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Child wriggles onto Mother’s lap, crinkling the newspaper she pretends to read into an illegible state. Small eyes look up, widened by fear of consequence; they both know she should be mad, about the paper, about the fight Child started and came home crying about, about…everything.
But after seeing that face she doesn’t have it in her. She turns Child’s head toward the T.V. then, using one hand, caresses his curls exactly the way she knows he likes. She uses her other hand to wipe tears before they have a chance to fall.
She keeps her blurred vision on the small, dull screen. If asked, she would not be able to say what program was on, but she would say not to shut it off. The constant drone of commercials and content are the company she keeps now, a crowd that just wants her around and requires no effort to keep up with. After the long days of work and taking care of Child and his three brothers, she can’t manage much else.
And in thinking of her other children, she realizes they’ll be home soon, each with their own bumps, bruises, stories, hunger, needs; a snore from beneath her tells her at least one thing is taken care of.
Mother gingerly slides out from under Child’s head, and is sure to ease the transition from thigh to couch with her dry hand. She is in the kitchen opening a can of crushed tomatoes when the front door creaks open; she rushes to tell her kids not to let it slam, but stops, silent, upon entering the hall. It isn’t them who’ve entered her house.
Mother stares at Father; neither one of them blink at the slamming of the door. “Just came to get some things.”
She knows, from experience, how forceful he can be when he deems it necessary, but gets in his way all the same. “You couldn’t even tell me to my face? I had to find out through the newspaper?” Mother says, knuckles whitening as she holds the staircase’s railing, barring the way through.
Even with the added height, Father towers over her. “You’re the one who said you know.”
“Like you didn’t do your best to keep it a secret.”
Both of their minds flashback to the day, when, instead of being at the football game he was paid to play in states away, he was in town, at a wedding with Another, then playing cards with her on his lap.
But his Family didn’t hate Mother like he did. She was told, confronted him, and right before he gripped her by the throat (when he only seemed to stop because the other men there made him) he had the same angle on her that he does right now, and the same ferocious disdain in his eyes –
Pitter patter – they both look as Child, with sleepy eyes and his curly hair a mess, runs up to Father. “Divorce us will you?!” Child’s caps the indignant, rhetorical question with a kick to the man’s shins.
Father watches Child sprint underneath Mother’s arm, up the staircase, out of sight. “You gonna go talk to him?” She asks evenly.
He glances up for a second, but only a second before turning and walking out the door. “You’ll get the papers in the mail.”
‘Good luck getting me to sign them.’ She thinks, but doesn’t say; she’s not gonna scream if he isn’t gonna stay. Mother goes to take care of Child, leaving the front door open.