Household Words 8

I was setting another table, in another dining room, when I heard my father on the phone with the hospital.

I had been playing Risk with Jerry, who always got to be red, Jerry,who always won.  We had played ten times in the last week.  The game had been a Christmas present, but overlooked in favor of Atari tennis.  It wasn’t until February that we rediscovered it.  Jerry was studying the board, which was set on the thin dust-blue carpet of his bedroom.  I was studying Jerry.

“David! It’s your night to set the table!”  my dad yelled from the kitchen.

“It’s not!  It’s Louie’s night!”

“Yeah, well, Louie’s not here!”

“It’s not my night!”

Jerry moved a few red pieces from Europe to Asia, his dirty fingernails looking offensive next to the brilliant red of the new plastic x’s.

“David, get down here!”  And next he was going to say, “Damnit, David, now!”

I tumbled down the stairs, toward the sizzling of the skillet.  He was browning ground beef to make meat sauce.

“I don’t want to hear your whining about this.”

I didn’t say anything, just grabbed five plates from the cabinet and threw them in front of each chair.

“Careful!”

Our plates were the Corelle ones with the earwax-colored flowers ringed around.  They would outlive us all.  Our glasses would, too: they were plastic, with blue stripes.

“Done!” I said.

“Yeah, silverware?”

The phone rang.  He covered the pan and reached to answer it.

Although I was just as sloppy with the silverware, dumping a fork and knife on every plate, my dad’s reaction surprised me.  He suddenly stood up straighter, put down his potholder, and assumed a tone of voice I didn’t even recognize.  “Yes, this is he.  Okay, how are they?”

I held the remaining silverware.

“And he’s—“

I stood still, and a car drove down our street, headlights, taillights.

“I’ll be right there.”  He hung up.  “Your mom and Louie are at the hospital,” he said.  “They’re okay.”  He turned off the burner on the stove.  He went upstairs to tell Jerry.  I thought, my dad is a grown-up man.  This is what men do.  The next morning, he dumped the cold ground beef down the garbage disposal.

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