lavinia's son considers his place setting
by Aaron Gwyn

"Peace, tender sapling, thou art made of tears, and tears will quickly melt thy life away." - Titus Andronicus

Today she decides she's going to stand at the table while father and I are eating. She decides she's going to stamp her feet and point. Father doesn't pay attention anymore; he wipes the corners of his mouth and sniffs. There are days he will take his plate into the den, but this evening he doesn't move. He stays where he is, staring out the window.

When mother gets louder, he turns towards me, gives a look, as if to say, I don't know what she wants either. This only causes mother to become more upset. She begins tapping my shoulder and pointing to her face. I turn and she widens her mouth. I can see down into it. I scoot my chair closer to father, but he looks away. I stare into my plate, try to picture other places as I feel mother squeeze in between us, rubbing against my shoulder. She lowers her face to mine and the sounds come louder.

I begin looking at my saucer, try to imagine myself living down the street at a neighbor's house. I imagine white curtains and bedspreads, mothers who, a little on the fat side, spend their afternoons talking on the phone. They play bridge, pick their children up from school, kiss their husbands on the lips. They do their housework to music and deliver their meals with a smile. At any moment, their faces are ready to split with laughter.

It is a nice image, but thinking it does not help. Mother's screaming just comes fiercer, higher in pitch. I lift my eyes from the plate and begin staring at father. I try to shut mother out and concentrate on him, concentrate on my eyes saying, make her stop. Why won't you make her stop? I look at him until he turns, sees me staring. He clears his throat. His face is beautiful and kind, and his voice, when it comes, is melodic and deep. There is such music in his voice as he asks me to pass the salt, that my fingers dance to the shaker, send grains scattering across the oak.

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