Sometimes good times can be fleeting, especially while under pressure
Zuri and Butch had been married for two years now and they rarely came to Sunday dinner at grandma’s house. These family meals made him feel uncomfortable and he never liked the conversation flow.
“Isn’t this good food, Butch?” she asked with enthusiasm. He just silently hunched his shoulders.
“Grandma, you sure make the best food!” she said, smiling like a kid on Christmas day.
It made her happy being here with the family like this, enjoying a great meal. They would never know what it took to get there.
“Girl, stop messing with him!" her Grandma, said slyly, trying to catch his gaze. If he likes it, that’s fine. It’s his choice.”
Butch continued to sit and stare into his plate, moving the food around and around in a circle like he was looking for a trap door to appear and take it away.
Oh, well, she thought, let me just look at the house. It’ll get my mind off of him.
She could hear her mother talking about her latest fiasco at the hairdresser as she reflected.
Grandma’s house was always so comfortable to her although you wouldn’t call it a place of refuge. The tan linoleum with red speckles adorned the kitchen floor and contained the original room guard which let out creaks whenever you headed for the cookie or candy jar; alarming her that you were sneaking around when you’d been told not to. The living room had shelves along the wall with tiny figurines, which were never moved, in silent poses, ever watching. She always wanted to take them from their shelves for a closer look wondering how they’d be enjoyed when they seemed so very far away from the rest of the world.
“Zuri!” a voice called bringing her out of her dream state. It was her grandma looking neglected.
“Yes, ma’am?” she said. “Were you talking to me?
“Child, first you were eating like someone was going to take your food away and now you’re sitting there letting it get cold!"
"Sorry. I was just thinking.”
"You know I didn’t cook this food for nothing.” her grandma said, with a good natured grin.
“Oh, no grandma, I’m gonna finish eating. I really don’t mind it if my food gets cold.”
“I agree, Zuri.” said her mother, taking a scoop of creamed corn in her fork. “You really don’t eat enough as it is, at least when I see you.”
“Oh, Mom, you know I eat good everyday.” she said, “Just because I’m not gaining weight doesn’t mean anything.” She glanced to at Butch for support. He just hunched his shoulders with a look that said he wasn't getting involved.
“Well, with all of the running you do working two jobs “said her mother looking at Butch, “you have to take better care of your body. Lord knows, if you don’t look out for it, nobody will.”
“I’ll be fine, Mother. You just don’t know how hard he’s been working with his woodwork projects! He’s going to add designs to them as soon as we can afford a wood burner!”
“Yeah, we could afford one if you weren’t spending our money without telling me” Butch interjected.
“Well, Butch, I don’t spend money unless I have to. And I try to tell you but…”
He cut her off…”but what? I listen to what you’re saying but you flip flop too much for me. I don’t have time to ask you.”
“I don’t know why he is so busy,” her mother muttered under her breath to herself. “Zuri is the one working all of the time.”
Butch stopped speaking and planted his eyes steadily on Zuri’s mother, moving his lips around thoughtfully. “By staying home with our son I save us a lot of money. We couldn’t afford to put our son in day care anyway and he keeps me busy, NOT to mention my woodworking. Someone has to work on their talents around here.”
Zuri spoke quickly, “Butch, why don’t you tell them how hard its been find something, I mean, like something that is good for you!” Her eyes were fixed on him, shining and waiting for his explanation. It would be so simple for him to just say; they’d understand but they needed to hear a good word from him.
He gave her a surly shrug of his shoulders and said, “I ain’t got to explain nothing. You’ve already said I can‘t find a job. When I get one, I’ll have one!” With that, he reached for his glass of Coke and took a deep chug-a-lug.
Zuri looked at her mom and dad sheepishly, bowing her head slightly, breathing with care as if her chest hurt. They shuffled in their seats, glancing at each other, feeling her embarrassment.
“Well, excuse us for wanting to know!” shot back her grandma. “We’re only wondering if you gonna help take care of your family!”
“I am taking care of my family and we don’t answer to you!” he shouted, as he rose to his feet. “Zuri, let’s go! Get the baby and let’s go!” he about screamed as he strode out of the room, leaving her behind.
Zuri’s eyes were wide and filled with tears. She struggled to stand, her lips quivering as she started to speak. “I’m sorry everyone. I-I-I better go.” she said quietly.
She started away from the table and he grandma reached for her hand. “Zuri, you don’t have to go nowhere. We’re here and if you don’t want to leave, you and the baby should stay.”
Butch put his head into the room. “Are you coming yet? I said I was ready to go, now let’s go!”
She looked at her family and at him. “Butch, I don’t want to leave yet. C-c-can’t the baby and I stay?” she clutched desperately at her hands as she spoke.
“Such theatrics! Give the girl an Oscar! You never stutter unless you want sympathy." Butch shot at her with disgust in his voice.
“Now that is enough!” said Zuri’s dad. “I think you need to leave now, Butch!” Her dad stood up at the table, adjusting his pants as if gearing up for battle.
“You ain’t got to tell me. I don’t want to be here anyway!” he said as he pulled his head back around the corner and stormed out the front door.
There was silence in the room as Zuri turned around to look at everyone, unable to bear the looks in their eyes. She knew that they always thought it would come to this for her. Dealing with that “crazy white boy”, Zuri never could just ever take the safe, conventional stay-in-your-race way of living life. Now, it looked like they were right.
“Child, it’s ok. Come here.” said her mom quietly.
Zuri blindly made her way towards her mother’s chair as she sat with her arms outstretched to waiting to bring comfort. Her grandma began to rock and hum a tune softly to herself. “Swing low, sweet chariot…coming forth to carry me home...”
“Oh, mom, why are we like this?” she asked her mother. “We were not always this way. I think he’s worried about not having a job. I never see him, except for a short time and he is always mad, like I am doing something more than working when I leave for the day.”
Her mother wiped her eyes with a napkin. “Zuri, these things happen. He doesn’t feel like a man with you working and everyone else asking questions. We have to ask though, because we’re worried about you and the baby.”
“Mama, what else can I do?”
“You got to always give him what he wants," she said, looking at Zuri.
“What did you just say, Mom?” she said, pulling back.
“I said, do what your man said! I know what’s best and you’d be lost without me.” Her voice sounded different now.
BAM! Went a hand on the table, startling her. Her mouth opened, as she looked, not into her mother’s eyes but those of her husband, Butch.
He was not happy at how long it took her to respond. “I’ve been talking to you, Zuri and you’ve been ignoring me.” His face was dark with a two day shadow, his hair unbrushed, he looked unkempt and smelled like he hadn't washed in awhile.
She looked around as she realized that she was sitting in their trailer, the table full of dishes stained from meals long past, a loaf of molding bread beside her; the sound of the dripping faucet beating like a drum in her ears.
“What are you dreaming of, girl?” he said, as he popped his knuckles. “I don’t like repeating myself.”
All she could do was stare into his eyes, feeling the eternity of the misery that they had become; knowing she should find some words but there were none.
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