No One Talks
They gobble down dinner, the family of four. There's plenty of food, no need to hurry. Dad teaches high school geometry. Mom helps kindergartners draw circles and squares during the day, and once a week, in the evening, she instructs housewives in the art of baking.
Last night they ate dinner at the Formica table in the dining area. Katie, fourteen, slathered butter and jam on homemade bread, listening to "500 Miles Away from Home," the cord of her transistor radio buried in her untidy black hair. Donald, a year older, hid his Superman comic on his lap, sneaking peeks between bites of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Dad kept eyes to plate, Mom kept eyes on Dad. Forks to mouths. No one talked.
But this night they're watching "Ed Sullivan" on a three-part sectional Mom bought with her cooking-class earnings. Her thought: If we can enjoy some time together, it's worth it.
On the flickering screen, Señor Wences puts his ugly puppet through its "Deefeecult For You-Easy For Me," paces, but no one is laughing. They chew their hamburgers and fries, each straining toward the flickering blue screen, not really seeing, Dad angry about the new furniture, too big for the tiny living room, purchased and delivered without his permission.
This afternoon, home from work, standing rigid at the front door, he seethed at Katie who was propped on the short side of the sectional. "That monstrosity goes back tomorrow."
She dropped her eyes, gathered up her schoolbooks, and hurried off.
When a compromise was reached one night of dinner on TV trays Mom and Katie spread flowered sheets over the cushions so no grease or ketchup could ruin the upholstery, mess up the return of the sectional, void the refund of hard-earned money. Mom's mouth had thinned into wire by the time they set up the trays, brought in the plates.
Dad has the best seat, the one directly in front of the TV, Donald on his right, Mom on the curve. Katie, her head stiffly swiveled toward the television, hunkers on the shorter side of the sectional.
Mom's cheeks glisten in the tubal glow. Donald, with no comic book to distract him, moves nothing but his jaw, still gnawing on his first bite of burger. Katie slides eyes toward Dad. He's staring at Mom, his lips twisted into a smirk.
Katie tries to swallow her sudden boil of anger, but it surges into her throat, her eyes, and she's vertical, snatching up her chocolate milk, hurling the liquid onto the sectional.
Mom shrieks and flicks on the light. Rushes into the kitchen for towels.
Dad hollers, "Goddammit, Katie. What the hell is wrong with you?"
Stepping back, Katie gapes at Dad's mottled face, knocks over her TV tray, burger and fries plopping on the carpet. She leaps to rip away the soaked bed sheet.
Donald stares in numb silence, mustard at the corners of his mouth.
Mom hurries in, works on the mud-colored stain on the cushions. Katie, scrubbing alongside her, thinks: I'm never getting married.
Dad struggles to open the front door, using words Katie has never heard before.
Mom and Katie stop their fevered wiping, straighten, brace.
Mom pleads, "Honey."
"Don't you 'honey' me," says Dad. "Going behind my back. Spending my money."
He jabs a finger at Katie. "You did this on purpose." He shoves Donald toward the middle of the sectional. Barks, "Get that side," and hauls up the unstained longer piece.
Donald doesn't move. Mom crowds next to him, leans down, and seizes the sofa's framework.
Dad, at the door, tugs. Mom holds fast.
Katie whispers, "Mom. Mom! Let go."
Dad's fury slithers toward Katie like the ghosts of snakes, curling along the sectional, under the cushions, quivering through the springs, blistering over her and over her mother.
With a groan, Mom drops her end and stumbles back, buckling onto the floor.
Donald takes up the section, and the men hoist it out the door.
Katie helps her mother onto the curved piece, hugs her, then moves to the door as her father and Donald set the furniture on the curb.
Katie stiffens, her jaw clinches. They are alike, she thinks, as they stride back up the walk and shove past her to banish the remaining pieces.
In the living room, the men wrestle with the curved section. Mom stands out of their way, upright, face dry, lips drawn into a slit. On the television, Ed Sullivan delivers his "Good night" wave.