THIRD SATURDAY MORNING IN MAY • by Deirdre Coles

Toast was too loud, and cereal even louder, and Julie was too hungry to stay asleep. She wanted to be out of the house by the time her father got up anyway. So she ghosted her way through the kitchen and out to the garage.

There was a jar of peanuts on the worktable, next to the radio and some empty bottles. She poured a handful of peanuts into an old plastic grocery bag, looped the bag over the handlebars of her bike and hopped on.

Her house was at the bottom of a steep hill, and she pedaled in tight circles to build up speed before she flung herself up the slope. Soon she was standing up on the pedals, pulling back on the handles. But she wasn’t going to make it today, not with no dinner last night and no breakfast yet this morning. She scowled as she got off and walked the bike the rest of the way.

At least it was too early for anybody to see her. More than once Joe Farley and his friends had blown past her as she struggled up a hill. “Don’t feel bad, everybody knows girls suck at riding bikes,” he’d called back over his shoulder a few weeks ago. So Julie made a point of taking on any hill she could. And one day soon, maybe by summer, she’d be stronger than any of those boys. Stronger than anyone.

At the top, she looped through the quiet streets for what felt like a long time, until she guessed it had stopped being too early to head over to Amy’s house. She didn’t want to miss breakfast. Last week she’d arrived too late and had to wait for Amy in the kitchen with the smell of waffles lingering in the air.

She headed up a few blocks so she could glide down the big hill on Aspen Street. As the bike picked up speed, she lifted her hands up and spread them wide, feeling the wind slipping through her fingers, going faster and faster. She could always beat the boys, all the boys, at this. She might not be as fast going uphill, but nobody was faster going down.

At the bottom she hooked a left onto Cedar, and sat down on the curb in front of Amy’s house, choosing a spot in line with the kitchen window. She had just finished her peanuts when Amy’s mother opened the door, still tying the sash of her bathrobe.

“Julie, hi,” she said, a little wearily. “Would you like to join us for breakfast? I’m making pancakes.”

“Sure, thanks, Mrs. Morgan,” Julie said, leaving her bike on the lawn as she headed inside. She ran through a brief mental checklist, all the things she’d heard Mrs. Morgan tell Amy. Stand up straight. Pull your stomach in. Look adults in the eye when you talk to them. Directives that could all be translated as, Act like you belong here. Even though Julie didn’t.

A week ago, when Julie was sleeping over, she’d been walking down the hall to the bathroom, moving silently out of pure habit, and overheard Amy’s mom on the phone.

“It’d be nice if Amy could make some friends who could return the favor. Where she could sleep over there and play at their house sometimes.”

Now Julie stepped into the house, taking a deep breath. The air smelled of coffee and clean cotton, very different from the kitchen at her house.

“Amy’s still asleep, but you can go in and get her,” Mrs. Morgan said.

“Could I… give you a hand? Set the table, maybe?”

Julie had wanted to offer help before, but had been too afraid she’d mess up. She’d figured out which plates Mrs. Morgan liked to use for breakfast, which glasses and coffee cups, which cabinet each set came from, and rehearsed the process in her mind over and over. Even after she’d been sure she had it down, she’d worried that it seemed presumptuous. But Mrs. Morgan looked so tired today.

Mrs. Morgan stopped, her face softening. “No, that’s okay,” she said. “Just go get the sleepyhead.”

That’s pity, not affection, Julie told herself sternly as she headed down the hall. But she couldn’t help but hold that flash of tenderness close to herself, threadbare though it might be.

Julie knocked on the door of Amy’s room and went in without waiting for an answer. Amy was awake, stretching and yawning under her pink polka-dot bedspread. Amy wanted her mom to repaint her room and get her a new comforter, she said. She hated the pink. It was like her mom thought she was a little kid still. Julie had nodded along in commiseration. As if she had the same kind of troubles. That was one of the things Julie liked about her friend, actually. Amy never tread carefully, never stopped in the middle of sentence, looking at Julie, saying, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t mean…” and then trailing off.

