Roxanne Barbon. Current location: Bath, England.
I carried five plates – clean, white, porcelain. The dining room was boiling. Grandfather was sat at the table, his shirt hanging off the back of the chair, his legs stretched out. He snapped back the cap of a Heineken. Laughed to himself as he took a swig of it and gulped it down. I wiped sweat from my brow when I placed the plates onto the table.
The smell of chicken and rice wafted from the kitchen where Grandmother was cooking. There was a clatter of pots and pans. Mother was carrying the utensils, five of each, sat a pair next to every plate. Her tank top had a stain against her lower back. Her phone went off. She looked startled when she checked to see who it was.
“I… I need to take this,” she said and quickly walked up the stairs.
I was left setting the table by myself.
Father was dragging a fan into the room; a loud scraping sound as its feet scratched the hardwood.
“I can’t believe the air conditioning is broken.” He had a collar of sweat on his shirt. His face red, his breathing heavy as he plugged in the cord. He switched it on; a sputter into a slow spin. He clicked the buttons, the spinning did not speed up.
“Agh!” he shouted. Slapped the back of the fan, it stopped for a second then went back to the same pace. A slow hypnotic turn; the heat in the room was barely moving. Not even a gust of breeze that could cool you for a second.
“Forget it,” he said as he got up and sat down at the table. “That’s better than nothing.”
Grandfather was opening his second beer. “Cuando vamos a comer?” he shouted. Father reached over for a can, responded, “We eat when Mami finishes cooking.”
I sat down in front of Father. My moist shorts pressed into my thighs. Mother’s sandals slapped the stairs as she walked down them. She grabbed the chair next to mine, sat down, exasperated.
Grandmother ambled over from the kitchen carrying a large silver pot, the bottom of it charred. She set it onto a trivet, pulled the lid off. Steam curled out.
The smell of rice, chicken, beans and grease. Grandfather licked his lips, sat up and rubbed his dry hands together. Father exhaled as he wiped at his forehead with the back of his hand. Mother remained still.
Grandmother started pouring the food onto every plate, starting with Grandfather’s. She reached for Mother’s last.
“Not too much, I’m not that hungry,” Mami said. Grandmother shoved the plate into Mother’s hands, “Pour it yourself, then” she said.
Father glanced over at his mother who trudged over to the chair to my left and sat down, her knees cracking as they bent.
Mother poured one spoonful of rice, chicken and beans. Put the lid back on the pot.
“Did you hear about the heat wave?” I said. There was chewing, forks and knives crashing and scraping against each plate.
“I didn’t need to hear about the heat wave to know that it was going on,” Father responded. The sun was right in the middle of the sky. Noon. Lunch time. Mami was quiet.
The fan started to spin even slower. Sputtered, stopped, then picked up again. Father eyed it cautiously. Glanced over at Mother’s hands. “What happened to your ring?” he asked.
Her fork slid out of her hand, crashed onto the plate. She rubbed her ring finger, reached for her necklace. “My fingers have been swollen lately, I put it onto here for now.” She pulled out the chain from underneath her shirt, dangled it before her, looked at Father.
“Maybe you’ve been eating too much salt. Salt always swells the body right up,” he said as he bit into a piece of chicken.
“Yes, salt is the worst thing for your body,” Grandmother shouted from beside me.
“There is nothing that beer can’t fix!” Grandfather said with a loud snort at the end.
Grandmother shushed him loudly from across the table. Mother tucked the necklace back under her shirt. She was sweating along her nose, wiped at it with the back of her hand.
“What was that phone call about?” Father asked Mother. “It seemed urgent.”
“Nothing, just something with work,” Mother said. Grandmother scoffed under her breath.
“On a Sunday?” Father asked. “They really need to give you a break sometimes.”
Mami nodded, “I know. But there is always a problem that needs fixing, and I’m the one with the solutions.”
“I don’t like that job of yours, they keep you working for too long.” He slid a spoonful of rice into his mouth, chewed it noisily. “I mean, just the other day you got back home at midnight.”
Grandmother muttered to herself, glanced over at Mother every so often, then shoved a spoonful of food into her mouth.
“Have you heard about Rami?” Grandmother asked Father. He shook his head.
“Oh, well let me tell you what his wife did to him.”
Father sat up in his chair, took a sip of his beer.
“Manola told me that Rami caught Tatiana texting another man.”
Mother became rigid.
“You’re kidding me?” Father said.
“No.” Grandmother looked over at Mother then back at Father.
“But that’s not the only thing. When he grabbed her phone to look through it all, he found out that it was actually three other guys that she had been sleeping with. Three!”
Her hands were animated, waving in the air. “How could she do that to Rami? They have been together for twenty years. He has been with her through her mother’s death, through her sister moving in with them, through her miscarriage. And this is how she treats him.”
“I don’t think she ever loved him.” Mother said.
“When you have been with someone for twenty years, it’s not about love anymore, it’s about respect,” Father said.
“What if she no longer was happy?” Mother asked.
“Cheating on your husband with three guys will help you find happiness?” Father scoffed, “Please, that is just selfish.”
“You fall out of love sometimes,” Mami said.
“No such thing. How can you fall out of love with the father of your children?” He was getting heated; his eyes wide, his cheeks getting darker in shade. Sweat dripped from his forehead, fell onto the table.
“Yes, I have loved your father for fifty years,” Grandmother said to Father. “I have never cheated on him.” She glanced over at Mother, “Ever.”
Grandfather cackled at the other end of the table. “You guys need to relax. At the end of the day, it’s all about sex, booze and having a good time before we all die.”
Grandmother glared at him.
“Ah, stop looking at me like that.” He waved her off and snapped open his third beer. He aligned it next to the other two empty cans in front of his plate.
“But listen to this,” Grandmother said, trying to salvage the original conversation. “Apparently, she had been cheating on him for three years and he never suspected a thing. Not. One. Thing.”
Mother looked down at her plate; scraped her fork along the porcelain as she filled it up with rice.