Familiar Routine



"Damn it, Catherine," Daddy hisses, his voice taking on an unfamiliar, gravely roughness, "that's the third time this week."
Mommy leans over the casserole dish, places her flat palms on either side of it, on the dining room table she'd just spent twenty minutes complaining about cleaning, and says, "Well, William, maybe if you'd been a bit more supportive, I wouldn't have had to do everything by myself. Maybe it wouldn't have been messed up."
"Maybe if you weren't such a damned fool, things might have gone smoothly."
Mommy's seafoam green eyes flash with sparks, and her lips twist and tighten into this thin pink line. She raises a hand to her neck and begins to play with the strings of her peal necklace. "Maybe if you weren't out all the time, carousing about with your female friends, I wouldn't have to go to such lengths to get your attention."
I push my fork around on my plate, sending crisp green peas rolling into my mashed potatoes. The air between my parents crackles like static electricity.
"Maybe if you'd pay some more attention to me, and my needs, I wouldn't have to go elsewhere."
Mommy grabs the casserole with her oven-mitted hands and smiles, but it isn't a nice kind of smile. The way she smiles at Daddy scares me; she pulls her lips back against her teeth, and it looks like she wants to bite him. "I cannot believe you just said that, William," she sneers, gripping the dish, her arms straight as tree trunks and trembling like a wind's just blown through.
"Believe it, Catherine," Daddy growls, as Mommy snatches up the knife and cuts into the tuna casserole. He pours himself another glass of wine and sits back, resting an arm on the dining room table. Mommy hates when we do that, but Daddy doesn't seem to mind.
Mommy scoops the grayish, pinkish tuna casserole onto our plates and smiles at us, brushing her hair out of her face. "Eat up," she says, in that familiar, fake sweet voice that my teachers always use. Mommy grips the knife, her knuckles white and knotted. She looks at Daddy. "Aren't you hungry, William?" she asks him sweetly.
"I'm sorry, Catherine, but I've lost my appetite," he says, airily, waving her off, not looking the least bit sorry.
Mommy nods, stiffly. "All right then," she says carefully, quietly, still holding on to the shiny knife. "All right then, William. If that's the way you want it, then fine."
"Come on," he sighs, gruffly, "quit with the melodramatics and sit down."
"I'll sit down when I'm good and ready," she replies, cheerily, her bouncy blonde curls bobbing.
"If I didn't know any better, and thought you had a spine, I'd think you were considering putting that knife in my heart." Daddy sips some of his red wine and dabs at his lips with his napkin, snorting loudly.
Mommy turns the knife in her hand, slowly, laughing along with him. "Oh my," she chuckles, sliding into her seat effortlessly, with a rustle of crinoline, "that's the silliest thing I've ever heard."
Daddy finishes his second glass of wine and pushes his plate away, muttering something under his breath at her that doesn't sound very nice.
I continue to play with my mashed potatoes and peas and casserole, abently. I don't feel like eating; I rarely feel like eating these days. Every time I try to swallow, my throat tightens, and I feel like I'll throw up if I put even one forkful of food in my mouth.
Mommy's face bears new lines, and I've never seen her look this old. Sure, she's old, but she looks like she's aged ten years in the last two months.
"Chrissy, aren't you going to eat? You haven't touched your casserole," she says, picking up her cup of coffee, her pinky finger sticking up because that's what she once said all ladies did when they drank coffee from mugs.
"Sorry, Mommy... I'm not very hungry," I reply, meekly, lowering my head in shame.
"See? Even the girl is sick of casserole," Daddy says, loudly, and I think that maybe it's just the wine talking.
"If you want something other than casserole for dinner, William, you can make it for yourself. D'accord?"
"God damnit, you spoiled rotten litttle - " Daddy begins, but Mommy cuts him off sharply, raising the knife and pointing it at him.
"William! Ferme-la," she snaps, stabbing in the air with the casserole knife. "This is not the time, nor is it the place to discuss it!"
Sometimes, when Mommy gets real mad, her native language sneaks through. I wish she'd speak it more because I think it sounds pretty like the soft rush of the river, but Daddy doesn't like having her speak French around me, or my baby sister Patty. He thinks we won't be good Americans if she does that.
"Haven't I told you not to use French around the children?" Daddy snarls, his voice sounding like a rubber band about to snap. "Haven't I told you that, you blubbering French idiot?"
Something visibly snaps behind Mommy's eyes. "Allez à l'enfer!"
"Shut up!"
"Vous n'êtes pas mon père. Je peux faire ce que je veux," Mommy fires back at him, and I know she's just doing it to make him angrier. The veins in Daddy's neck are standing out and they look as thick as ropes. His face is bright red, and he slams his fists onto the table. The dishes and glasses jump and rattle, and I pull into myself a little bit.
"I can tell you whatever I damn well please, Catherine! Stop it!" he thunders, jumping up from his chair so fast, that it skids back and topples over.
I stare at the wall, and then my plate. It has a chip in it, and I run the tip of my finger over it, hoping to see blood. Their voices are making my ears ring, and I don't want to be here anymore.
"Non, you will not tell me what to do," she screams back, holding the knife in front of her, her hand shaking. "I am sick and tired of you ordering me about like I'm nothing more than your domestique - your servant!"
"You're my wife! Damn well you'll do what I tell you to!" Daddy lunges for her, grabbing for the wrist of her hand, trying to pry the knife away from her. "Put down that knife, Catherine. You don't have the nerve to stab me."
"I will stab you, William. Je vraiment le ferai cette fois."
"I don't believe you - I dare you to. I dare you to stab me," Daddy sneers at her, releasing her wrist. "Go on, I dare you to."
She backs away from him, holding the knife in front of her. "I will, William. I will."
"Go on then. Do it. Do me a favor and put me out of my misery." He puts his hands around hers around the knife and guides her hands to where his heart should be.
Mommy is crying now. "William, stop this. Please stop this."
"You're the one who started it, Catherine. You wanted this. I suppose you can't follow through, then, huh?" Daddy asks, his long fingers wrapped around her hand, and the knife.
I begin to grind my butter knife against the chip in my dinner plate. Little specks of white dust flake off, and it kind of looks like snow. Mommy is shaking, and the knife is wavering in her hand.
"Just stop it already." I finally find my voice, grinding my knife down even harder against the chipped plate. "Stop it."
But they go on like they don't even hear me. It's like I'm invisible or something, not even there. I hate when they do that. It makes me so angry when they act like I'm kind of not there.
"I ought to put this knife in your heart," she says, weakly. "I ought to."
"Dumb bitch." Daddy pushes her away from her roughly and she falls back, and she sinks into the crinoline of her skirt. It makes this rustling sound like it's being crushed, and it sounds like the river. He stands over her with the knife in his hand, and he has this ugly look in his eyes like he's going to hurt her.
"Daddy, STOP."
He kind of just stops suddenly like a machien, hurky-jerky, lurching forward. He looks at me like he doesn't even know who I am, and realization and recognition slowly being to seep back into his eyes. His pupils are big and black. He drops the knife onto the dinner table.
"Another Drysdale family dinner, gone to hell," he mutters, thickly, as Mommy pulls herself off of the ground and into her seat. "Another damn mess." He walks stiffly out of the dining room and we both hear the front door woosh open and then slam shut.
Mommy breathes in deeply and flattens her puffy skirt over her knees. Not a single golden curl is out of place. "Well, what are you waiting for, Chrissy?" she asks, smiling sweetly. "The casserole is getting cold."

---------------------------------

Finis.