He rolled the the tip of the cigarette between his lips, and started to cough as he lit it. It was the same cough she woke up to every night when he’d forget to breathe. She’d get a quiet moment in which she could sleep undisturbed. Deep in her heart, she wished it would last longer, but his calloused hand would sweep against her thighs once again.
Now, he lit his cigarette and unwound on the sofa whispering to himself, nodding. Their sixth child sat on the floor by the sofa making planes out of old bills and letters and whatever scraps of paper he found. But even he didn’t seem too entertained. She watched them from the kitchen table as her daughters cleaned every last one of the plates, the glass clanking between their small hands. They had better not break any-thing. That would set him off, and she had hoped for a quiet afternoon. If they’d only stop that clanking! They moved around the kitchen in their identical dresses – one size to fit the three, all below knee length. They complained that the fabric was irritating, but she could do nothing. She had knitted them herself and by God her daughters were going to wear them until their skin turned mangy.
Their father had taken them all out to the river that day, except for his wife and the youngest. It was a Sunday and as bright as it got. He had the tendency to pack them in the car and go. The kids never asked him to take them anywhere. In fact, they went along reluctantly. He decided where, when, and who was going. He invited as many strangers as he liked. He was always much kinder to strangers; to him, they were relatives, friends, friends of friends. But, to her, they were only more people to serve at the picnic and more mouths to take away food from the children’s mouths.
She would come along every now and again, but unlike her kids, she could say no. She had to do house-work or she had to check on his sick sister whom he still hadn’t had the time to check up on. She would much rather throw herself into the river than see her in-law, but at that point in her life and marriage, duty became everything. Sometimes it came as a good excuse.
He sat and smoked on the sofa after his meal, his son in front of him. He had given him one reason why he left him behind that day. “You should stay with your mother, keep her company.” But the child hadn’t kept her company all the other times. He finished his cigarette and called his son to sit up straight. He needed to have a word. Words were not their father’s usual strategy. The seven-year-old gulped and stood still. He examined his father’s face, as he and his siblings had become accustomed to do. You could tell by his face. He looked up and saw a different man, as if by some unholy force, his father’s features had been rearranged. As if the devil himself had emerged through his father’s face. He asked, “How many men did your bitch mother bring around the house today, huh?"