I am in my bedroom with my sister, Selma. An imaginary center-line divides her side from mine. Her side has the chest of drawers and the door to the hall. My side has the extra window, the closet and the desk. When we aren’t fighting, we can drape the bedspread between the desk and the end of my bed and play tent.
It is late.
Late in child-language.
Nine-thirty or ten o’clock.
It is sometime between the seasons ... spring and summer, or summer and autumn. The windows are open and the night smells good. I have another sister named Linda, and two younger brothers. Mikey is the oldest and Chucky is the youngest. They are stashed away in their own rooms. There are night sounds. Footsteps on the stairs. Giggles. A radio. A refrigerator door closing. The muted sound of the next-door neighbor calling out to her kids. Selma and I are discussing whether the soul is an actual physical organ or if it’s something else. She thinks that if a surgeon were good enough, he could find the soul – maybe between the heart and the rib cage. I think it’s more like music. Disembodied and untouchable, but forceful and there.
The footsteps are press-creaking towards our room.
The door opens. I look up. My father walks in. He doesn’t say anything. There is a smile on his face. One of those secret smiles that doesn’t do anything to light up his eyes or to turn up his lips, but that you know is there if you’re me or my brothers or sisters or my mother. His smile is like music.
He is wearing a pair of droopy yellow boxer shorts three sizes too big. Pulled over them is a sleeveless, u-necked white ribbed T-shirt with a hole scratched in the chest. He has never had much hair on his head, and his hands have always been the hands of a very friendly, warm, loving, bear.
He is carrying a large plate.
This is a ritual.
Sometimes it happens early in the morning.
Sometimes when we’re doing our homework.
Sometimes when we have friends over.
Sometimes at night.
He walks over to my bed and sits down. He is a big man. The bed creaks and half of it slides down at a ten-degree angle. I am wearing my sister’s hand-me-down flannel pajamas, which are too warm for the night, so I only have my sheet pulled over me. My father places the cold plate on my stomach over the sheet, over the flannel, and I feel cold in my belly.
It is a cold I understand.
My father doesn’t say anything. He reaches down to the plate, picks up a pear slice and begins to eat it. I reach over the plate, pick up an orange slice, and pop it into my mouth.
“Highly iconoclastic,” my father says.
I nod sapiently.
He picks up an apple slice and plunks it into his mouth.
I pick up a grape.
He hands me an apple.
I hand him a pear.
We look at each other and nod.
He lifts the plate off my belly and stands up.
His feet are press-creaking across the room to my sister’s bed. He sits down on the edge. It slides down at a ten-degree angle. He places the plate on her stomach. She has on a new pair of pajamas. They are pink with little bunches of purple violets. She reaches for a pear.
My father nods and reaches for an orange slice.
She reaches for an orange slice.
He says, “Spit out the seeds.”
She swallows them.
He shakes his head and smiles musically.
She smiles anatomically and reaches for an apple slice.
He is on safe ground here as he left the apple cores in the kitchen. If he doesn’t, she will eat them too.
“Have a grape,” he says.
“Okay,” she says.
She has a grape.
He scratches his chest and stands up.
He lifts the plate off her belly, turns and walks out of the room.
He forgets to close the door.
I push off my sheet, stand up, go over to my sister’s side of the room and before I close the door, I see my father walking into the boys’ room. In another second, I hear him saying, “masticate your food.”
I hear my brother saying, “Okay, Daddy.”
I close the door.
I go to bed, safe in the knowledge that my brothers, sisters and I are loved, and that no matter what else life does to us or we do to life, we will always have that.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben.