Didn’t break itselfLeave a comment
April 2, 2023 by The Citron Review
by Christine Nolan
Hands reach for cheesy fries, smothered in bacon and ranch, in the middle of the booth. It is the kind of thing my mother “splurges on,” because she thinks of herself as someone who is otherwise the model of good health and good decisions.
My hands are the youngest, my recently naked ring finger weighing noticeably more. My mother’s hands are clean, nimble, normally covered in potting soil because when she can’t change anything else, she can at least pull weeds or plant a new rose bush. My brother’s hands are knotty, mended over and over again, the motor oil cleaned from under his fingernails to the best of his ability, just like my fathers, but without the signs of withdrawal—the intermittent jerk of nerves that misfire in his spine.
We have all traveled an hour so my father can get a steak—rare, if it doesn’t still moo he doesn’t want it—for his birthday, since he’s checked himself out of rehab.
“Have you seen my welder?” My father asks my brother.
“Yeah, it’s where you left it.”
“Bullshit, nothing is where I left it. Every time I walk into the shop something is missing.”
“Yeah, well.” My brother almost doesn’t say it. “Maybe you just don’t remember selling it.”
“I wouldn’t sell my welder.”
“You didn’t. It’s still there.”
“I’m just saying I wouldn’t be surprised if it was gone.”
My mother’s face inches towards an expression that precedes an outburst— skin glistening like the hot cheesy fries confronted by the cool air-conditioning of this family establishment.
My father’s hands shake as he eats one fry, licks his lips, glances towards the bar, ignores my attempt at reassurance.
“What are we doing for Easter this year?” My mother is always looking forward.
“What do you want to do?” I ask.
“I don’t know. It would be nice to get together and have dinner maybe.”
“Yeah, because this one is going so well.” My brother quips under his breath.
The table is silent save for chewing on thoughts, greasy fries and fingernails. My father looks broken, held together by his ironed plaid button-up, bent out of shape and crammed into a box he doesn’t fit in. His eyes scream that he feels too much—feels everything—and it exhausts him—angers him. If he were a car part he would be a gas tank of a formally desirable muscle car, rusting away in a forest, with chewed wiring and a gunked up carburetor.
“How long has it been dad?” I ask in a voice as quiet as a field mouse hunting wreckage for crumbs.
If my brother had asked, he would be all roaring and putrid exhaust, but because it is me. He lowers his head, shame simmering instead of boiling and evaporating.
“It’s been five days?” my mother answers for him, contemplating him, not like she is counting the days, but like she knows the stages of the process well.
“Five days?” He raises and lowers his head, shaking it, “Feels like a lot longer.”
“Congratulations Dad.” I say, hoping I will get to look him in the eye, but he doesn’t look up. “Five days is a huge accomplishment.”
“One day at a time, right?” my brother adds.
My mother pats my father’s knee, a gesture he has become numb to. “I think we’ve finally kicked it this time. At least, this better be the last time.”
My father attempts to straighten his back, extending the crown of his head towards the ceiling of the Outback Steakhouse. The effort causes a strain, and a wince, and a grunt of pain. “What about my miter saw?” my father says, changing the subject.
My brother tosses his napkin dramatically. “This again?”
“Well, somebody broke it. Didn’t break itself.”
“I’ve told you, I don’t know. It wasn’t me.”
“It’d be nice if someone would at least take care of my things while I’m gone.”
My brother looks out over the restaurant and I follow his gaze. There are families smiling, moving on from appetizers and on to their entrees. There are fathers who aren’t concerned with the bar, mothers who don’t hold their husbands’ knee. There are daughters who aren’t deflating. There are tables filled with scraped clean plates and used napkins surrounded by full and overflowing bellies who aren’t yet ready to leave the comfort of each other’s company.
I stuff more cheesy fries into my mouth.
Christine Nolan writes fiction & poetry in central Appalachia. You can read her work in the Uncommon Grackle, forthcoming in the Yearling and at XineRose.com. She occasionally writes to the world on Instagram and Twitter at @XineRose.