Prompt: Mom is mad and tells the quiet calm father that you adore, “Your daughter is embarrassed to be seen with you.” He shows his sadness and, despite all efforts on the daughter’s part, he seems to believe this, even though it isn’t true.
Mom shoved through the door, bags swinging, without a backward look. Molly waited a half beat, then followed, slipping out of her shoes as she edged the door closed. Her mom, Charlotte, dropped the bags on the table, flung open the fridge, slammed the milk carton, a block of cheese and a dozen eggs inside. Molly imagined opening the egg carton in the morning, cracks marring what should have been whole.
“Charlotte?” her dad called from the living room. Still in the hallway, Molly could just see his feet, propped up on a pillow. He’d be stretched out on the couch, a stack of papers to grade on one side, a mug of peppermint tea on the floor within easy reach. That’s where he always was between work and dinner.
“Yes, Jim?” her mother stalked into Molly’s field of vision. “What? What is it you want? Certainly not to get up and help lug all this stuff in from the car. Definitely not to help with dinner.”
Jim slid his feet to the floor and out of Molly’s vision. She took one step toward the living room, noting the basket of folded laundry. So Dad had done something. Maybe Mom would notice, too.
“You said this morning you would make dinner,” Jim said. He stood up. “I’ll help. What do you need?”
Mom clenched her eyes, her jaw, her entire being. A long exaggerated sigh would come next, Molly thought. Charlotte sighed. “What do I need? I need to not work all day long and then come home to do all the work here.” She stomped back into the kitchen. Molly scooted over to her father. “Hi, Dad.”
“Hi, honey,” he responded, eyes looking toward the kitchen. “How was school? Did you figure out what x is?” That was their joke. Molly struggled with algebra, couldn’t quite grasp how you could switch something from one side of the equation to the other to solve a problem.
“No, Dad.” She leaned into him, “It’s still a mystery.”
Mom popped her head around the corner. “Really? You two are just going to stand there?”
Dad pulled himself away. “What can I help with, honey?”
Mom glared at him, then pulled herself back into the kitchen without answering.
Molly looked up at her dad, but his eyes did not meet hers. He walked to the kitchen. Molly followed, stopping just shy of rounding the corner.
“What’s wrong, Charlotte? You seem upset?”
Molly closed her eyes, tensed against the storm that question was sure to unleash.
“What’s wrong? What’s wrong? I come home to you lying on the couch. As usual. You’d think you might get something done around here, just to help out. Or rather, because it needs to be done. Nobody ever refers to me as helping out. It’s just expected. It’s what I do. I cook. I clean. I work. You put your feet up on the couch and grade papers, drink your precious tea. What kind of example is that?”
Molly pictured the confusion settling on Dad’s face. “Example? What do you mean?”
“You’re giving the impression men are to be waited on. But you’re not even a manly kind of guy, Jim. Look at you. A woman would imagine you’re the kind of guy whipping up a soufflé while his wife is closing real estate deals. Those pants. That shirt. No wonder I’m the one that has to pick Molly up every day. She’d die of embarrassment if you showed up.”
Not true! Molly wanted to yell. That’s not true! But her voice caught in her throat. She couldn’t see her Dad, but she could imagine his body slumping, just slightly, as what remaining cheer left him.
“I don’t think that’s true, Charlotte,” he murmured.
“Of course you don’t,” Mom snapped. “Look, I’d like to get dinner on the table before 10 o’clock tonight, so if you could just stay out of my way, I’d appreciate it.”
Soundlessly, her dad retreated from the kitchen. His eyes met Molly’s, then slid away. “Dad?” she ventured. “Um.” She reached for something to make it okay. “Maybe if you’re done in time tomorrow, you can pick me up?” Molly pasted a bright smile on her face. “We could go get ice cream or something.”
Dad looked back over, not quite meeting her gaze. He peered down at himself, his ancient khakis, his ill-fitting button-up, as if seeing them for the first time. He rubbed a hand over thinning hair. “Thanks, honey. But better let Mom do that.”