The girls headed toward the kitchen. Amy’s brother appeared, and shuffled through the doorway, tousle-haired.

“Pancakes? We must have guests,” he said. “Who could it possibly be? Oh, wow, Julie! What a surprise! It’s been so long since we’ve seen you. Hours, even.”

“Ben,” Mrs. Morgan said in half-hearted warning, as she flipped a pancake.

Amy’s dad walked in, smiling as he headed for the coffee maker.

“Morning, kids. Looks great, honey.”

Julie felt her eyes get hot, and had to look down quickly at her lap, where her jeans still had a stain from the tomato sauce in the cafeteria lunch on Thursday. It was just that she was so hungry. And she imagined slathering on butter and syrup, so much that Amy’s parents would politely try to hide their distaste. But that was okay. Because what Julie knew, and Amy’s family had maybe never had to learn, was that sometimes you just had to take what you could get.


Deirdre Coles lives in Seattle and reads too much, and yes, that is a real and serious problem. Her stories have appeared in Every Day Fiction, Free Flash Fiction, MicroHorror, Infective Ink, 365 tomorrows and Kazka Press Fantasy Flash Fiction.


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Every Day Fiction

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The paragraphs about cycling took me out of the story. The rest? Heartbreaking! The author really got in the MC’s head.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    The paragraphs about cycling took me out of the story. The rest? Heartbreaking! The author really got in the MC’s head.

  • S Conroy

    Really good and the ending hit home. I was a bit unclear over the beginning. Was she dreaming about the toast and cereal? Or could she have had breakfast at home, but was afraid of waking her father up? If the second, I’d assume the father isn’t very caring and perhaps there is no mother.

    • MPmcgurty

      Misconnections is very nice. She has four stories here, and I think they get better and better.

  • S Conroy

    Really good and the ending hit home. I was a bit unclear over the beginning. Was she dreaming about the toast and cereal? Or could she have had breakfast at home, but was afraid of waking her father up? If the second, I’d assume the father isn’t very caring and perhaps there is no mother.
    * I’ve just checked up ‘Misconnections’. Good stuff indeed.

    • MPmcgurty

      Misconnections is very nice. She has four stories here, and I think they get better and better.

  • Well-written, but more of a PSA than a story. Yes, children go hungry all the time, and it’s a tragedy, but what else besides that is this story saying? I think we are all aware that many poor families can’t feed their children.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • MPmcgurty

      This may have been about poverty too, but for me it was more about a neglected child who is figuring things out on her own.

      • I can see that too, but even still, doesn’t EVERY child go through this phase of figuring things out on their own? There was nothing new here.

        • S Conroy

          Most (or hopefully most) children have parents who they can fall back on for love and support as they figure things out. This child seems to be left very much to her own devices.
          I get the impression that she’s got the self-belief to survive (think the bicycle scene was good for showing that side of her) and she’s also quite insightful (maybe through necessity) being able to see through the adults’ motives.
          For me the character was pretty well developed and not a generic child.

    • monksunkadan

      Scott , I think the power is in the feeling not the saying

      • Perhaps, but there wasn’t a lot of feeling here for me since I’ve heard stories like this a million times before. It’s real and it’s sad, but there’s just nothing new in this story to keep me interested. I kept waiting for something to happen or some revelation, but it never came.

  • Well-written, but more of a PSA than a story. Yes, children go hungry all the time, and it’s a tragedy, but what else besides that is this story saying? I think we are all aware that many poor families can’t feed their children.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • MPmcgurty

      This may have been about poverty too, but for me it was more about a neglected child who is figuring things out on her own.

      • I can see that too, but even still, doesn’t EVERY child go through this phase of figuring things out on their own? There was nothing new here.

        • S Conroy

          Most (or hopefully most) children have parents who they can fall back on for love and support as they figure things out. This child seems to be left very much to her own devices.
          I get the impression that she’s got the self-belief to survive (think the bicycle scene was good for showing that side of her) and she’s also quite insightful (maybe through necessity) being able to see through the adults’ motives.
          For me the character was pretty well developed and not a generic child.

