On Dusty Mornings
Lanky Annie sits at the kitchen table
with her daughter, a wild looking seven year old
with too big eyes and tangled hair. Tim is
spread posture drinking coffee over
the kitchen sink. It's a dusty morning.
Annie stares intently out the window just past
the child who is hidden in a dirty too big t-shirt
and underwear, her head barely above the table’s edge, elbows
stretched to her ears so as to reach a heaping plate
of fried clam strips situated just within her reach.
Why don’t you just give her cereal? She doesn’t need
more fried junk. Tim empties what’s left
of a gallon of milk into the sink. There’s no more milk.
Shouldn’t even ask, right? Annie! Jesus. Hey
kid, what’s your mother looking at?
Rabbits. Mommy looks for rabbits on the morning-- I can’t reach.
She struggles to grab another handful of clams tipping the plate
which clangs back and forth until it regains stability-- Close your legs.
Where are her pants? Annie,
she’s eaten half the damn plate. Look at her.
He pauses waiting for a response, face growing
tighter in the quiet. The child’s eating
is pointedly audible-- Close your legs! I don’t need to see
that! Mildly stunned the child tucks her legs
beneath her on the chair, which brings her closer to the plate of clams.
I saw a rabbit Mommy. It’s black and red, right? She wipes the oil
from her hands onto her t-shirt as Annie finally turns her gaze
from the window and onto the child. There are no bunnies
in the dirt baby. You shouldn’t lie about things like that.
She reaches across the table and pulls the plate of clams
away from the child who stands up on her chair
and crawls onto the table to retrieve it. I’m hungry.
Tim sweeps across the room and grabs the child, throwing her
over his shoulder, bringing a coffee wet hand to her
small butt. He repeats the motion furiously. She wails
a practiced wail, mumbles about the clams through sobs. Annie
startles, jumping a bit in her seat at the sound of the first smack.
You don’t climb on the furniture! See? Now you’re coming
to my room-- Annie, this is your god damn fault. Dirty kid—
she’s out of control. The child is curling into a quiet,
rhythmic weeping ball on Tim’s shoulder, tucking
her knees underneath her, plump legs quivering
with the muscles it takes to keep them sealed together.
Tim turns toward the room with his free hand
clenched around the child’s matted hair.
Annie takes a clam from the gray table
and can't be sure whether she hears herself mutter--
Don’t be too hard on her. It's too loud
to tell over the chewing and spoon
to ceramic deep gulp down.