“Would you like 3 or 6?”
My eyes-wide are boring holes into this pallid glass of orange juice in front of me. I hear him -the pancake dude – but I cannot break my vision away. My drink has netted itself into tiny ripples, vibrating from the buzz of the restaurant. Tiny clumps of pulp bob up and down like buoys in salt-water sea.
There are waiters waiting for the old grey dying couple to choose their 2:00 PM dinner. Bus boys carrying plastic grey tubs of dirty melamine dishes into the sink sloshed around with soap, just to be slopped up again with eggs and sausage or chicken and waffles. His voice is a tiny speckle in the boisterous breakfast spot.
“So… was that a short stack?” I look up. Pancake Dude smiles, but he’s annoyed I haven’t answered him yet. Thick black dreads line the back of his scalp. His calm skin claims an innocent mind. He is older than me, but I have seen more than he ever has. I resent him for this.
“Just the 3 is fine.” Mom finally answers for me. Tight jawed. Furrowed brows. An almost convincing smile. “Let me put that right in for you, ok?” Pancake Dude takes our menus. Stephanie is sitting next to mom, twiddling her hair into her fingers. Around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again her brown curls move in the conveyor belt. We sit unspeaking in these unpleasant vinyl booths. I can’t believe they still make vinyl booths.
Now that I think about it, nobody has spoken to each other since last night. Mom is dancing with sideways glances, trying to catch a glimpse of sadness or tears on our faces. She won’t look us in the eyes though. She feels responsible. Which is and isn’t true.
I look up from the table and catch her staring at me. She clears her throat and pretends to look behind my head, at the clock on the far wall.
Hair into fingers, around her thumbs, across the tops of her hands, and back again.
Mom holds her cross pendant in the palm of her hand.
Breakfast tastes like sour milk and sugar. Nobody wants to go home.
Dad’s favorite song comes on as soon as Mom’s engine turns over. She slaps the radio dial mute with the heel of her hand. I think he was trying to reach out and pull her down into the speakers.
Mom turns to us and puts her finger up to her lips right before she lets us out of the car. “Don’t wake up your dad, ok? He’s sleeping upstairs.”
My breath instinctually becomes more shallow, quieter. I think maybe only I could hear the difference, but I wasn’t willing to take the chance. Steph and I slowly lower ourselves to the ground and unlace our sneakers with patience and precision. Socks stay on; bare feet squeak on linoleum floors. We become methodic in our movements. Don’t step on that floorboard, it creaks. Open the cupboard, but don’t let it slam. I even see mom gently placing her purse on the countertop. We are tiny, uneasy guests in our own house.
Aunt Joyce is already there when we get inside the house. She’s cast out any trace of evidence from the night before. Dad’s favorite chair is right side-up and back against the wall where it’s supposed to be. Our floor lamp is gone, but so is the broken base and shattered bulb. She even replaced the repugnant smell of Jack Daniels with Lysol, and a peppermint candle. Everything almost looks normal. It feels as sterile as a hospital, but it’s better.
The only thing Aunt Joyce didn’t manage to cover up was the immense gouge of freshly chipped paint and cracked gypsum board in the wall. I can hear the yelling and screaming again as I start to think about what happened. I stare at the dent in the wall until I don’t see a dent anymore.
Mom makes us dinner as usual, and Steph and I watch Nickelodeon after, as usual. The white dent seems to have eyes. It twists and turns in my peripheral vision. Morphing into a disfigured face; something foul and unearthly. I don’t think Steph can see it, but I know it’s there.
Aunt Joyce is helping mom clean up in the kitchen. I can hear their whispers over “Legends Of The Hidden Temple”, and the sound of plates being put into the dishwasher. They are being too loud.
“Are you sure you and the kids are safe here, Lisa?” “Yes, of course. He’s their father. This has never happened before.” Which, of course, is and isn’t true.
Tip toe up the stairs. Brush teeth. Put on clean pajamas.
Mom folds the sheet and blankets underneath my mattress the way I like. Usually being strapped in snug is nice, but tonight it feels like a cage. She smiles at me and kisses me goodnight, but lingers on the bed for a bit.
I close my eyes, turn to the side and feign sleep. There has been so much silence today in rooms full of people. I don’t want to spend another single minute like that. Mom leaves. I stare at the glow-in-the dark planets on my wall.
I reach out to touch them and trace the stars.
I think about the dent.
The door creaks, and light spills into my room. The noise immediately wakes me up, but I do not move. I don’t move. Don’t move don’t move don’t move.
His breathing is so heavy, and loud. Careless, clumsy footsteps approach my bed. My eyes are shut so tight. I try to relax them so he won’t notice, but I can’t help it.
“Hey bud, are you awake?” I smell the bite of alcohol from his breath as he stands over me. It burns my nose, but I don’t move. If I don’t move he won’t know I’m awake.
He ruffles my hair, hapless and sloppy. Tries to shake me awake. I don’t want to be touched. I know what he did and I know who he really is. I want him away so I can sleep. My head screams. My body screams.
“Jack?” Mom calls him from the master bedroom.
Dad stands over my bed for another minute before leaving. I think he’s looking at the planets. We look at the planets together, apart. I don’t notice him and he doesn’t remember me there anymore.
I think of my mother.
The taste of sour milk.
I feel the dent with every step he takes away.
Ryan Westmoreland loves reading, artisan cheeses, and napping.
Her work has previously been published in The Tiny Journal & Beyond Words Magazine.
Find her at twitter.com/reeltuffcookie