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'I care for myself. The more friendless'—
—'the more unsustained I am, the more I will respect my'—
“CHILD.” My book was snatched from me and tossed to the side.
“You didn’t let me finish the page.”
She ran a hand through her frazzled black hair, even darker than mine. “Have you even finished your homework yet?”
“How was your hair dresser appointment?
“Just set the table.”
I got up and jerked open to the cutlery drawer. It seemed pointless that we had bought a sterling set, complete with dessert forks, actual forks, serving spoons with and without holes, table spoons, large soup spoons, serrated knives, smooth butter knives, when we hardly used any except the standard fork. They glistened rather prettily, though, and the drawer was never empty. “How many settings?”
Her apron folds cracked as she slapped oil off her hands. “How many do you think?”
I grabbed two forks. She brought two steaming bowls of pasta and we sat down.
“Thank you for dinner,” I said.
“You’re welcome. Turn on the lights.”
A large stainless steel lamp stood in the corner of the room. I turned the knob on high.
“Not so bright. It’s not that dark.”
We ate. The food tasted nice and warm. Her jazz music dominated the stereo and the room, rasping “A Whole New World.” I did not like the singer’s voice.
“When’s he going to be home?” I asked.
Her fork paused mid-stab, then skewered a meatball. “Who knows,” she said. “This morning he said eight, but he called while you were at the gym and said not to wait up.”
“A dazzling place I never knew,” rasped the stereo.
“Didn’t you ask when?”
“Can’t we just have a simple family dinner without any arguing?”
“Who’s arguing? I’m not arguing. And where’s this simple family?”
“You can go to the other room now if you keep that tone.”
We finished eating at 8:17. She hurried herself away to the safety of her room, laptop, and online shopping. I stayed downstairs and settled myself in front of the computer, pulling out my English assignment. My teacher told us to only spend thirty minutes on it.
12:37 found me still staring at the freaking, flickering screen. I had less than half a page typed, but I had read three chapters of my book. I had also managed to get from the bombing of Pearl Harbor to Rachel McAdams on Wikipedia blue links.
The front door creaked open. I heard him stomping his shoes on the green welcome mat. Next minute he came into the dining room. His head was down and he was looking at a thick manila folder burdened with papers. His tie looked as though he had yanked himself free of it as soon as possible. His shirt was unbuttoned so that his potbelly hung loose.
“Hey,” I said.
He stopped. The manila folder snapped shut and his hand went to the tie drooping like a noose around his collar. “You should be asleep.”
“Tons of homework. Don’t worry, I’m almost done.”
He ruffled my hair. “But really, you should be asleep.”
“I guess. How was your day?”
His back was turned to me. Everything clattered around as he dug through the freezer. We seemed to get a sense of brief satisfaction about being organized that we needed to make a mess so we had something to in fact organize. At last he kicked the freezer closed, a large carton of pistachio ice cream in hand. He started to eat from the container with a fork from the drying rack. “You don’t need all these lights,” he said.
I had the lights on over the dinner table, computer, and kitchen. “How was your day?”
He scooped a forkful of ice cream. “I don’t know, dear, I don’t know. Things haven’t been easier since Chris left. Thank God he got a scholarship. But, I don’t know.”
“Mmm.” I resumed typing.
He straddled himself on one of the wooden dinner chairs. “You know, I keep thinking about how Chris kept talking about how he wants to spend a year abroad in Taiwan. All my life I’ve wanted to go on a trip like that. I’d like to take all of us on a nice vacation. When was the last time we went out of state? Your grandma’s funeral doesn’t count.” He set down the ice cream carton and leaned his head against the table. “I’ll be too old before I can ever do it.”
I stopped typing and looked at him. He was lucky he had a face made to smile because now laugh lines and crow’s feet creased his skin. He did nothing to hide his age. “You know,” I said, “I did say that I could—”
He stood up. “No, absolutely not. You need to focus on your studies.”
“No. People now make students do extra hours without anything to show for it.”
“I—we have plenty to be thankful for. Don’t worry about it. You’re young and smart. Just—if you’re not careful, you’ll feel that your life is going by and you’re not taking advantage about it. Just—don’t think about it.” He stood up. His potbelly jiggled. “I’m going to bed. Don’t stay up too late. I have to leave the house at seven, whether you’re up or not.”
He glanced at the book on my lap and smiled when he saw the title. He switched off the dinner table light as he left.
I awoke at 5:57 with my face resting on the keyboard. I printed my unfinished English homework and went up to my room. I lay down in bed and stared at the ceiling. My alarm clock beeped at 6:30. I got up, brushed my teeth, popped out the dry contacts I had left in last night for new ones, and got dressed. 6:50.
I ate breakfast. 7:00.
At 7:15, I knocked on his door. No answer. I opened it.
He was sound asleep. In his hand was the manila folder, the papers spread all over his bed. I opened my mouth, then closed it, then opened it again. I closed the door and walked downstairs.
The coffee pot was happily boiling. She looked up when I came into the dining room.
“Mom, can you drive me to school? Dad’s sound asleep.”