The television was on and Liz was in her favorite position. Flat on her stomach, homework scattered on the floor around her, chin up watching the screen, and hands working with the books and papers in front of her.
As she lay on the rough carpet her brother came in from work. He dropped his sweater onto the armchair near the apartment door and walked over to the television. Mike noticed that she was watching her beloved soap and grunted.
“Get off me you jerk”, Liz hollered as her brothers large and malodrous foot squashed her hand and wiggled under her nose.
“Get off the floor and I won’t walk on you AND mom won’t get mad at you when she comes home”.
Liz glared at her brother. It felt like this routine had played out every day of her teenage life, although really it had been only a year. Only a year since her father had left. Only a year since Mike dropped out of college and found a job. Only a year since she had discovered that buring herself in books and television kept her mind from whirling away in despair over her families pain.
The old lazy boy chair was Mike’s now. He laid claim to it a week after his dad left. Mike threw himself down into the chair and grabbed the remote that Liz had left on the table beside it. The channel changed suddenly, just as Liz feared, and Liz groaned. “Oh come on Mike, not sports again. For Pete’s sake, let me finish my show first. There is only 10 minutes left”.
He shoved the remote behind his back. The challenge was made and he waited for his kid sister to begin the fight. Liz glared at him, and as she made her move forward fists clenched and eyes burning in anger towards her brother, just as the key turned in the apartment door. As their mother entered, the siblings put their minor dispute aside and pretended that nothing was happening at all. Liz dropped to the floor to pick up her papers and books. Mike jumped up to help her in with the groceries. She looked tired, they both thought, and with one look at her gray, weary face they both felt the anger disappate quickly and the saddness move in.
Dinner preparation was a family affair. They had agreed to do it together to make it go faster and to eat healthier. A strange discussion for two teens and a depressed mother, but it had come from Liz and Mike shortly after their father had walked out. They knew their mother had health problems, and without a father, their survival instinct had told them pizza every night was not good for anyone. Mike cooked the meat, Liz prepared the veggies and Mom instucted them on the details and set the table.
The green beans had been washed and Liz stood at the counter with an empty pot beside her. Mike was telling his mom about his day, and Liz began to break off the ends of the fresh beans. “Snap, snap, snap” as she broke them, she dropped the beans into the pot and the ends into the garbage. He glanced at his sister as she made each bean snap seem louder and louder and each crisp pod was dropped into the stainless pot with a loud ‘ting’.
Mike raised his voice and began again to describe his bosses tirade at another worker. “SNAP” went another bean, louder than any thus far. Liz giggled.
Mike tried to continue as the sound of ‘snaps’ and ‘tings’ filled the kitchen. He looked at his mom who was trying to focus on him, but was being distracted by the ‘snap’ and ‘ting’ of the beans. “So anyway mom, as I said,” and Liz picked up a handful of the fresh pods and broke them in rapid succession.
“Thwack”, Mike dropped the chicken on the cutting board and turned to his sister. She was grinning, his mom was grinning and he realized he was beat. It happened then. In a snap, the three of them laughed together. The beans sat waiting for water, as mother, brother and sister giggled and laughed, over beans, over noise and over their pain.
It was Mike who said Grace that night. He kept it short and honest.
“Dear God, thanks for the food, thanks for the laughter, thanks for THIS family being together.”
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