The night of my father’s funeral, my mother broke every plate in the house. I was upstairs putting my four year old sister to bed when I heard the smash of glass coming from our little kitchen. My mother was usually a nervous person; the play loud music and sleep with a flashlight during a thunderstorm type of person, and she had been through a lot today. I knew something as stupid as her accidentally breaking a glass may put her over the edge. By the time I heard the second crunch of porcelain on tile, I knew something was up. I kissed my sister goodnight, happy that she was exhausted from our busy day, and made my way to the stairs across from her room.
I probably should have been more surprised when when I went downstairs and found my mom standing on the kitchen counter, calmly destroying our family’s dinner plates on the floor as if she was punishing them for some crime committed against her, but surprisingly I was not. She was still in her black dress, the one that usually hung forgotten about in the back of her closet. Her shoes had been kicked off hours ago and her blonde waves was starting to fall out of their sleek bun; a total reversal of her usual put together demeanor. I wasn’t really sure when my mom would break from the stress of the last week. Apparently, that time was now.
“Parker, do you know these were the very first set of dishes that I owned.” She was staring at one of our fairly unremarkable dinner plates, her eyes looking past the shiny white center and the blue floral border Corelle was famous for when Smash! The plate met its unfortunate end on the white tile. I stood in the doorway, shoving my hands in the pockets of my sweater watching as my mother reached into the cabinet for another. I couldn’t help but think of how happy I was that my sister was a very sound sleeper.
“Gram got these for our wedding.” Smash! She threw the plate on the ground and watched it shatter into a million pieces. There was now a little mountain of shards collecting in the middle of the floor. She reached into the cabinet continuing the execution of our families dinnerware that was currently going down. She held it for a second and then smashed it on the floor adding to the broken pile. “I have always hated them.” Smash!
It was clear that there was not a whole lot that I could do during this time of temporary insanity that had taken over my mother. She had spent most of the day with a forced smile on her face, shaking lots of hands and giving stiff hugs. There weren’t many times in her life where she was the one calling the shots. I don’t think she really knew how to act without my dad around telling her what to do. We had spent the last seventeen years just surviving. My mom had married my dad not because of love, but because it was “the right thing to do.” She was six months pregnant with me on their wedding day. Ever since then, we had both walked on eggshells around dad.
His funeral took the cake for the strangest day of my life. On one hand, this was a person who had been in my life forever. It wasn’t like he did any dad stuff; he had never been to any of my track meets or school plays. I don’t think he ever even went to a parent teacher conference. On the other hand, he was mean when he drank, which was most of the time. He treated my mom like crap and pretty much ignored me. My sister, he loved. Macy was the perfect little kid, all blonde curls and big blue eyes. Once, when we were at the mall, some person asked my mom if she was interested in letter her audition to be in a cereal commercial. She had that type of face. She was the total opposite of mom and I in terms of both looks and personality, besides her hair. She got mom’s hair. Mom and I both didn’t love being attention and tended to keep to ourselves while Macy was a little ray of sunshine. Dad always thrived off of energetic people.
One thing about my father was that he could put on a show, that’s for sure. But there was no stopping him when he was flung into a violent temper. My mom was usually the target of these attacks, but there had been a few directed towards me. They came on suddenly, usually over the stupidest thing. I absently rubbed the little nob of reformed bone in my wrist, trying not to remember the time he fractured it when I had accidentally broken a vase. When he died, I felt more relief than anything that he was gone.
His funeral was in this squat little funeral home next to a Taco Bell on Main Street. We didn’t have a service or anything, dad wasn’t the religious type, but we did have a viewing. There weren’t many people who showed up, but the ones that did come seemed to genuinely be sad that he was gone. It made me wonder if there was a time in his life where he wasn’t such bad man. I stood there next to my mom and sister, in the slightly too short black dress that I had worn to my grandmother’s funeral the year before. I hated talking to people in general, but making small talk about how great my crap dad was with complete strangers while tugging the bottom of my dress willing it to grow longer, really wasn’t my cup of tea. The whole thing was funeraly and awkward and I pretty much spent the entire time actively wishing that I was any other place on the planet earth. I pretty sure mom felt the same way about the whole situation. I think the stress of losing her husband and planning his funeral combined with the relief that she was finally free of him was what was causing her to go all rambo in our kitchen at the moment.
