Saturday, October 27, 2007

Dinner Time

Dinner Time

Dinner is at 4pm sharp everyday. Just the three of us. Me, Frankie and Mommy. I’m six, Frankie is twelve. The Mickey Mouse club has just ended on TV. I have pedal pushers on and a boy’s checkered shirt and sneaks, Frankie is wearing a baseball shirt from practice and my mother is wearing her usual flowered house dress, no sleeves, raggy slippers that make her shuffle like an old woman. Her hair is set in bobby pins and wound so tight on her head, you see her pulled white scalp.
There really is nothing to setting the table, not much needed for TV dinners in the aluminum tray. Just a fork, and a knife, courtesy of White Tower cutlery, and three glasses. Soda for me, milk for Frankie, and water for my mother. We have the usual, meat loaf for me, Salisbury steak for Frankie and fried chicken for my mother. The only day that varies is Friday. Can’t eat meat on Fridays so we have fishsticks. Just fishsticks. We’re Catholic but we only go to church on Palm Sunday (for the Palm you get) and Easter. Christmas we don’t go because no one can take us.
Next to my mother’s fork is her favorite metal ashtray, my mother’s extra piece of silverware at the dinner table. My brother jumps up to reach the top of the refrigerator where the comic books are kept only to be read at dinnertime.
Frankie puts his Captain Action comic book by the left side of his plate, throws my Archie and Jughead comic book at me across the table and hand my mother her Secret Romance and Confessions comic book which she places on the left side of her plate.
She pulls the aluminum trays from the oven one by one, placing them on the formica table on top of dish towels in front of us. Opening a corner at a time, the steam leaks out and mingles with the stinky cigarette smoke already in the air.
I see her through the haze of smoke coming from the stained-lipstick laden cigarette jetting out from the groove of the metal ashtray. She likes those best- easier to clean. “The cigarette burns are hard to get off glass,” she says, and “Glass ashtrays are only for company,” she declares, which is strange because we never have any company.
Other stained butts lay amidst the ashes next to the currently lit Pall Mall. She does the same thing every time we eat dinner. She picks up the cigarette like a gangster in movie, between her thumb and fore finger, brings the nasty cigarette to her lips, sucks in her roughly skinned cheeks, and inhales and all the while her eyes are squinting as if she were looking directly into the sun. She then puts the cigarette in it’s groove, turns the page of the Romance comic book on the left hand side of the plate, and blows the smoke across the table to where I sit, picks up the fork and stuffs a piece of food inside her mouth. She looks like she’s in a puppet show and some guy is pulling her strings from on top of the stage and can make the puppet’s mouth open and close, move it’s arms with a herky jerky motion. Cigarette smoke always drifts over the kitchen table. I try and wave it away with my hands to keep it at bay, but her constant drags on the cigarette and the smoke wafting my way makes the TV dinners that much less appealing.
Often one of the butts she snuffs out, still burns. She hardly notices. “Ma” I say, “it’s still smoking”. My words seemed to interrupt the flow of her movements and the look from across the table is enough to warn me not to complain any further. The rotten smell covers everything, the food, the house, and me.
“If it’s bothering you that much, get up off your ass and move it to the sink,” she yells, "and take the glasses and silverware too.” I grab the ashtray with my thumb and first finger, careful to touch it as little as I can, as if it has some sort of contagious disease that I will catch and I make a face as I touch it . I gag and give off a dry heave. “Just get the god damn ashtray to the sink and stop being a baby or I’ll make you cry like a baby. I ask you god damn kids for nothing. I ask you for one god damn thing and you make a song and dance out of everything. Give me that,” she says angrily, “you don’t know what you’re doing anyway. Get out of the kitchen and don't bother me."
That was dinner.


Blogger Carrie Wilson Link said...

Best blog posting EVER! What's your secret? You've turned a corner! I am THERE in that smoky room with you three!

12:00 AM  
Blogger Jerri said...

