It was evening in the Mullingham household and Abraham and Moira Mullingham had just sat down to a dinner of hot spaghetti noodles drenched in a pungent tomato sauce, a dish Moira’s father had taught her to make in her youth, which she took great pride in serving.
Abraham, a heavy-set, light skinned man who looked to be in his fifties, but had only reached his forty-fifth year, a man with green, pebble-eyes, a greasy head of red, tangled hair and a thick mustache, leaned over his spaghetti like a bear: his wide shoulders hunched forward, his heavy arms—wrapped in the stiff, greasy cloth of his work jumper—spread protectively around his plate, his twitching snout hung low over his food. He pawed at the pasta with his fork, slurping up long strands of noodles, spattering himself and the bee-patterned tablecloth with red splotches.
Moira, Abraham’s wife, was a frail woman, thin, and also in her forties, yet she looked no older than thirty-five. She had bright amber eyes, a short upturned nose with odd creases around the nostrils and tip, and delicate, veiny hands. She sat rigidly in her chair, not looking at her husband across the table. She kept her napkin and her left hand in her lap, gently twirling the pasta in small spindles with the right, and drawing back her blonde hair as she placed small bites into her small mouth.
Abraham cleared his throat. “It’s William’s birthday,” he said with a cheekful of pasta. “This Thursday. I thought we could do dinner at Maggiano’s again.”
Moira was wondering if she had added too much spice to the sauce when Abraham spoke. She looked up quickly and swallowed hard. “Dinner… sounds fine, Abraham,” she said, looking down at her plate and moving a few noodles around. “But… the girls won’t be able to make it. They’ve already told me they have plans for the new year, but I will be there and we will have a lovely time.”
Abraham sat back in his seat slowly, wiping his face with a crumpled napkin. “Lovely?” he said, “With his sisters not there—lovely? Gah!” Abraham slapped the napkin onto his unfinished dinner, then began rubbing anxiously at his stubbled chin. “Lovely… you would say something like that. I need the girls to be there. Remind them what day it is and tell them again.” Abraham plucked up the napkin from his plate and scooped a forkful of pasta into his mouth, snapping off the tail ends with snorting chomps.
“They haven’t forgotten, Abraham,” Moira said in a small voice, cringing at her husband’s display. She lowered her eyes to her sauce. “It’s just… they’ve missed two New Year’s celebrations already, and I think they just need to celebrate in their own way. I think—maybe—they need space to have their own fun this year.”
“Their own fun? Are you sure this isn’t you talking? Their own fun? Pff!—ugh!” Abraham became very animated, twitching his shoulders and shaking his head like a man with Parkinson’s. “And what about their brother? Those selfish little—their brother’s twenty-fourth birthday isn’t cause enough for celebration, hm?”
“It’s not that, dear,” Moira intoned, “it’s really not.”
Abraham widened his tiny eyes, and stared with such frustration and loathing at Moira that she could feel their tight rays assaulting her, even without looking up. “Then what is it?” he barked, “because I’m about two seconds away from calling up those ungrateful little girls and setting them straight—my own way! You hear?” Then Abraham sighed; he shook his head, turning his eyes to the ceiling; he chuckled bitterly. “Where is this shit coming from, hm? Did they tell you all this, or is this you trying to control them?”
It was Moira’s turn to shake her head. Her eyes shimmered with tears, but she would not let herself cry. “It’s nothing like that, Abraham. It’s just that… the girls find the birthdays… well, they find them depressing.”
“Depressing!” shouted Abraham, “Depressing!” He pushed himself back from the table, slapping his napkin onto his unfinished plate once again, planting one hand on the protrusion of fat above his hip, and gesticulating wildly with the other. “Those—those—ungrateful—what could be more joyous than the celebration of their only brother’s birth? You’ve got to be joking with me, Moira, you have got to be joking. Who raised these girls? Is this the way you taught them to behave, hm? What kind of way is this to behave? They might not live under my roof anymore, but I’ll be damned if they’re going to disrespect me or their brother!”
“No, Moira, I’m not finished. William practically raised those girls—he taught them how to talk, how to walk—he showed them how to ride their bikes! He is a hell of a brother—he is—he… is…”
“Stop it!” shouted Abraham, slamming his fist into the table, making both their plates rattle, then jabbing a red finger in his wife’s face. “Stop saying my name like you own me—stop saying it—you don’t own me.”
Moira gazed helplessly at her husband, mouth agape. “Abraham, I—I’m not trying to—”
“I said stop it, dammit!” shouted Abraham, striking the table again, teeth clenched and face trembling with rage.
“All right,” said Moira quickly, struggling to keep her voice from shaking apart with her nerves, “all right, I won’t say your name. It’s all right. Everything is all right. Please—please, just sit. You don’t need to be angry anymore, all right?”
Abraham paced the width of the table, gouging Moira with his stare, flaring his nostrils, clenching and unclenching his fists. He stopped beside his chair. “All right…” he said in a mocking tone. He kicked the chair back, dropped himself into the seat, gripped the table’s edge, then glared at the napkin laying on his plate, bloodied with sauce.
Moira reached a trembling hand across the table and laid it on Abraham’s white knuckles tentatively. “We will never forget William… never. But… your daughters are still here. They still want a relationship with you.”
Abraham snorted and smiled a mirthless smile, shaking his head. “Talking to me like a child or something…” he grumbled. “You think I’ve forgotten about the girls? It’s you who have forgotten, forgotten about our son; it’s them who have forgotten their brother. Well, I won’t forget. You think I don’t know he’s dead? You think I’m crazy because I want to remember him?”
Moira reached her other hand across the table, standing slightly, and rubbed her thumbs gently into the back of Abraham’s hands. “I think that you are hurting. Just like I am hurting. Just like Sasha is hurting, like Mia is hurting… And I think that while we are all suffering in our own way, that all of us could heal better, faster even, if you would just offer them the love and understanding they need.”
“And what about what I need? What their brother’s memory deserves? I have no desire to forget my boy, my first born, my baby boy. I don’t want to heal, you hear me? I don’t want to get better. This Thursday, we are having a family dinner in celebration of William, the girls will be there, and they will have something good to say about their brother, or else they won’t have to reject the next invitation, you understand?” Abraham snatched up his fork, hunched over his plate, head bowed, rolled up a gob of noodles, then hesitated. “And I won’t say another word about it, dammit.”
Abraham didn’t say another word about it. And Moira didn’t say another word about her daughters. The couple returned to their meals, each in their own way, under a tense silence. Moira looked up now and again to watch her husband stabbing too hard at his plate, shoveling large coils of noodles into his mouth, chewing too quickly, letting red sauce trail down his chin… She thought of her own father. She thought of the pasta sauce. She thought of how much like herself her own daughters were, and thinking of all this, she felt a hot, unusual feeling surge through her gut and into her chest. What happened to the good man she married all those years ago? and what sort of malignant creature now sat before her, gorging itself on her spaghetti? Moira made a face like one who is forced to share air with a sour homeless person. Her bright eyes darkened and shrank ever so slightly; she bent almost imperceptibly over her plate; she stabbed at a heart-shaped tomato, then she shoved it into her mouth and bit down violently.
This scene was written in response to a prompt about a person in denial. If you enjoy my work, please “like” this page and share it with your friends.