    • monksunkadan

      Scott , I think the power is in the feeling not the saying

      • Perhaps, but there wasn’t a lot of feeling here for me since I’ve heard stories like this a million times before. It’s real and it’s sad, but there’s just nothing new in this story to keep me interested. I kept waiting for something to happen or some revelation, but it never came.

  • MPmcgurty

    I read this early this morning and, quite honestly, was so affected I couldn’t figure out what to say. After a terrible first sentence, I was worried that this was going to be 10 minutes of me re-reading sentences to make sense of the story. Then I got to “she ghosted her way through the kitchen” and just knew I was going to like it. It was raw and unflinching. The ‘graph about Julie rehearsing in her head how she would help Amy’s mother set breakfast was simply lovely. I loved the cycling, the delaying. Several characters were explained – realistically – in a brief amount of time. I agree with Paul that “the author really got in the MC’s head”.

    It’s heartrending, but I am so glad that the author chose to let Julie have the last word/thought in the story. No happy ending – in fact, sorrowful – but I just have a feeling that Julie is going to end up okay.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s very close.

  • MPmcgurty

    I read this early this morning and, quite honestly, was so affected I couldn’t figure out what to say. After a terrible first sentence, I was worried that this was going to be 10 minutes of me re-reading sentences to make sense of the story. Then I got to “she ghosted her way through the kitchen” and just knew I was going to like it. It was raw and unflinching. The ‘graph about Julie rehearsing in her head how she would help Amy’s mother set breakfast was simply lovely. I loved the cycling, the delaying. Several characters were explained – realistically – in a brief amount of time. I agree with Paul that “the author really got in the MC’s head”.

    It’s heartrending, but I am so glad that the author chose to let Julie have the last word/thought in the story. No happy ending – in fact, sorrowful – but I just have a feeling that Julie is going to end up okay.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s very close.

  • Tim STL

    This piece really captures the awkward tension between the haves and have nots which has long been a facet of our society. Well done.

  • Tim STL

    This piece really captures the awkward tension between the haves and have nots which has long been a facet of our society. Well done.

  • Minkee Robinson

    A very touching story with great detail and I too loved ‘she ghosted through the kitchen’. Well done.

  • Minkee Robinson

    A very touching story with great detail and I too loved ‘she ghosted through the kitchen’. Well done.

  • Netty net

    here you have a hungry child; they say there are children going hungry

    • monksunkadan

      What ?

      • I never understand Netty net’s comments either.

        • monksunkadan

          Thanks Scott, I’m new to this process. Thanks for responding

  • Netty net

    here you have a hungry child; they say there are children going hungry

    • monksunkadan

      What ?

      • I never understand Netty net’s comments either.

        • monksunkadan

          Thanks Scott, I’m new to this process. Thanks for responding

  • I’m a little confused. I read this a little differently. The first sentence “Toast was too loud, cereal even louder but Julie was too hungry to stay asleep,” led me to think that she could have eaten toast or cereal, but didn’t want to be there with her father. It wasn’t so much that there was nothing to eat as some dynamic with her family, i.e., lack of mother? that drives the character and the story. I think it is also about contrast between a family that seems “perfect,” i.e., one that has waffles and pancakes for breakfast – more elaborate than toast and cereal – and one that is more no frills with maybe some neglect, or even abuse, but I didn’t read it as being about a starving child living in abject poverty.

    I agree it is very well written, but I wonder about the difference in interpretations… Like, maybe the first sentence gets lost or is forgotten? Also, would a child think “That’s the pity not the affection?”

    • Trollopian

      Denbe, I think there’s at minimum neglect, and maybe abuse. The narrator had no dinner last night, and picks up some stale peanuts from among a detritus of bottles. By implication, she could have breakfasted on toast or cereal, so the cupboard isn’t totally bare. But the statement that those are “too loud” speaks volumes….who wants to wake up a volatile, hung-over father with such ordinary domestic noises? Skillful clues. This story is heartbreaking.

