Dinner was served late again. Brenda forgot about the chicken during her shows and it sat in the oven, untouched until Dale returned from his meeting.
Now that everyone was at the table, washed, and ready, Brenda spooned reheated piles of Shepard’s pie onto Tupperware plates.
Dave squinted during prayers. His fingers twitched at the ready as he made sure neither Sammy or Eustice fussed. Dave was drunk again– drunk and looking to pick a fight. His meeting had run long; he and Rick had been discussing the Black lives Matter problem again– one of Rick’s favorite subjects.
“Dave…” Brenda said, prodding. Dave blinked up and wiped at his red, sagging eyes with the back of his knuckles. Both Sammy and Eustice snapped forward into their plates when Dave passed a look over them.
Dave sighed. “Yes, dear.” His tone was cynical. “My bride, my loving wife. What is it?”
Brenda flushed and looked down. Dave looked expectantly at his wife before he looked about the room to the smoke stained walls and cobwebbed corners of his double wide. He reached for his unopened bud light and cracked it. Amber bubbles toppled over the lip and into his palm. Dave’s lazy tongue shot out to meet them.
“How do you like the pie, hon?” Brenda asked as Dave licked the beer from his hand.
He took a long gulp and smacked his lips. “Fucking delicious dear. So good, I could keep eaten ‘em for days. Oh wait,” Dave’s brow shot up for the punchline. “I have.” He cackled and waited for the kids to join in. Then, impatiently, he slapped the table, jerking his silverware and beer forward. Sammy winced before offering a weak chuckle.
Dave turned to Eustice, and took another pull from his can. “So bud, how was school today? Learn anythin’ new?”
“Speak up! And look you dad in the eye when you talk to ‘im.”
“Not really.” He turned to Brenda and shrugged. “Not really. You’re telling me after sitting your ass in that school that I pay fer’ you learned nothing?”
“Let him finish eating, hon. He’ll tell you once he’s done,” Brenda turned to their youngest. “Right?” Eustice nodded. She turned back to her husband, still anxious about the lurking storm that was his temper. “How was the meeting?” She knew it was the one thing he could talk about until he turned blue in the face.
He smiled. “Great,” he said, mashed potatoes dribbling from his bottom lip. “We finalized plans for the rally next month. Dick’s gonna take care of printing flags.” A storm suddenly formed in the creases of his aged face. “We’re gonna show these liberal fucks a thing or two; thinking they can take our history away from us.” Dave’s torso jerked forward. “We got this great design for our shields…” Dave trailed off laughing, finished his beer, and crushed the can, tossing it to the rubbish bucket next to the trailer door.
Brenda nodded, neither smiling nor frowning– just acknowledging. “Hon, this isn’t gonna run us too much money, is it?” Dave looked up from his plate with a look of contempt. “Remember Sammy’s surgery coming up. Those wisdom teeth have been giving her loads of trouble.”
Dave belched and looked at Sammy, and watched as she spooned sensible bites into her mouth. “We’ll be fine hon. We got that American care act insurance; so the co pays shouldn’t be that much. Besides the chapter is depending on us.”
“You said American.” She paused a regret washed over her like a cruel tide. “I think… it’s Affo–”
A paw smacked against the table. “It is what I say it is.”
Brenda nodded wordlessly and elected to play with her dinner until the kids finished.
“Mommy, can I be excused?” Sammy chimed in, almost as if she could read her mother’s mind. “My mouth hurts.” Brenda watched a twitch of fury pass over her husband’s face.
“Of course, baby. Just leave your plate and I’ll get it.” She pulled her daughter in close and kissed her on the forehead.
“Can I be excused too?” Eustice said, clearing his plate of the last bite. Brenda nodded. “Mhmm.”
“You better remember what you learned at school today when I finish dinner.” Dave said, reaching for a beer that wasn’t there. Eustice nodded, wordlessly. “Ya hear?”
“Yes.” Eustice said, half running from the room.
Above them, the rickety ceiling fan creaked its existence every half second. Brenda turned to take the plates to the sink and stopped in her tracks, a finger of fear scratching its way up her spine as her husband cleared his throat.
“Where’re you going?”
Brenda turned to face her drunken husband, almost robotically. He was slouched over a clean plate and rubbing the scum from his eyes. “I’m gonna do the dishes.” She said.
“Don’t forget this one.” He made no move.
Brenda reached for the plastic plate and into his grasp. Calloused hands wrapped around her wrist and pulled her into his aura of sour beer. The rest of the plates fell to the floor in a clatter.
“Don’t you ever correct me in front of the kids again. Got that?” Dave’s free fist closed into a fist and relaxed again. Brenda’s words caught in her throat and she nodded. “Good. Now clean this shit up.” Dave let her go with a final pull and without thinking smacked the side of her face with a lazy backhand.
Brenda didn’t let him hear her cry. She knelt down on all fours picking up silverware and shuddered at each of his footsteps. Only at the slam of the storm door did she submit to the sobs.