inside’. The man knows he must suppress
    his rage, that he is like a jack-in-the-box automaton
    who is set off by the very spontaneous novelty that is
    being alive itself. Note she must even match lipstick
    with plum dress lest it touch off his fear/rage against
    anything new or spontaneous. The subtlety of the description, calm before the storm, to me made this
    story far more powerful than if one saw the actual storm
    about to abrupt. There should be six stars for this one!

  • John Im

    note: the slight changes in breakfast menu causes him
    to refuse to bring his dishes, lip trembling with
    disapproval, building toward a desire to go back and
    confront her, etc. implied threat ‘she had better open
    that door’, etc.

  • Jen

    I loved this story. It was a very well thought out peice, showing a stalled marriage. It came across as very realistic to me.

  • Very evocative, Rum. Love the imagery. 🙂

  • Sheila Cornelius

    The subject matter is intriguing and the picture of the marriage was well done. I found the style difficult – all those one and two word sentences.


  • I’m really sorry to do this, because I know we’re supposed to point out typos on the forums and not here, but I have not used the forums before and am not sure how to log on.

    I just wanted to say that in paragraph 4, line 3; and in graph 5, line 3, “every day” should be two words, not one.

  • fishlovesca

    @ 19, I don’t know about *should* be two words. Even if this were a conventional story, the author has a right to define terms. Given that she chooses to use the word “everyday” twice, my guess is it isn’t a typo. That she means to suggest the “everydayness” of their lives together.

  • Dont know why, today of all the days i dropped on to your Facebook page and saw this post..

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading it… Could almost envision the whole scene playing out 🙂

  • terry

    i don’t get the last paragraph..anyone??