Attrition

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My mother was doing that thing she did. That thing with the rags in the sink.

It sets my teeth on edge, every time, because I know that it’s the signal, loud and clear, that something IS WRONG.

It’s mostly Dad. He can’t keep her happy now, can’t even bother trying any more because he can just be doing nothing, nothing at all, and she’ll high-tail it to the kitchenette and start slopping those rags around, pounding and pounding, sloshing filthy water all up the walls, muttering under her breath.

I was standing right behind her yesterday and she didn’t even notice. She was so utterly and terrifyingly focused on that pounding, pounding, making the counter top bang against the wall, not even noticing the flakes of bubbled up plaster and paint fluttering down from the ceiling as the cowboy carved-out excuse for a kitchen complained in protest at her rhythmic bang bang bang.

Once, just once, Dad kinda slipped up. Forever and ever since, Mother hasn’t let him forget it. It’s like she’s on the hunt for the tiniest hint that he doesn’t want to be in the family any more, that he wants to up sticks and live a good life, for God’s sake.

I remember ‘The Mistake’ as Mother calls it, as she hisses the words through her teeth, as she pounds those innocent rags to shreds in the sink. She was standing behind the counter, That Woman, giving him this root beer-float kind of smile. Mother saw it, filed it away, pressed her thin lips into an even tighter line and waited until we got home. I can only have been all of seven, perhaps eight. Boy, did she let rip. Yes, Dad did know her, yes he had passed the time of day with her, yes, he had once poured his heart out to her over one too many beers, yes, he shoulda confided in Mother, his Goddamn wife. But, the simple fact was, he hadn’t. He’d made a mistake.

And twenty four years later, he’s still paying the price.

So, my mother does that thing with the rags in the sink and Dad, he does that thing with the newspaper. You know, hides behind it, holds it up close to his face like the print is all faded and small.

All those unspoken words making the air thick as molasses and treacherous as quicksand.

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