Issue: Red Flags
I walk into the dining room and notice that my chair is missing from its normal niche. My eyes are possessed by that empty space. I look away to check the other seats to discover if they too had been taken. Dad’s chair is accounted for, right there to my left. My brother’s is an orthogonal swing beside his. And Mom’s chair is there at the other head of the table.
I didn’t even notice that Mom is in her seat. And there’s my chair, pulled alongside hers, occupied by Dad. The backs of the chairs are pushed against the sill of the window. They are sitting there together for who knows how long in a quiet that is becoming more distinct every moment.
The light is punching through the glass and forcing itself into the room. But somehow the brightness falls away into a low glow of aged sunlight. It’s something that seems to happen in most rooms at the end of summer days. Mom and Dad camouflage well in the indoor darkness. Their faces aren’t all too clear but their bodies are in distinct profile, outlined by a sliver of soft white.
I say, “Hey guys.” I walk into the room. I go past Dad’s chair and stand in the spot where my seat would be. I pass the large cabinet that keeps its place against the wall. The thing is filled with overly fancy dishes, china plates and crystal glasses that are taken out for special occasions, but are otherwise kept inside the case for the entirety of their lives. Adler is paranoid that the cabinet will fall over one day and crush everyone at the table in an explosion of glass and porcelain. He’s being ridiculous of course, but as I walk by, the vibrations of my footsteps cause it to shake. I move slower. Where is he? The last time I saw him was at breakfast before he left for his morning shift.
I stand in the empty spot and try to fill it. The room feels unbalanced with my parents on one side. There should be a parent on my left, a parent on the right, and a sibling sitting in front of me. These are fixed places, truly eternal. So I say, “What’s going on?”
Did they just wince? I lean against the table and the cabinet trembles again. I’m thankful for the clinks and clatters; the silence is becoming unbearable. My hand rests on the tabletop and I feel a small spot of rawness, and I looked down under a finger. I look down and see a black mark beneath it. Where did that come—oh yeah. That was from my tenth or eleventh birthday. Can’t say for sure. But that was the year Adler started first grade. We were sitting together in my chair as Mom was lighting my birthday candles. It must have been a freak accident, but a lit match fell onto the table, just inches away from Adler’s face. We stared at it for a moment and then suddenly—clang! Mom had grabbed the metal cake server and slammed it down onto the flame in one perfect strike. That was also the first time either of us had heard her say, “Shit!” It’s hard to say which shocked us more.
My eyes move from the burn mark across the wooden field of dinner scars to look at Adler’s chair. God, this table is well-used. I guess there was a time when it was unmarked, and unstained, and unscratched, and just plain un-. Did Mom and Dad buy it before or after Adler was born?
My head snaps to the sound of small shrieks. Mom and Dad’s chairs are shaking, old chairs that cry out with every movement. There’s something wrong. I don’t know what but something is wrong.
I ask, “What’s happened?” I don’t know if they’re looking at me or not. There’s only the shadow of their bodies and the way they seem to pant and gasp together.
Dust is flying around them, floating through the frames of the window panes. I still can’t see them. If I could only actually see them I might know. I don’t know what I’d know, but I’d know something. I need something.
I don’t notice I’m clutching the edge of the table. I don’t notice that the dishes in the cabinet are rubbing and scratching and moaning against each other. I don’t notice that the chairs are loudly crying out, screaming. I notice the dust. And then they tell me that Adler was killed today.
I’m in Adler’s chair, but I can’t remember sitting down. Mom and Dad are to my left together at the window. They haven’t moved. I look at the space in front of me. It feels so unnatural to see where I sit, to see where I should be. But I stay in this seat as the light outside drops away into the late evening darkness.
he contemplates the stain unfurling from the ceiling, dark and autumn damp, the deadwet plant musk of it drawing him in. can’t remember if it was there before; can’t remember the difference between water and blood. upstairs, something overwatered in the bathtub: cracked porcelain buckling […]