By Janet Kelly
3rd-place winner of the Cuffer Prize 2012
One o’clock. A weekday. The middle of summer. I’m in the kitchen, surrounded by papers and books and I don’t have a job. I’ve been reading and writing and philosophizing the way a girl from around the bay only gets to do once in her life, in the July after her first year of university.
After going away and moving back home again for the very first time, alone.
Now Dad is standing in the triangle of light created by the open door and the inside of the nearly empty fridge. He is looking for something and I know what it is. It is a ham sandwich on white baker’s bread that he made last night and placed on the top shelf, next to a bottle of beets.
Here is my father on his lunch break in his short-sleeved shirt and grey dress pants, forehead on the freezer door, bent at the waist.
The brown and purple striped tie hanging from his throat moves in a slight circular motion, reminding me of a wedding band suspended on a piece of thread, like the one that old Mrs. Penney across the street has been using for years to determine the sex of god knows how many fetuses inside god knows how many giddy expectant mothers, fat in their silly floral blouses and elastic-waisted polyester hand-me-down pants.
And here I am, ready to answer his question.
“Did you see that sandwich?”
I look at him blankly from my regular seat at the head of the table. My face flushes and pales the way it does when I lie through my teeth. It amazes me how he does not notice this, after 18 years.
“A ham sandwich. I made two last night and ate one before bed. Was Uncle Fin or anyone here earlier for lunch?”
Nope. Haven’t seen Uncle Fin all week.
Dad moves the bottle of beets. Moves the Fluffo shortening, the blue two-litre of milk, the block of old fort cheese. Opens the drawer with the carrots and then the one with the onions. I see his breath, just for a second, when he tries inside the freezer.
“Did you eat it?” He turns and looks directly at me, right in my eyes. The light from inside the harvest gold fridge is like a halo behind him, or a fire.
No! I’m a vegetarian, remember? Vehement because I need him to think that he is out of touch. Because he is.
A sigh. He can’t understand what happened to it, then. He pours himself a glass of milk and sits across from me at the table. I look down. I need him to go away.
“Do you want me to get you something else?”
“Yes, please. If you don’t mind.”
I make him one tuna sandwich with Miracle Whip and one with relish. He eats them both without a word, chugs another glass of milk, and retires to the bathroom with an Export ‘A’ and a copy of Columbia. The only place he gets any privacy, I guess. The Knights of Columbus, the only club he ever joined, that still sends a free magazine every month, regardless of whether he pays his dues or not.
I know that Dad is done in the bathroom when I smell the combination of cigarette smoke, toothpaste and shit emanating from the hallway. I will be smothered and sickened by this; it will linger in my nostrils throughout the remainder of my pregnancy.
Luckily, my appointment is on the 30th. I’ll finally be rid of it and with it the nausea and the heightened sense of smell. Not to mention the insatiable cravings for cured and vacuum-sealed luncheon meats.
“It’s a queer thing happened to that sandwich,” Dad says when he enters the kitchen again. He opens the fridge door once more. I’m soon going to vomit and give myself away.
Unless … unless Uncle Fin was here while I was in the shower or something. Earlier.
“Must have been, I s’pose. Yes, that must be it.” He is satisfied. He slips his shoes back on and says he’ll see me after work. I should have supper ready, as usual.
I give him a peck on the cheek and then I go to the window to watch and make sure that he has walked down through the garden and out of sight before I dare curl up in the swivel rocker to cry. For all the things I can’t tell him. All the things my father doesn’t know.
Janet Kelly is a multitasker and positive thinker living in
Portugal Cove. When not writing or telling stories, she likes to daydream and walk alongside the ocean.