It has been many years since she has sat across from her mother at the kitchen table, her father’s voice coming from the living room. It rages over that of the sports announcer coming through the television speakers. There’s a smack of flesh against wood, a can opens with a forced pop.
Her mother’s hands are folded peacefully on the kitchen table. A muffled vibration sounds from Sarah’s purse sitting on the counter by the door. There are no dirty dishes, no shoes lined up beside the door. Her father likes the “My home is a show room” aesthetic.
“Aren’t you going to get that?”
Sarah thinks of Neal, of dirty dishes and her shoes beside a door, of the bag of clothes in the backseat of her car. There were two new voice mails last night when she fell asleep on her friend’s couch. There were four more after she’d gotten out of the shower and with frozen waffles in the toaster and a fresh pot of coffee and her friend asking her if she was going back home.
“You can’t do this, tell me you aren’t really doing this.”
Her mother doesn’t point out that she didn’t answer the question. There are round cork coasters Sarah doesn’t recognize stacked in the middle of the round table. Her mother selects one, slides it under Sarah’s untouched mug of green tea, pats the mug with a satisfied expression on her face that Sarah doesn’t understand. When she looks back up, she’s smiling. There are crow’s feet growing out of the corners of her mother’s deep set, hooded, almond-shaped eyes. Sarah can’t remember the last time she heard her mother laugh.
“He doesn’t belong here.”
“This is his home, sweetie.”
“It was, but then he left, and we were happy, remember, we were happy without him.”
Sarah used to have a collection of porcelain dolls from an aunt who lived upstate. Each one of them smiled serenely, watched her with soft eyes as Sarah brushed their hair and changed their dresses. Sarah’s mother smiled. Her father smacked his hand against the coffee table as a roar erupted from the television.
“Your phone is ringing again. Are you sure you don’t want to get it?”
“No, Mom.” She didn’t want to talk to Neal, with his love and forevers and Sunday nights and Christmas mornings. She felt seven-years-old again, socked feet resting on the stretcher of the chair. Sarah had been sitting here on the morning her father had left and waited here the night he didn’t come back. She couldn’t imagine Neal sitting beside her, waiting with her while she waited for her father to leave and never come back again.
Sarah, Sarah, sweetheart, talk to me, tell me what I did, I promise I didn’t mean to do it, let me apologize, let me prove I’ll never do it again, just talk to me, please talk to me, Sar–.
Neal’s Christmas mornings didn’t belong in this house.