“She accidentally killed a puppy,” my brother Keith whispered to me.
“What, who?” I asked. I had just sat down at the family dinner table and was looking for the silverware. My mother usually had it at each setting. Where was it? At the same time, I noticed my father at the stove. Some times he liked to tease my mother when she was cooking by trying to kiss her neck. She’d swat my father while secretly giggling and plead for him to go away while she was trying to bake potatoes. My father was playful like that. My mother would then hit him with an oven mitt, and he would ‘howl’ in pain. Tonight, though, he was the one cooking dinner.
My father looked like he’d found himself in a sinking ship and realized that he was the captain.
“Who killed a puppy?” I asked Keith again. I was confused because we only had a couple of cats at the time.
“She didn’t mean…”
Suddenly we were joined by our brother, Garith. Keith quickly put his finger to his mouth, and whispered, “Shhh.”
Garith plunked himself in one of the chairs. He had a slingshot made of a Y shape of a branch with an elastic band in his back pocket. The elastic band was from the newspaper that was put around our paper every evening by the delivery guy. Then Garith looked over at my father and narrowed his eyes.
“Where’s Mom?” he asked, looking from me to Keith and back.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
Keith was quiet.
Our father approached the table wearing a burnt oven mitt on one of his hands. He was sweaty from work, and made a tight smile, but said nothing. I looked at the greasy rag in our mudroom that he used for changing the oil in his chainsaw. Then I looked at my father. He was wearing my mother’s pink ruffled apron over his dirty white T-shirt.
“Is she sick?” Garith asked.
“Ah, no, she’s just resting,” our father mumbled while looking down. My father, besides teasing my mother, also liked to whistle when he was about to have dinner, but tonight he was quiet. My siblings and I stared at him. Then we looked at my parents’ bedroom door. Someone had shut it tight.
“Is she in the bedroom?” my brother, Garith, asked.
“Yes,” my father answered.
“Can we go in and see her?”
“NO; ah, I mean no.”
“Why can’t she rest After dinner?” I asked, but no one answered.
My father had brought a saucepan to the table in one hand. In the other hand, he held a serving spoon. He paused a minute. My father looked like someone who was learning how to juggle and wasn’t doing so well. Finally, with his elbows out, he scooped up a serving of green beans and spilled them on my sister’s plate, even though she wasn’t
there yet. Some of the green beans landed on the table. My father repeated this with the rest of us.
Then my sister, Diane, arrived holding her hands out as she’d just painted her nails a bright pink. We could smell the polish. Suddenly, Diane felt the energy, stopped, and looked at each of us.
“Where’s Mom?” she asked, but no one answered. Then she slowly lowered her hands to her side.
My father was over by the stove. We could hear the clanging of cookware, lids, and running water.
Diane looked down at the green beans on her plate, “Mom doesn’t usually cook green beans. She serves them raw in a salad,” she announced to no one in particular.
My father came back to the table with another pot and spooned out spaghetti with a soup ladle. We looked at the spaghetti and the water on our plates. We were quiet. The green beans started floating, “You’re supposed to drain the spaghetti,” my sister said carefully, looking up at our father.
“No, that’s for a different type of pasta,” he responded. “This kind doesn’t get drained.”
My siblings and I all looked at each other.
“Here,” my father offered, pushing a white dish of butter toward my sister; “It will taste better with butter on it.”
Suddenly, we were all like a flock of birds at the stick of yellow butter. Then my father sat in his seat at the table. He picked up a fork from the pile of silverware that he’d tossed in the center of the table. The rest of us followed suit.
Silverware always reminded me of service members waiting for their orders. My mother had saved S & H green stamps in a booklet to buy all our dinnerware. I remembered the day my mother and I walked up to the woman at the A&P’s customer service desk. The woman was wearing a name tag that said, ‘Esther Crowley.’ Esther handed my
Mom three boxes containing silverware and seven larger boxes containing dishes in the pattern Mom had picked. The pattern was called Heather Mist. My mother held her head high and scanned the parking lot to see if anyone she knew was watching as we wheeled the cart full of packages to our car.
The four of us kids ate without speaking. The air was thick; I felt submerged. Garith lifted his plate and slurped the spaghetti water, “That was good,” he remarked. Then one by one, we got up like good soldiers and brought our empty plates up to the sink. My sister spilled a little spaghetti water on the floor and was mad about it. It had dripped down like blood. Garith made a detour to check the stove for leftovers.
My father removed his apron, left the dishes, and slipped into the master bedroom to check on my mother. I passed by the living room, where Keith was sitting on the couch. Keith was pretending to be busy reading the paper, but I knew he was waiting for me.
“The puppy that ran into the road,” he whispered, continuing our earlier conversation.
“Yeah, and Mom happened to be driving by and ran it over.”
My mouth opened by itself, “Oh.”
“She was driving slow, too. It just happened so fast.”
“The owners had come running out. Mom had gotten out of her car without closing the car door and covered her face. The owners had told Mom it wasn’t her fault, but she couldn’t stop crying.”
“No;” I was picturing my mother in her pink seersucker shorts and a white blouse. She had wavy blond hair, green eyes, and a soft belly.
“They said it was their fault for letting the puppy get out.”
“There’s more,” Keith said.
“Mom passed out, and the owners of the puppy, the ones who left the door open, had to call the police.”
I was silent.
“Then the police called Dad at work.”
“All because someone left a door open and a puppy got out.”
“Dad is keeping this on the down-low because he doesn’t want Mom to be known as the puppy-killer.”
“When is she coming out of her room?” I asked.
“How did you find all this out?” I asked.
“Dad told me cause I’m the oldest,” Keith said; “He told me not to tell anyone.”
“Oh. It’s a Cresswell secret.”
“Right. That means to whisper.”
“Tomorrow, I’ll tell Diane and Garith.”
“Oh, and Dad heard the owners of the puppy talking amongst themselves.”
“What did they say?”
“They were upset cause they’d have to call the family who was going to take the puppy.”
“Yeah, they were saying that the family, which included three young children, would be devastated.”
“They said that there were three more puppies in the litter, but the family wanted this particular puppy because it had floppy ears.”
Keith and I both shifted our weight. We didn’t say anything more. Keith looked at his hands. We both mumbled a quick good night without looking at each other. Then Keith went into his room, and I went into mine.
As I closed my bedroom door and turned around, I noticed the darkness coming in my bedroom window. I pulled back the soft, white covers on my bed and got in while they were still warm. I had kept my blue shorts and matching top on.
I knew it was only August, but I could feel winter coming. I could feel it in my bones. The birds could feel it, too. I knew this because every day, there’d be a murder of crows on our front lawn. The crows always appeared at the end of summer. Our yard became filled with their cawing. Then, as I started to fall asleep, I felt the night rolling over me in slow motion. I wanted it to pull me under in a wave of darkness. I truly did. I begged the night to strike me down and then methodically, cart me away.
Cyndi Cresswell Cook writes short stories as well as memoirs.