I sat down on the scratchy carpet in the doorway between the hallway and the kitchen, well enough away from the dinner plate massacre, and curled my petite legs into my chest resting my chin on my knees. By this time, my mom was reaching into the back of the cabinet towards the salad size plates. It was clear she was not intending to leave any survivors. I watched her hand reach for a stack of plates in the forgotten back corner and freeze over something. Slowly she pulled out a bottle of whiskey and set it down on the counter. If there was one thing that would remind us of my father, it was whiskey. The smell, the sight of the amber liquid in the bottle, the way it just sat there on the counter so innocently. It was ironic that it was this first love of my father that eventually ended his life.
I saw her begin to blink her eyes rapidly, a habit we shared when we were about to cry. She plunked herself down on the worn laminate counter, put her head in her hands, and let the tears finally go. I couldn’t just sit here and watch her fall apart. I usually wasn’t the comforting type, but this was my mom. I uncurled myself from my little perch in the doorway, mentally thanking the gods for making me too lazy to take off my cheapo slippers as I maneuvered around the dinner plate carnage, and pulled myself up on the counter next to her. I put my head on her shoulder, not really knowing what to say, and sat there with her for what seemed like ages. We both sat staring out at the remains of our once tidy kitchen.
This was the room of the house that mom and I spent the most time in because the only reason dad went into the kitchen was to refill his whiskey. He ate all of his meals in super classy fashion with his butt planted in an ugly old green armchair, his food on a TV tray that sat permanently to its side. The kitchen was the sanctuary where mom and I could lose ourselves in cooking or homework. It was small and outdated, with fake oak cabinets and the cheery little border of pear wallpaper that my mom never bothered removing from the house's previous owner. The island counter sat between the kitchen part of the kitchen and an old dining table we had found at Goodwill when I was seven. A few casseroles from some of the people who had gone to the wake sat forgotten on its scratched surface. My moms black purse was flung over the chair, the top half of the memorial card with the picture of my dad beaming and holding up a fish on the front. The curly script of the words “In Loving Memory” just visible. One of his friends had printed it out and sent it to him along with a little card saying he had won 100$ for biggest trout caught that day. Little did the funeral place know, he got so drunk on that fishing trip that when he finally got home, he had given mom a black eye for not keeping her prize winning husband’s dinner warm. I couldn’t stop looking at that little picture and I saw that my mom seemed to be staring at it too.
Finally, she spoke. “Parker?”
“Ya.” My mom took my face in her hands catching some of my fiery hair, the only positive genetic attribute I had gotten from my father, in her fingers. “Let’s get the hell out of this house. Start fresh. What do you say?” She tucked a stray strand behind my ear, waiting for my answer.
“You know mom, let’s do it.” My mom looked at me with her big brown eyes, looked at the kitchen floor littered with plate fragments and then, without warning, she burst into laughter. My mom had one of those contagious laughters, a laugh that I rarely heard. Before I knew it, we were both laughing so hard tears were coming out of our eyes.
My mom reached over the sink for a paper towel and started blotting at the mascara running under her eyes, whatever trance she had been in seemed to have broken. “My word what a mess I’ve made.” She jumped down off of the counter, tiptoeing around the shards of plates and reached for the broom that was behind the outdated fridge. I watched as she began to sweep up her mess. She moved like a ballerina, light on her feet. “Don’t get down yet. I don’t want you to cut yourself!” She moved around our little island and piled the remains of our dinners past into the middle of the floor.
“Where should we go?” I pulled my knees up to my chest again so that I was sitting with my feet on the counter. I always like to be curled up, ever since I was little. It made me feel safe. Whether I was at the movies or driving my beat up Toyota around, my legs were always contorted in strange shapes.
“I was thinking somewhere quiet, maybe by the beach.” I watched as she opened up the beat up cabinet and pulled out a dustpan and heavy duty trash bag. She looked at me. “You’d have to change schools you know.”
This was not an issue. School had never been my favorite place to be. I had a few friends, but I mostly kept to myself. There would be something refreshing about starting new.
“I don’t mind.” I said from my spot on the counter as I picked at chipped pink nail polish on my big toe.
