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May 14, 2010
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The group is led to a large table in the center of a mostly empty room.

“Thank you,” they each murmur as they are seated and handed menus.

There is silence for a bit as they scan the choices, yet it seems too tense to be companionable silence. Then the children, a girl and boy, begin to chatter lightheartedly to fill the empty space. One woman leans across the table and speaks to the elderly man.

“Dad,” she says loudly so that he can hear, “don’t forget that I cashed that check for you.”

The teenage girl at the table cringes at the volume needed for the man to hear it.

“Mm-hmm,” the man mutters in reply, his voice and slouched position displaying his obvious exhaustion.

“And I will pay your bills for you too,” the woman continues, “okay? The heating and cable.”

The man doesn’t respond to this, perhaps not hearing it, and the woman turns to the teenager.

“Why don’t you tell him about your show?” she asks of the girl, speaking almost as if the man isn’t there.

So the girl turns to the elderly man.

“Grandpa,” the girl says with false enthusiasm, forced brightness, “did I tell you about the show that I got into?”

“What?” the man asks.

“We’re doing the show Grease at our school, Grandpa. You should come.”

“Okay,” the man murmurs in response.

The waiter appears to take everyone’s order. Once he is finished, he whisks away the menus and disappears back through the red swinging kitchen doors. Without anything else to look at, the family finally is forced to look at each other, to confront one another, without barriers. The teenage girl pulls out her cell phone to avoid such a confrontation.

“Hey,” the younger girl cries out from across the table, “no cell phones at the table!”

“We don’t have our food yet,” the older girl replies quietly, “so it’s fine.”

The younger girl disagrees, however.

“Mom,” she says loudly, interrupting the conversation of the two women at the table, “she has her phone out.”

Caught red-handed, the teenage girl places the phone on the hard table.

“I was just checking the time,” she says, placating.

The mother glares accusingly at the teenager, but remains silent, then returns to her conversation with the other woman.

“So when he’s sleeping, I want you to take some of the chocolate and hide it,” she says quietly to the other woman, obviously avoiding being heard by the elderly man. “Don’t worry, he’ll forget about it anyway. We just can’t have him eating too much of that, it isn’t good for him. I don’t know what my brother was thinking…”

The mother trails off, and the other woman nods, agreeing.

The teenage girl, seated between the elderly man and the women, cringes, hating the position she is in. She leans over towards the mother.

“Mom, he doesn’t remember who gave it to him,” she whispers, pain lacing her words.

“That’s okay,” the mother replies confidently.

“But he doesn’t remember!” the girl repeats emphatically, thinking that her mother missed something.

“It’s okay,” the mother assures he daughter, but then falls silent.
The elderly man, two women, and teenage girl remain that way, not talking, while the younger boy and girl continue to chatter contentedly, oblivious to the pain and worry filling the hearts of those around them.

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