Father is home for dinner today. Usually he’s out all day, but today he has decided to dine with us. Looking across the enormous table I see the smudge of lipstick he’s wearing on his neck. It’s clearly from another woman, because he wouldn’t touch mother with a ten-foot pole.
“How was work today, honey?” she asks as she pours in another glass of wine. He looks at her briefly, then back at his plate. “The food is great,” he says to the service. The young woman cook we have in staff smiles back at him. “So, are you f-wording her as well?” asks mother politely.
The kids, who have been kicking each other and catapulting peas with their spoons, stop suddenly and start chanting “Mom said the f-word! Mom said the f-word!” “Shut up!” she yells back, and they obey. “Eight dollars for the swear jar, mom!” they demand, but she knows the swear jar is only for kids, and throws them a threatening look.
Now that everyone has caused their necessary drama, we can resume dinner as the perfect family. After we finish, we take a picture for the family christmas card. You know, to show everyone how happy we are. “Skunk,” mother mutters looking at the maid who takes the picture.
Then we return to the table and have dessert. Except for me, since I’m an unperson now. “How’s school treating you, dear?” asks father looking at me. “The little psycho killed a cat,” mother starts. “Can you believe that? We raise her well, give her all the comfort…” the train of thought derails as she pours one more glass. “Is that true?” father asks me, concerned. “No, I—” I reply. “Yes, father, we saw her do it!” interrupts the heir. He’s always trying to poison father’s love for me with lies.
“Psycho! Psycho!” start chanting his brothers as they hit the table with their spoons rhythmically. “Please boys, quiet down,” he starts calmly. But father seems as threatening to them as a deer at this point. The kids only obey mother, or rather, fear her. But she’s snoring with her mouth open on her seat, so there’s no one to keep order.
“It was terrifying, father,” explains the heir. “She bashed the cat’s head then smiled, like she enjoyed it. And she—” “Shut up you little prick!” I yell, standing up from my chair while holding knife and fork. The heir cowers back, and turns pale. “Look!” he screams with a high-pitch. “See? Mom! She’s crazy, look. Mom!”
“Everyone quiet down!” father commands, waking up mother. The boys look at him in awe, ceasing their disruptive activities shortly before laughing at him. “Go to your rooms!” shouts mother. “You gave me a f-wording migraine again!” Everyone obeys. I feel like crying. I don’t want this life. I want to leave with my little sister, to save her while I still can.
My door opens. It’s father. “I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I know it wasn’t your fault.” It seems like he’s about to break down. “I’m not proud of how I’ve treated this family, of how my kids are turning up… But I don’t know what to do.” “Send us away,” I say. “Take me and your daughter and send us to some boarding school. I will protect her. But please don’t leave us here.”
“I’m sorry…” he sighs. Looking into his eyes I can tell mother has defeated him completely, and that he’ll never stand up to her. He leaves my room. The next day mother has her hangover sunglasses on, and ignores everyone and everything that is not the TV as she has breakfast alone. It’s the only good thing about her drinking. It even makes up for the times she hits me. Or at least it’s what I tell myself.
Life goes on as usual for the rest of the week, as though the whole cat incident never happened. Either father told mother to let it go or she just forgot about it. My brothers, however, are not willing to let me off the hook so easily. The heir tries to spread a rumor about me. He tells the other kids that I agreed to taste dog s-word in exchange for money, and the lie spreads quickly. Just like that I’m back to being a social pariah. They all laugh at me behind my back. Father, in his own ingenuity, goes to the school board and threatens the teachers.
Their response is to question the kids to find who was responsible. When father learns the truth, of course, the boys receive no punishment. What is worse, all the kids now think I’m a snitch and tease me accusing me of “running to daddy.” I talk to my only friend at school using the phone she gave me, not being able to say hello or even look at her when we cross. Of course father apologized to me, although I can’t blame him, as he was only trying to do what he thought was right. Still, the laughter at my expense, the nicknaming, the shame… it all leaves a mark.