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The Great Fire of Suburbia MAG
I was under the table when the door squeaked open. Dad trudged in, his hat pulled low on his wide head. The black hair on the back of his neck escaped the shadow cast by the wide brim. He held a small green plant with bright red peas hanging from the sides of the leaves. He kicked the door shut, leaving a muddy footprint on the door, and walked into the kitchen.
“How’d it go today?” Mom turned the burner on low. Dad put the plant on the table and sat down.
“I asked you a question.” Mom crossed her arms.
“Not too good.” Dad took a deep breath and took his hat off.
“Did you yell at the interviewer again?”
“The guy was a jerk.”
“You didn’t curse, though, right?”
“I don’t remember.” Dad rested his head on his left hand.
“What’d he say?”
“The jerk.” Mom stirred the lentils.
“He told me it was a-a wonderful day.”
“You gotta stop being so sensitive.”
“Waduya mean, people?” his face began to flush.
“Okay, okay, I didn’t mean to upset you. What’s with the plant?” Mom asked.
“The Mexican at the plant shop said it would...”
“What, give you good luck?” Mom tasted the lentils with a spoon and added more salt.
“No, he said it would bring us closer to God,” Dad said slowly.
“How would that plant,” Mom pointed with the spoon, “bring us closer to God?”
“How the hell would I know? The Mexican told me it was a rosary pea.” He started to mumble something under his breath, but I didn’t catch it.
“I thought you didn’t even believe in God, at least after the war.”
“Well, I could use all the help I can get.”
“Joe, if you just stop yelling and cussing at the interviewer, you won’t need that plant. Second, I don’t have the time to take care of it, and it’s gonna wither and die.” Mom lightened her tone a bit. “Then what do you think the Mexican will say about our luck?” Mom took the spoon and swooped it down toward the ground like a jet diving. Dad nodded his head and walked to the counter. He took a half-empty bottle and poured himself a glass of red wine. He drank it all in one long swig, and some of the red liquid dribbled onto his stubbly beard as he grimaced at the taste. He refilled his glass and cut a wafer-thin slice of bread.
“Then what do you suppose we do with it, Anne? Throw it out?” He looked at Mom. “Okay, I’ll return it tomorrow.”
“Mmm,” Mom said.
I got out from under the table and gave Dad a kiss. “Ouch, Daddy, your beard feels like sandpaper.”
“Now you know how my day was. Could you pass me the clicker?” He turned on the television. I crawled back under the table. I took out a yellow piece of chalk and started to draw a big whale. Kit, just awoken from his nap, ran into the kitchen with delight. He was half-naked, a soft white belly protruding from his diaper. He had pale blue eyes and rosy cheeks topped with blond curls. He nearly made it across the kitchen but tripped on Dad’s shoe. The smile faded into pain-riddled shrieks, as big wet tears streamed from his eyes.
“I can’t handle this,” Dad ripped a small corner of the bread and pushed it into the baby’s mouth.
“What, honey?” Mom stirred faster.
“The siren we have in the house.” He looked over at Kit, whose crying was quieting down. Dad bent over and picked him up by the diaper and put him on top of the table. Then he crinkled his nose and smiled.
“Anne, this is one smelly baby.”
“Well, change his diaper.”
“Maybe later.” Kit stopped crying and started to play with the plant, swinging at the red beads. He grabbed one and wrapped his small fingers around the red bead. Kit released his grip, and Dad put him back onto the floor.
“Good for another 10,000 steps, big guy,” Dad half smirked. Kit wandered around until he found his small computer and screamed in delight.
Mom sampled the lentils. “Ranna, you know dinner is almost ready, and I refuse to serve you under the table.”
“Ranna, listen to your mother and get out.” I continued drawing my whale.
“Did you hear me, you better get outta there soon or ....” I started to ball up and put my hands over my ears. He looked over at Kit, and Kit returned his gaze.
“Ranna, you know I didn’t mean to yell ... right?” I nodded, my hands still over my ears.
“Anne, I’m gonna get some shut-eye. Call me when dinner is ready.” Dad stood and made his way toward the stairs.
“It’ll be just 20 minutes ’til dinner.”
“Then it’ll have to be a short nap.” Dad walked up the stairs, making heavy thumps.
“So, how was school, Ranna?” Mom said.
“Okay.” I pushed the chalk hard into the underside of the table, letting the point of the chalk crumble.
“What’d you learn about?” Mom went to the fridge and poured herself a glass of water.
“You mean Illinois.”
“Yeah, we learned about a big fire. It started in a farm and burned down four miles. They couldn’t stop it.”
“Did they try?” Mom held up her glass.
“Yup, but then the water station burned down too.” I rolled onto my back.
“So, it was a smart fire then ....”
“It only got big after it burned down a church.” I stopped drawing.
“It’s funny that it only got attention since it burned down a church.”
“Why?” I looked up at her.
“Because all it needed was attention from the firefighters, and it would have been stopped. It took an entire church to catch ablaze before it got what it needed.” Mom mixed the salad.
“I guess everything just needs some attention ....” I put my hand on top of the table, feeling around for the plant. Then I pulled it under the table and looked at it. The peas almost looked like juicy red berries, and I touched them. My spotty Sunday school attendance accounted for the blankness in my mind when I thought about rosary prayers. It was a Tuesday, and the only rosary prayers that I could remember were for the Joyful Mysteries, so I gave up. I put the plant back.
Mom started to set the table, placing the fork, knife, and spoon on a paper towel. “I better wake Daddy.” She turned off the burner and walked upstairs. I heard a door slam shut. Kit, losing interest in his game, dropped it and dashed toward me. He fell before he got to me, but didn’t cry. I reached for the table and pulled down a paper towel. I covered Kit’s face with it. He didn’t smile; instead, he sprinted toward a chair. Trying to climb it, he fell on his back. His mouth hung open, he looked shocked to have fallen again. I could see him struggling to get up, as if there was some unseen weight on his back.
He looked back at me, and I lifted him onto the seat. Then, like an orangutan, he climbed onto the table, kicking silverware off in the process. It clattered as it hit the black linoleum floor. I crawled out from under the table. I picked up the fallen silverware, brought them to the sink, dunked them into water, and cleaned them with a sponge. When I turned around to put the silverware on the table, I saw Kit on top of the table, chewing something. As I got closer, I saw leaves and red beads from the plant on the table. I put him on the floor and rushed upstairs as Dad came down.
“Whoa, for Chrissake what’s the problem?”
“Kit ate the peas,” I said quickly. He ran to the kitchen and looked at the floor. Then he turned around, his eyes glassy. He wrapped his arms around me. I started to cry softly, but he didn’t let go.