“It really is perfect timing.” I watched as my mom stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom in deep thought. “I can enroll Macy into Kindergarten wherever we end up.” She stayed thinking about the possibilities of a new life, and then continued cleaning up the mess. I hopped off of the counter and held the bag open for the shards of glass just as my sister stumbled into the room, bleary eyed and crazy haired. So much for her sound sleeping.
“Stop right there, Mace.” My mom set the dustpan on the floor and picked up the broom again, re-sweeping up the pile. “I broke a plate and I don’t want you to cut your feet.” Macy stopped in the doorway where I had been sitting a little bit before and started rubbing her eyes. I abandoned the bag and crouched down beside her. “Hey, how would you like to go on an adventure?”
“An adventure?” Macy said as her blue eyes popped open. “I love adventures!” She itched her knee through her favorite threadbare, polyester, princess nightgown.
“Oh no, it’s so late! We can talk about adventures tomorrow. Macy you have to go back to bed!” My mom rested the broom back on the fridge and pushed a stray wave behind her ear. I could practically hear her brain turning in her head. “You know what I think we need?” Her hand came up to her chin as if she was deep in thought. “Ice cream!”
“Yayyy!” I ran over, grabbed Macy, and swung her around. She squealed with delight. “Bedtime ice cream! That’s the most perfect idea ever!”
I shuffled my sister over to our old kitchen table as my mom dug into the freezer for a tub of mint chocolate chip. She looked more relaxed and had a smile on her face that I had never seen before. I knew in that moment that things were going to be different. We were free.
* * *
Things moved very quickly after we had made the decision to start our new adventure. Two days later, I found myself yawning as I made my way into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. My mom, who was annoyingly awake this morning, was leaning on the kitchen island, looking at something on her computer, jotting things down on a half filled page of notes beside it.
“No that’s fine Marla. Six houses is a lot but I really want to get as many in as possible today.” She was already dressed for the day in a loose fitting blue sweater and jeans with her hair in its trademark bun. A pair of cheap red reading glasses lay perched on her head like a tiara. She looked over at me, balancing the phone between her shoulder and chin, and mouthed Good Morning as I took a chipped white coffee mug from the cabinet above the sink and poured myself a cup. I threw up a hand to acknowledge her greeting. I pretty much made it a rule not to speak to another human until my first cup of coffee was in my body. I made my way to the seat next to her curled up on the chair, crossed my arms on the table, and buried my head in my elbows.
“No, Wells, Maine sounds perfect.” My mom chewed on the pen that had just been writing with on the note pad. “The Maine Diner at Eleven. Perfect.” The pen left her mouth to resume its scribbling. “See you then.” She hung up the phone with a click.
“What was that about?” I mumbled into my hands. My mom brought the reading glasses to their rightful place on her nose, squinting at something on the screen. She was constantly doing that. I tried to get her to go to the eye doctor for bifocals last year, but she would have none of it. I could hear the TV on low coming from the living room and saw that Macy’s wild bed head hair was peeking out from over the brown couch.
“Just looking at a few houses.” She scribbled some numbers onto the pad and clicked her mouse around on the page. “You still up for our adventure today?” I lifted my head up from my arms a fraction of an inch to look into deep brown eyes that matched my own.
“Mom, I will do just about anything to get out of this house.” My coffee was becoming a necessity at this point, and I raised my head just enough to release my hands to the cups still too hot outside and breathed in its invigorating scent.
“Good!” She looked at me with a smile as her glasses went back up to the top of her head. The change that had taken place in her since my father's death was fairly startling. Gone was the submissive person who I had known all of my life and in her place was a smiling, happy women.
“We need to leave in about an hour.” Up went the cheap, red glasses back on top of my mom’s head. I sipped my coffee, not even caring that it was too hot.
“Moooom. It’s so early.” Even though I was having trouble showing all that much positive emotion about finding a new house, I was secretly super excited. We have lived in the little raised ranch in Marlborough for as long as I could remember. I buried my head back in my arms, trying to get as far away from noise as possible. Mornings were so not my thing. I could felt a whoosh of air behind me and knew that Macy had just raced past my chair, looking for something to eat.
“Mom!” I peeked at my far too energetic sister from my happy arm cave, annoyed at her chipperness. “I’m starving!”