family dynamics

events from a sunday night dinner

The spilled milk forms a three-headed and one-legged dog on the hardwood floor. White on distressed brown, while the distressed cries from Mother cause the milk to shift and shake. The dog has four tails and no head. The dog has one head and three legs. The dog has no body. The dog has only tails. The tails wag up and down to different beats against the broken glass.

Father paces up and down and down and up, causing the glittering, splintering glass to jump and the dog’s tail to stutter until everything is jolting. He wants paper towels! He wants a broom! He wants a trashcan! So I run, run, run, but I forget that I am supposed to breathe too. I forget where we keep the broom, and the paper towels are gone. The trash bags are under the sink with the dish wash supplies, so I bring these to Father. But where are the paper towels?

“Just use the damn washcloths,” he says. He yells.

“No!” Mother has been paused, but now she is all motion. “I just washed them. You know I just washed them.” Mom’s accusatory “You” is usually directed at Father, but sometimes “You” is directed at me. I don’t know if “You” is directed at me now, but I say I’m sorry anyway because people are screaming near me. They are screaming near me, but they may as well be screaming at me. The headless dog wags its two tails as I run by.

The paper towels are in the bathroom under the sink with the nail polish remover that is leaking, leaking everywhere. My nose stings and eyes cloud, and my two most needed senses are gone. I am a leaking, crying mess. The world is water. And still there is screaming about the mop.

The mop is behind the vacuum in the basement. The lights of the vacuums are eyes that blink and glare under the florescent glow of the overhead bulb. When my eyes rest on the center of the bulb, a black dot appears. The bulb has a pupil. The vacuum and the bulb stare at me. Their gazes swivel as I swivel, and I cannot escape them.

I return as a crooked figure weighed down on my right side by a mop. It is a third appendage.

“Can’t you move any faster?” This is Father. Mother is worrying about the new, distressed wood that the milk could, might, definitely is ruining, and he wants me to make her stop. My little sister cannot leave her kitchen chair because she is barefoot and the floor is covered with shattered glass. Eight eyes watch me and wait. The dog has eyes too.

The paper towels are in Father’s hands now because he told me I was taking too long. He rips out one portion, two, and then a third with jagged edges before shoving these new fragments back to me.

“You’re wasting them. You know I just bought them.” This time Mom’s accusatory “You” is not directed at me, but Father doesn’t taken ownership of this accusation either.

I stand with my ripped paper towels over the laughing dog with the watching eyes and the wagging tails that have grown to cover half the distressed floor. I could kneel to clean the spill, but my bony knees are bare and the shattered glass shines below. I don’t want to get blood on Mom’s new, distressed wood. I could drop the paper towels on the spill and use my feet to move the towels around, but Father calls that wrong. Wrong! Messy! Uncouth! He doesn’t really say uncouth, but I prefer that to the word he chooses.

While I am standing and thinking and Mom is pacing and worrying and my little sister is sitting so quietly we all forget she exists, Father is taking action. He is taking action by ripping more sheets of paper towels and bending over to scrub at the distressed floor. The muscles in his arms twist and arch to show his effort. His effort was supposed to be my effort. Look at how he is straining himself for us. Look at how he works for us. His muscles are moving while I am, for once, still.

“Always up to me, always me who ends up doing the work, always while you watch.”

Father mutters, but it’s purposefully loud for us to hear. I apologize again because this time I know the yelling is at me, not just near me. The dog has one eye now. The dog has no tail and no body. The dog is just a head until it isn’t.