Dinner was the hardest meal.
My dad would wait for me until late, seemingly incapable of eating alone. The two of us would sit at the kitchen table with the same white tablecloth that Momma had bought years ago although now it was faded rainbow because of all of the fruit punch, orange juice, and coffee spills.
I opened the door hoping he was in bed since it was already after ten o’clock. I peeked into the kitchen and saw him asleep in his chair.
The room smelled like tomato sauce. I lifted the pot and saw that he had made my favorite, spaghetti and vegan meatballs. The spaghetti had wrinkled and the sauce had dried. I quickly put some of the food onto a plate and sat down at the table. I twirled the spaghetti onto my fork and chewed as softly as possible.
He must have sensed I was there. He smiled faintly at me as he opened his eyes. His shirt engulfed his body, and his cheeks were thin as though he wasn’t eating enough. We went through our ritual conversation: How was your day, Mirabel? Good, Dad. What about yours? Good.
I never felt like he wanted to know more. His smile deepened when we had this conversation but his eyes looked down at the tablecloth, the wall, the darkness emanating from the window. This was all we usually said to each other.
Our conversations had been like this since Momma had left five years ago. I had been twelve then. The day she left he had stared out the window for hours, his breathing rushed as he held onto the edges of the table. Maybe when she left he had gone inside of himself and never come out.
There had been other women like the neighbor, his co-worker, but they hadn’t stayed for long. They could never make it through dinner. If you’re not used to it, the silence ate away at you.
It hadn’t always been like this. When Momma had been there, the conversations had been spirited and neverending. She would have to force us out of the kitchen so that she could clean up and we could go to sleep.
I loved to watch the two of them together. His eyes glowed soft charcoal colors for her. Her head slightly leaned towards him as she would smile at something he had said. Everything seemed perfect until the night before she left.
That night I slept on the sofa in the family room to escape them, crying softly into my teddy bear so they wouldn’t hear me. My chest shook like it would break. Did other kids have to go through this, I had wondered, staring at the television on mute. I watched Bill Cosby dancing with his TV children until sleep finally overtook me.