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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

A Tale of the Midwest

This is another little one hour story that I wrote a month or two ago (and changed a bit for those of you who read it already).

Peter loved the summer sun that seemed to stay in the sky until forever. He knew, of course, that it went down at night, just like in spring and winter and fall. In summer, though, with no school and endless things to do during the day, it might as well have stayed up forever. It was almost six now. Mom had been calling him home for ten minutes. When he walked inside he knew she would say something to him, “You come when I call you. It’s enough that I cook dinner, I shouldn’t have to set the table, too.” And he would say sorry (even though he wasn't), and she would say “Try to be home on time next time, okay?” He would say okay, his dad would grunt, and they would all sit down to eat.

That was how the summer time passed. The spring and fall and winter, too. All of Peter’s life it had been this way. The only thing that changed was that, now that Peter was in fourth grade, maybe he would have to stay inside to do homework if it was fall or spring, and in winter, he would stay in anyway because it was too cold. The television shows his parents watched changed, too, because sometimes there were new shows, and sometimes there were re-runs that they turned off to watch other things. None of it really meant anything, though, Peter thought.

Peter rode his bike into the driveway and braked to a stop just as he reached the garage. His bike slid sideways as he brought it to a halt and hopped off. As he walked it into the garage he thought he could hear the sounds of his mom putting dishes onto the table. He thought he could hear the TV on as well, probably showing the news since his dad was already home. He walked into the house and went to the table. His mom said what she was supposed to say, and she reminded him to wash his hands. Peter looked down at his hands and thought about what he had done with them. He didn’t need his mom to say that little boys get into all sorts of dirty things.

Dad grunted when he sat down, and he grunted again when mom asked how the day went. This was what mom called making conversation, and what dad called annoying. Dad split his attention between the newspaper and the television, and mom split her attention between her food and Peter. Peter knew from the way she was moving food around her plate with her fork that she was going to ask him about his day. It always surprised Peter how the quiet sounds of the kitchen could seem so loud even with the TV on. The sound of knife and fork on plate, of spoons serving food, of chewed meat or slurped milk – how could those small actions produce so much noise?

“So what did you do today?” mom asked. Peter gave his own form of grunt, something less certain than that of dad. Mom asked again.

“I played with Ricky.”

“What did you boys do?” mom asked. Peter thought about her question. It was what she always asked. He knew she was just doing what mom’s are supposed to do, but it felt so – second-hand. She sought the attention of her husband by asking him first. It was only upon rejection that she turned to Peter. That it was the same thing every night made it even worse. It made her interest in his life seem false. It was as if she had read some books that told her she should ask him these questions, or seen them asked on a thousand TV shows, and it was because of this that she asked, not because she cared. Or perhaps she wanted to submerge those kitchen sounds that seemed so loud. Peter thought about her question, and he thought about answering her.

Should he tell her about the cat he and Ricky had come across, the one walking along the side of the road? The cat had been hurt somehow, and as it walked along the road, its right hip raised and turned and fell again. Each step was a process. The cat was young, not much older than a kitten. When Ricky lifted it off the ground, it gave a slight meow, as if wanting to believe it had been rescued. As the boys looked at it and wondered what to do, the cat looked from Ricky to Peter. When it looked at him, Peter saw the cat did not trust them. It wanted to, he thought, but it couldn’t. Peter reached out, as if to touch the cat’s head, to give it some reassurance. Perhaps if he had, the rest would not have happened. The rest? Peter was not sure how they had come to be in the woods behind Ricky’s house, holding the cat’s head under the water in the small creek. He was not sure how he came to hold the cat in his hands after it was dead, the body stiff and going cold in his hands. He had looked at the cat and its lifeless eyes. He felt sad, yes, but detached. There was a reality to the dead cat. A reality accepted, though without enjoyment. Is this why he felt so grown up now?

Peter heard the sound of meat being chewed in his mouth. He looked at his mother, watching him, waiting for an answer. He grunted. His mom turned her attention back to her plate, and dinner continued as normal.


Blogger kachuaz said...

chanced on your blog a few days back, personally i have always been facinated by Taiwan, thou never been there yet

blog more~


7:58 AM  
Anonymous Natalia said...

How powerful words are. Although it's fiction, I can really imagine that happening and it feels terrible.
I liked the other version better, though.

10:05 AM  

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