This is where it starts

She is cleaning the house. Cutting apples for a pie, she sprinkles them with sugar before popping the pan in the oven and heating up the house. She knows apple pie is one of her boys’ favorites. She is wearing a blue cotton dress and her brown hair is in neat, deliberate curls. Her dark, deep set eyes are focused on washing the dishes, scrubbing the last bits of today’s dinner off and watching it all swirl down the drain. She’s focusing on the dishes, she wants to focus on the dishes. She wants to focus on anything other than the thoughts racing through her mind, seeming to grow stronger with each passing day. She wishes these thoughts were able to swirl down the drain along with the soapy water.

He is deeply engrossed in applying the exact right amount of glue to his model car. Too much glue and the pieces will slip and slide, too little and the pieces will fall apart. His brothers pass through the kitchen, smoking cigarettes and laughing loudly as they ram past. They are headed out back to work on the cars in the backyard garage with their father. Their eyes never make contact with his, but the youngest one playfully bops him on the head as they motor past. The boy watches their backs as they make their way to the garage. He wonders what it is that is missing in him that makes him different from his brothers. He looks across and sees his mother, with her faded blue cotton dress and dark drooping curls. He smiles and tells her that dinner was good.

Two roommates getting to know one another. Food, sex, music and life are discussed at length. They are dancing, trading scandalous secrets, indulging in youthful stories. At some point the topic of family makes it’s its way into the conversation. The dancing slows. One roommate naturally speeds up her end of the conversation with stories and stories to tell, while the other one falls silent. Both are immediately aware of this difference, and both feel the weight of the unspoken words. Neither one dare disturb the sacred silence; they let it linger in the air above them, not sure of when it might descend again. They know it will, though. The conversation soon moves back to loud and excited laughing, then dancing, then singing.

Her father walks into her room. He asks her why she is journaling instead of working on maths, his chosen career for her. She apologizes, and quickly grabs her textbook. He comments on her posture, and tells her to tuck her shirt into her knee length skirt. He grabs her journal off her desk and walks out of the room, slamming her door. She stares at the numbers on the pages of her textbook, and tears fill her eyes. The numbers don’t make as much sense as the words, but life doesn’t make sense to her either, so math is a fitting subject. She worships her Dad, but she knows why her mother left him. She just doesn’t know why her mother left her.

It’s a hot summer afternoon. Just back from a run, relaxing in the cool of his apartment, a boy gets a phone call. It is from the state of Kansas. “We are calling to inform you that you are required to submit a paternity test to the state by the end of the month. We will contact you in six months to let you know more information, and legal advice if necessary. Thank you, have a good day.” The boy hangs up the phone. The voice on the other end of the line could just as easily have been the mechanic, telling him his car was ready for pickup, or a librarian, reminding him his books were overdue. He really wishes his books were overdue. He sinks onto the kitchen floor with his back against the refrigerator. His breathing slows, his eyes close and he begins to think about the past few years slowly and deliberately.

A girl cracks open a fresh jar of baby food- this evening’s delicacy is yam and spinach purée. She glances over at her year old daughter who is staring at her with expectation in her eyes. It’s the same look of hope that her mother, father, teachers, brothers, sisters and friends have all looked at her with over her life. She has never been able to fulfill any of their hopes for her. She wonders if she’ll ever be able to meet anyone’s expectations. She wonders if she will be able to fill her daughter’s stomach every night for the next eighteen years. She wonders if her daughter be able to fill her up with a reason to live.

The boy looks up from his model cars at his mother in her blue cotton dress with her clear gray eyes and dark drooping curls. She woke up at five this morning to curl her hair. He knows this because he woke up to go to the bathroom before the sun came up. He saw his mother looking into the mirror holding her curler in her hand. She looked so peaceful and happy and full of purpose; he had never seen his mother like this before. He had wondered why she would find this in a curling iron.

His brothers and father come back in for the apple pie. They are eating and laughing and leaving. His mother has just sat down to eat by the time they are headed out the door again. Walking over to the window she pulls the blinds, she straightens the table cloth and she lights a candle on the table. She sits alone and stares at her plate, then begins to eat. The boy realizes that this moment, just like her neat, deliberate dark brown curls, is for her alone. He wishes she had more moments like this. He makes eye contact with her, and she smiles.

He always told his mother that her dinner was good.


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