Footsteps echo down the hall and a belt buckle jingles as a drawer closes and cigarette smoke wafts from somewhere outside and in a memory maybe, a goblin walking, a haunt, something.
Thomas, say the prayer.
I said say the prayer.
But I don’t usua….
That’s right, I do, but since you’re so perfect, you get to say it tonight.
My cheeks burned like I’d been smacked just sitting there…but then that had happened, too, during a prayer that he was saying, just reached over and hit me full in the mouth as he offered the blessing to his god and the god of our family…and my mom sat there on that Sunday afternoon much like she was sitting here on this one, whatever day it was…just sat there with her head bowed and her eyes closed, folded hands near her forehead, waiting…listening to her man…witness to the results of her betrayal, one that she wrought on some morning or afternoon after we had sat here at the same table, those two or three evenings ago as the house was quiet in sleep and we alone were awake, sharing moments of conversation and…shared trust…. I looked at the side of her face for a couple of seconds while my little sister looked across the table at me and wondered how I was suddenly so perfect…wondered why such sarcasm was brought to the dinner table when there had been no hint of anyone’s wrongdoing before we had all gathered there, me in my seat and all of them in theirs where they belonged…where we all belonged in someone else’s imagination of family and unity and the way things are or ought to be…beneath the decorated sign on the wall that said as for me and my house we will serve the lord.
I stumbled across prayed words said by rote, empty requests and thanks for whatever and bless the hands which prepared it, in jesus’s name, amen…and the words were there and the prayer said and dinner commenced and mouths moved only to eat and I looked through the back window at the gray concrete wall that separated our yard from the alley and the cemetery beyond with desert behind that and more…a slag heap of desiccated wreaths and green plastic covered stands all in a jumble as the ceremonies had passed and the tears had been shed…loved ones gone and buried and I wondered in my seat…cracks in the gray wall and mourning doves cooing beneath the young palo-verde…yellow feather-petals dropping lightly in the warm breeze, landing on the top of the wall and tumbling, scurrying away, floating to the yard below and remaining stuck in the un-watered grass, brown against the waning sun, forks scraping on plates, and water forming and glistening on the sides of glasses in the too warm air, becoming heavy with breath and rolling downward in a single droplet avalanche to pool on the polished wooden tabletop.
Kind of tuned-out there for a while, keeping my eyes forward, watching his hands and hearing him swallow, feeling the tightness of the tiny dining room, a nook really, feeling the desk and cabinets behind me, lightly pushing against the carpet beneath and the dog rang the bell at the back door to go out into the yard and do her business. I rose from the table and took those steps to the door and went out with her, stood there against the porch post and looked up at the dry-rotting wood of the overhang. No voices came through the door and I caught glimpses of arms moving in the window…I saw eyes behind their glasses behind the window watching me watching the little dog walk down the brick pathway towards the back gate, sniffing at the grass beneath the bottom edge, wondering at what might have recently passed down the alleyway.
My footsteps were loud in the dry brown grass as I crossed the yard walking toward the back wall, toward the tree stump that was my perch when I stood and gazed out into the alley and cemetery beyond, my haven and place where I didn’t need them anymore, where my heartbeat slowed and I learned not to care, to remove myself…they didn’t talk back out there, didn’t have glaring condemning eyes stuck in their empty faces…they were taking care of other things, being away…with echoes of a conversation ringing, bouncing in my head…why doesn’t he pray about it, ask god to help him stop…that’s what you guys say we should do…ask for his help…he’s done it since he was a kid and you don’t understand what it’s like…but it doesn’t seem like that should matter…isn’t he supposed to be stronger than our cravings…isn’t he supposed to help us overcome whatever it is that we need his help in overcoming…of course he is…then why doesn’t he…?