      • Troll, you are so right. In fact, having the toast and cereal there and having the MC decide to forego those just to get the hell out of the house makes it way more powerful than if there had been nothing.

      • S Conroy

        Thanks. Hadn’t picked up on that.

  • I’m a little confused. I read this a little differently. The first sentence “Toast was too loud, cereal even louder but Julie was too hungry to stay asleep,” led me to think that she could have eaten toast or cereal, but didn’t want to be there with her father. It wasn’t so much that there was nothing to eat as some dynamic with her family, i.e., lack of mother? that drives the character and the story. I think it is also about contrast between a family that seems “perfect,” i.e., one that has waffles and pancakes for breakfast – more elaborate than toast and cereal – and one that is more no frills with maybe some neglect, or even abuse, but I didn’t read it as being about a starving child living in abject poverty.

    I agree it is very well written, but I wonder about the difference in interpretations… Like, maybe the first sentence gets lost or is forgotten? Also, would a child think “That’s the pity not the affection?”

    • Trollopian

      Denbe, I think there’s at minimum neglect, and maybe abuse. The narrator had no dinner last night, and picks up some stale peanuts from among a detritus of bottles. By implication, she could have breakfasted on toast or cereal, so the cupboard isn’t totally bare. But the statement that those are “too loud” speaks volumes….who wants to wake up a volatile, hung-over father with such ordinary domestic noises? Skillful clues. This story is heartbreaking.

      • Troll, you are so right. In fact, having the toast and cereal there and having the MC decide to forego those just to get the hell out of the house makes it way more powerful than if there had been nothing.

      • S Conroy

        Thanks. Hadn’t picked up on that.

  • Chinwillow

    Maybe I’m having a bad day but I couldn’t connect the dots in this story. The opening left me flat. I thought for a moment it was about a bad hangover… I was annoyed that she just didn’t eat the peanuts there rather than transport a handful in a plastic bag over the handlebars of her bike.. The bicycling section didn’t seem to go anywhere. I didn’t get the poverty thing,but I did understand the issue of abuse; a kid fending for herself the best way she can. She chose to go to her friends as she did have food there to eat it. Gads! sometimes that’s all I have too,.cereal and toast..But It’s a good commentary on not having family support and love and finding it elsewhere.She needed a place of belonging… I agree that it reads like four stories budding on the same tree,,but I couldn’t draw them together enough to make it one powerful tale.

  • Chinwillow

    Maybe I’m having a bad day but I couldn’t connect the dots in this story. The opening left me flat. I thought for a moment it was about a bad hangover… I was annoyed that she just didn’t eat the peanuts there rather than transport a handful in a plastic bag over the handlebars of her bike.. The bicycling section didn’t seem to go anywhere. I didn’t get the poverty thing,but I did understand the issue of abuse; a kid fending for herself the best way she can. She chose to go to her friends as she did have food there to eat it. Gads! sometimes that’s all I have too,.cereal and toast..But It’s a good commentary on not having family support and love and finding it elsewhere.She needed a place of belonging… I agree that it reads like four stories budding on the same tree,,but I couldn’t draw them together enough to make it one powerful tale.

  • monksunkadan

    What a tight and compelling tale about a child’s method of dealing with her life, not complaining really, just dealing. 5 stars from me!!

  • monksunkadan

    What a tight and compelling tale about a child’s method of dealing with her life, not complaining really, just dealing. 5 stars from me!!

  • Kimberly Caldwell

    I loved this story. I read it as a character sketch about a child seeking family more than food, as evidenced by the availability of toast, cereal, and nuts at home–but not guidance on standing up straight and looking adults in the eye. Julie is a survivor. I had the sense that she will do just fine.

  • Kimberly Caldwell

    I loved this story. I read it as a character sketch about a child seeking family more than food, as evidenced by the availability of toast, cereal, and nuts at home–but not guidance on standing up straight and looking adults in the eye. Julie is a survivor. I had the sense that she will do just fine.