by Alana Petteway
They were yelling again. Though this time it seemed a bit worse than the usual “good morning, I can’t stand you” banter that was becoming a normal part of our morning rituals. When they’d start I’d roll my eyes and stare at the broken ceiling in the dining room. They’d textured it themselves when they first moved in together some twenty years ago. “It’ll be fun, Janie!” My father had told her, “she’s a fixer upper, but the house is ours!” They were married shortly thereafter, but I wouldn’t come along for almost another decade. They were too busy having a ten year honeymoon, they’d tell me; and they only had the one child because they were too busy loving each other, they didn’t have any more to spare.
I sat at the dining room table trying to block out the fight that was starting up in the kitchen. I stared at my toast and wondered how long they would go before one had to zip off to work without saying goodbye. My bulky digital watch read 7:13. They still had some time. I picked at a thread on my tan cargo shorts.
Boy’s clothes were mainly what I had in my wardrobe; much to the aunt I had on my father’s side protests. I liked tennis shoes, but not white ones. I wore zip off pants often accompanied by an oversized t-shirt. My hair was tied into a braid down my back, and when I could get away with it, and I often could if there was enough fighting in the kitchen early in the morning, I would hide my mess of hair in a navy blue bucket hat. I thought I was cooler than cool could be, and my thoughts were often confirmed by my father’s, “I think you’re the cat’s whiskers, pajamas, and meow, Lala.”
Lala, a ridiculous nickname my father gave me when I’d outgrown the first. Originally called “Button”, and often followed by “as cute as one”, it was obvious how happy they were to finally be parents. I was born smiling, they told me. It was hard for them not to smile back.
A piece of falling plaster interrupted my thoughts, and I nearly choked on my orange juice at the sound of loud crack that followed my mother’s slamming of her fist onto the kitchen counter. My stomach churned in anticipation — God, she was really pissed. Please, I thought, not yet. You love each other too much.
“Get out!” she shouted. “Get the hell out of my house!”
“Get out?” my father shouted back. “Get out?”
I jumped out of my chair at the breakfast bar and charged into the room full force, my socks slipping a bit on the hardwood floor as I turned a sharp corner. My mother was already walking out the back door by the laundry room. “Mom!” I called as I ran out the door behind her.
It was a gloomy August morning that left some gray mist on the grass. My mother was wrapped in a blanket that had been my father’s since he’d started college some quarter of a century ago. She pulled me close, running her long, delicate fingers through my un-brushed hair. I wanted to say something, but no words from an eleven-year-old would fix this.
The back door moaned as my father stepped out in front of us letting the bitterness of burnt toast and the scent stale coffee seep from the kitchen. The warmth of the coffee and the coolness of the morning fog mixed softly around us while their stare down continued. “I’m going to work,” he spat. “I’ll be back for my things later.”
I avoided his piercing blue eyes when he looked my way.
The layer of fog that covered our beach town would not lift that day, nor would my mother unwrap herself from my father’s blanket. When he came to pack his things that night, I’d found it neatly folded on top of his suitcase. My mother must have set it here. I ran my fingers over the tread bare edges remembering the three of us curled beneath its warmth what seemed like only months before. This was not goodbye, they’d said. I greeted him in the doorway of the living room. He hugged me. When he let go I watched as he slung that blanket over the back of the rocking chair where it had normally lived.
It hasn’t moved since.
Though a fourth year Santa Barbara City College student, Alana only recently decided to actively pursue wiring. She is a Santa Barbara local and long-time surf instructor and ocean lover. She hopes to continue to write and surf for many years to come.