Jack London. The Apostate (part 2)
She was holding a broken lid on the pot as she poured two cups of coffee. He made no remark, for this was a standing quarrel between them, and the one thing upon which his mother was hard as adamant. «Wunst» a day it was compulsory that he should wash his face. He dried himself on a greasy towel, damp and dirty and ragged, that left his face covered with shreds of lint.
«I wish we didn’t live so far away,» she said, as he sat down. «I try to do the best I can. You know that. But a dollar on the rent is such a savin’, an’ we’ve more room here. You know that.»
He scarcely followed her. He had heard it all before, many times. The range of her thought was limited, and she was ever harking back to the hardship worked upon them by living so far from the mills.
«A dollar means more grub,» he remarked sententiously. «I’d sooner do the walkin’ an’ git the grub.»
He ate hurriedly, half chewing the bread and washing the unmasticated chunks down with coffee. The hot and muddy liquid went by the name of coffee. Johnny thought it was coffee — and excellent coffee. That was one of the few of life’s illusions that remained to him. He had never drunk real coffee in his life.
In addition to the bread, there was a small piece of cold pork. His mother refilled his cup with coffee. As he was finishing the bread, he began to watch if more was forthcoming. She intercepted his questioning glance.
«Now, don’t be hoggish, Johnny,» was her comment. «You’ve had your share. Your brothers an’ sisters are smaller’n you.»
He did not answer the rebuke. He was not much of a talker. Also, he ceased his hungry glancing for more. He was uncomplaining, with a patience that was as terrible as the school in which it had been learned. He finished his coffee, wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, and started to rise.
«Wait a second,» she said hastily. «I guess the loaf kin stand you another slice — a thin un.»
There was legerdemain in her actions. With all the seeming of cutting a slice from the loaf for him, she put loaf and slice back in the bread box and conveyed to him one of her own two slices. She believed she had deceived him, but he had noted her sleight-of-hand. Nevertheless, he took the bread shamelessly. He had a philosophy that his mother, what of her chronic sickliness, was not much of an eater anyway.
She saw that he was chewing the bread dry, and reached over and emptied her coffee cup into his.
«Don’t set good somehow on my stomach this morning,» she explained.
A distant whistle, prolonged and shrieking, brought both of them to their feet. She glanced at the tin alarm-clock on the shelf. The hands stood at half-past five. The rest of the factory world was just arousing from sleep. She drew a shawl about her shoulders, and on her head put a dingy hat, shapeless and ancient.
«We’ve got to run,» she said, turning the wick of the lamp and blowing down the chimney.
They groped their way out and down the stairs.