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Dinner This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Words. My words. They fill up blank pages, empty spaces, bored minds.
Now, they find their way into my ears: ghosts of past laughs, memories of times when it wasn’t like this. A dull pain begins growing in my chest. I try to counter it by not looking up; determined that staring at my food will force it back down my throat. Eventually, it becomes too much – I look up, meeting my father’s startling gaze. With a sharp intake of breath, I turn my head away and mask the movement by tucking my hair behind my ear.
Dinner wasn’t always like this. We used to share jokes, anecdotal stories of what had happened during our days, often discussing events on the news. We used to linger at the table, no one wanting to be the first to get up and spoil the moment. We used to watch movies at dinner sometimes, talking over the dialogues and then rewinding to catch what we’d missed. Yet no one felt annoyed at the fact that it took us twice as long to finish a movie. It was worth the time spent together.
Now? My mother refuses to watch movies. She has work to do, to-do list items to check off. My brother is always the last at the table, forever scolded because his distracted, meandering eating habits. No one talks at the dinner table anymore.
And so I find myself still unable to say anything. The words catch in my throat. Why is it that I have nothing to say? I’ve been gone for a whole week – and there’s so much to tell! I take a breath, intending to tell them about our visit into the city, but the words catch in my throat. The memories reach their long spindly fingers around anything I would say, pulling it back, back, back. They mean too much for me to go around talking about them. A tear wets my eyelashes as I realize that it has reached the breaking point: I can’t even share them with my own father. My own family.
I quickly swallow the last of my food, forcing it past the hurdle in my throat, and rise from the table.
“I’m done with dinner.”



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