by Justin Gold
“I used put steak on the table, sirloin cut, and didn’t I do it for thirty-seven years?” Papa says. It’s all Papa’s seemed to want to say since we died. He was always a tired man, even before this, when tired meant a thing or two. Mama blames the mines. She says the picks ground the skin off his hands. “That’s why they let go of the truck’s wheel,” Mama says. “Ain’t nothing those hands could hold no more.”
“Steaks,” Papa says. “It was only the best for my girls.”
We’re sitting at the new dinner table, an ugly chunk of oak. The new family’s sitting with us, on us, inside of us. The new Papa’s serving soup to the new Mama and new brothers. Their mouths are moving, talking, one at a time. If they could hear us, they’d hear the taps of Papa’s jackboot. If we could hear them, I’m thinking, we’d hear things we ain’t ever heard before.
“Your Papa, he fed us good,” Mama says. “Didn’t he, Millie?”
I nod. I’m thinking Papa only fed us steaks once. I’m thinking he threw his wages to whores. I’m thinking Mama was less yellow drunk. I’m thinking she stripped and beat me, said I wasn’t worth the dirt under Papa’s nails.
“All he gives them is soup,” Papa says. “Third goddamn night in a row. A man’s got to provide.”
I’m thinking the new dinner table doesn’t belong here. I’m thinking I liked the old card table I used to eat on. How it folded up. How it was a thing to disappear, if you wanted it to.
One of the new brothers blows on his spoon. Soup splashes in his face. The new Mama smiles at the new Papa smiles at the new brothers.
My Mama looks at the floor. My Papa grunts.
“Steaks,” he says.