6.17.2013 Journal Prompt

Image from The Flamingo Kid
Image from The Flamingo Kid

June 17, 2013: He told stories at the table.

12 Replies to “6.17.2013 Journal Prompt”

  1. He told stories at the table, without speaking words. Stories that seared into our young minds, yet, we! so very mindful not to speak a word ourselves, ate silently. Even as little ones, we somehow knew that Daddy was in his depression days. . They would come by unannounced, but for the awful silence and brooding in his face, fingers barely attempting to put food to fork, fork to mouth, and yet, Daddy! back in the 1960’s was not a figure to be questioned. And so we ate in silence, learning as three sisters how to store up our feelings in shadow boxes way beneath the surface of our skin, heart and mind as Daddy’s stories spun a sad, impenetrable haze over our little supper table. Oh Mama, what you must have endured. The stories in the silences, – they are the scariest.

  2. It was the only time my brother really looked at us, as though he had just entered stage left and took his seat at the table by the window. He adjusted his cap but mother always made him toss it under his seat. He’d get that look–the tilt of head to the right and the lone dimple puckering up; his eyes squinted as though he was trying to figure out what he was meant to do here beside the other four. He would start with passing the first dish to the left and begin at the beginning. The truck blew a gasket. The corral was in need of fixing again even though last week it was looking good. The coyote he saw roaming and circling was about to lose its sly life if he had his way. The cattle had little going on.

    The rest of the time: nothing. But after the long days’ labor, all he experienced was shared with us, whether daddy liked it or not (he’d been with him, after all), not in long sentences or big words. Just a moment here, another there. He’d smile in my direction if I paid close attention. I was enthralled by the shape of his words and how they eased his gaunt, bronzed face. His tales took me out of my usual place in the wings and into a world I’d never know like he did. The wheelchair had decided that for me long ago. This way I could follow him around, hitch up close to him on Sal, his horse, when he rode out a bit after dinner for some “sweet air” as he called it, the wind that ran it’s long beautiful shadows over the land. Or that’s how I thought of it when he trotted off, carrying his silence lightly.

    I never thought of it then, but years later when I recalled dinnertime and his abbreviated, inelegant stories, I wondered if he might be telling them for me. I hope so. They were like a tether to a space of joy in an otherwise cramped and painful world. Even now I can see him, the dusky light around his shoulders, dimple deepening, whiskery chin up in the air, words offered up like water to hot, cracked earth. And I drank in every one and came to call it love.

  3. Tripp told stories when they were all at table. Although there was no badness in what he did, it was as though he chose his moments – the lull between serving and grace, or the after-Amen pause when it was quiet. And he said how Seth had been smoking out by the shed and he said Seth kept a soft pack of Lucky Strike tucked in his sock along with a zippo lighter he’d stole from Ingram’s store. And Pa didn’t like smoking on account of his own father had coughed himself into an early tar black grave. And he didn’t like stealing neither, so he scowled at Seth and Seth was shamed.

    And Tripp said how Ellie had been kissing Matt Brewer after chapel and Tripp had seen ‘em all hot and breathless where they thought they were not observed, and Matt’s hands were under Ellie’s Sunday blouse and she did not push those hands away but made a noise like the old sow when her ears are stroked. And it was not the first boy Ellie had kissed and Pa said it was a damnable sin in one so fresh in years and Ellie was to kneel on the stone steps for an hour after dinner and she was to pray out loud for God’s to forgive her.

    And Tripp said how Mom was hiding bits of dollars in an old tin tea caddy at the back of the cupboard in the kitchen; how she bought cheaper cuts of beef or flirted with the grocer so as to get a pound and a half of plums for just the price of a pound, and what she saved she put in the tin. And if you shook that tin that once held tea, then there’d be the small rattle-thunder of almost nine dollars in change and she was saving for a coat she coveted and she had a picture of that coat torn out of the catalogue and folded and tucked into her purse.

    A silence then and no one knew where to look or if they should start with their meal. And Pa’s fingers were tapping on the table but not making a sound.

    And Tripp said how Pa stood some nights at the bottom of the yard, there where it is darkest, and Pa drank home-made hooch from an old bottle he kept hidden amongst the nettles; and Pa sang to himself then, and they were not church songs that he sang, his foot tapping and his body swaying. And on Saturday night just passed, when all the house slept, Pa danced with the Widow Morrison and she was still wearing her widow’s weeds; and they danced and they sang in the dark kiss-whisper night.

    And Tripp told all these stories, not ever able to keep them to himself. Pa said there was something not right in his head. Pa said it was to be blamed on the something that went wrong at Tripp’s birth and the doctors shook their heads that night and they said they were sorry and they had done their best. So Pa said Tripp couldn’t help it and that Tripp didn’t mean no harm by the truths that he told, and so no one at table was cross or ever could be, except with themselves at having been caught.

  4. It was awful, Sara Jane, honest. Just awful. I tried to figure out a way to sneak out the door but you know Mom, she makes us all come to breakfast and sit together, be a family, say grace and start the day right, she says. Oh god, I hate it. I mean I don’t want to talk to anybody before three cups of coffee, let alone pray.

    But oh no, she’s got to check us out, make sure we have on clean school clothes and eat oatmeal, ugh, and orange juice, and I want to throw up. Just give me a power bar or something and I’m happy to go off to class without saying shit to anyone, that’s what would make me happy.

    So there we are, supposed to be happy as clams, the Perfect Family having our Perfect Breakfast and saying thank you Jesus for oatmeal and orange juice, and Dad says to Matt, “So where did you go last night that you got that big scratch on the fender?” And Matt looks at Dad like “What scratch?” all innocent and Dad says, “You know, the big scratch I could see when I went out to get the paper this morning,” and Matt says, “Oh, THAT scratch” and then he doesn’t say anything.

    Dad says, “Well?” and Matt says “That deer that ran out into the road must have rubbed the side of the car or something. I didn’t think it even touched the car, Dad, honest I didn’t. I didn’t feel anything, and I never even stopped to look because I thought I took a miss. I just saw him in my rear view mirror. Gee, I’m really sorry.”

    Then Dad says, “Well, it did a lot of damage, actually. There was a scrape all the way down the fender and it was so deep I thought it might have been made by car keys. I don’t understand how you wouldn’t have felt it or heard some sound or something.”

    And then Mom says, “Oh, Matt, my new Lexus. How could you?” And of course she starts to cry, like she always does, and Dad says, “Shut up, Maxine. He couldn’t help a deer that runs into the car, don’t get hysterical,” and Mom says, “You always take his side, Vernon, and it’s MY car, and I never get to have anything nice with you around, you all just ruin everything that’s important to me.”

    You can just imagine the rest, Sara Jane: one minute we’re like praising God and passing the oatmeal and the next minute we’re all screaming at each other and Matt goes to his room and slams the door and Dad stomps off to work and Mom has got her head in her hands and she’s sobbing and all hysterical so I can’t tell her anything about the pregnancy test and what the nurse said.

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