Wonderful. Suze. Absolutely fabulous. You showed me Mary's face and her posture and her movements. You let me smell the cigarette smoke and feel your despair.

This is your voice, my love. Go BIG with it.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your writing is at its best!! So heartbreakingly real and unbelievably sad, and yet your strong spirit shines off the pages. Your writing is so vivid, gripping and beautiful.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Suzy, thank you for visiting my blog today. I am so glad you did as I have now had the pleasure of visiting yours.

I have read back on some of your previous posts as well as this one of course and feel sickened by what you obviously had to cope with as a child. I will have to read more.

My father in law used to live with us before he passed, he smoked heavily. He would never think about where he smoked, who he smoked in front of or when he smoked. You described my fil to a tee in the way none of us were able to stop him blowing smoke over us, as our hands tried to flap away the smoke he would have a major adult tantrum.

Keep talking about the childhood you lost. You will find it again one day and when you do, you will have a whole host of buddies to share it with.

Crystal xx

12:44 PM  
Blogger Casdok said...

What more can i say...lovely post.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Deb said...

That room is getting crowded - I'm in there with you and everyone else.

You were six! First grade. And so alone.

I remember the smell of burned down Pall Malls still burning in the ashtray from my own mom. This post had me in both places at once.

Stunning writing. So proud of you for going to this place in such a vivid way. Keep going!

Much love.

3:14 PM  
Blogger Terry Whitaker said...

So frightening. I always have to hold my breath like a scared child the moment i begin reading--and I can't let it go until it's over.

3:24 PM  
Blogger dgibbs said...

Deb is right is was crowded in that room. I feel so badly for that little girl trying to eat with smoke in her face.

Great post Suzy.

8:24 PM  
Blogger kario said...

That little girl deserves a tablecloth and a plate piled high with spaghetti and meatballs. She ought to have a mother sitting across from her who asks her how her day at school was and tells her how proud she is of the big dinner she's eating. She needs to be thanked for helping set the table and encouraged to go play when she is done. At least until the chocolate chip cookies are out of the oven.

I wish that little girl had been surrounded with love and light and warmth instead of cigarette haze and anger. I'm sending her a hug and a smile.


12:00 AM  
Blogger Michelle O'Neil said...

I am gagging and choking on that cigarette smoke reading this Suzy.

Great writing.

Bad mothering.

Great writing.

P.S. My dad was a Pall Mall guy. Bleck.

8:24 AM  
Blogger Self employed mum said...

Hi Suzy. I could feel the tension and had a knot in my stomach reading this, great descriptive writing. x

8:50 AM  
Blogger s@bd said...

Sometimes I am just so angry at Mary. And sometimes I feel so very sorry for her.
What horrible, horrible thing happened to her to make her so wretched and unloving?

And how brave and wonderful you are not to be so wretched and unloving.


2:17 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Wow Suz! Unbelievably sad and lonely. Great job painting the scene!

7:17 PM  
Blogger Mystic Wing said...

Wonderful piece, Suzy. I always am entranced by these pieces.

Memory can be both a curse and a blessing, can't it?

3:04 PM  
Blogger MY OWN WOMAN said...

Exquisite imagery. Keep on writing girl.

7:41 PM  
Blogger Swearing Mother said...

Hi Suzy, I will be back ASAP to read the rest of your posts, but I just had to tell you I think your writing is awsome.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Kim said...

Unbelievably powerful post. Like everyone, I felt and breathed and choked on every second of it. You were SIX years old--that is so, so young.

Kario's beautiful comment made me cry. That is exactly what you should have had--that much love and nurturing and nourishment, every night, is what every child should have. I am just so glad that you are learning to give it to yourself now.


7:24 PM  
Blogger Jess said...

Long time no comment, but I'm still here... Gorgeous vivid writing here, truly. Heartbreaking, and totally compelling.

My mom smoked when I was a kid, and I used to flush her cigarettes down the toilet and then we'd have these huge fights. She finally quit when I was 12, after promising me she would over and over. Blech.

3:17 AM  

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