This story is by Sarah Meredith and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I felt a sharp sting and looked down to see a trickle of blood dripping down my finger. How many times had I told the children to load silverware in the dishwasher with all sharp kitchen knives pointed downward? More times than I could remember, and yet there I was heading for the bathroom with a rapidly reddening paper towel wrapped around my hand. I pulled out the first aid supplies and took a closer look. It was nothing serious, nothing a Band-Aid couldn’t handle, but I decided to wrap a few layers of gauze around my hand and finger to make it look worse than it actually was. A picture is worth a thousand words, isn’t it? The children would notice, and that would get the message across, perhaps penetrate the selective hearing that was clearly at play here in a way that my words could not. I was not above a little deception to make my point.
I was at present a one-man band. My husband, Chief Warrant Officer Matthew Donnelly, US Navy, was five months into his latest deployment, and I was doing my best to keep the home fires burning. It wasn’t easy. I had two hormonal teenagers who bore virtually no resemblance in personality or disposition to those fun little children of yesteryear. I had to ride herd on those two morning, noon, and night to have even the slightest chance of keeping them in line. It was taking every ounce of strength I had. It was ironic when you think about it. Mathew was on a ship somewhere in the Mediterranean, and I was the one feeling lost at sea.
I returned to the kitchen just in time to hear the back door open and greet my son, Matt, as he casually strolled in. He was 16 years old and rangy with a head of thick, unruly brown hair. In truth, he had enough hair for three people. I wondered momentarily how long it would last. His father was slowly, but surely balding.
“How did your exam go?“ I asked nervously. The school year was winding down, and it was the last day of final exams.
“I dunno,” he mumbled with a quick shrug of his shoulders.
I tried again. “Well, did you feel like you knew most of the answers?“ Another shrug.
I gave it one more shot. “Do you at least think you passed it?” He shrugged again. It was becoming his go to response for pretty much everything.
He wandered off down the hallway, and I heard his bedroom door close. None of this came as a surprise to me. Some days I was lucky to get two words out of him. It was becoming harder and harder to gauge whether he had any passable communication skills at all. At times they seemed to be almost nonexistent. He was the quintessential man of few words.
Just then the back door swung open and Jeannie, my 14-year-old daughter, came bounding in, energy radiating from every pore of her body. She had long honey blonde hair, a perpetual smile, and was cute in a coltish kind of way. She was not quite out of her awkward stage and still all arms and legs. Her brother was almost a head taller than her, but what she lacked in height she more than made up for in verbal ability. No communication issues there. To put it more plainly, she was mouthy.
“How did your exam go?“ I asked knowing full well that I would get a detailed report.
She stopped and turned to face me. “Well, it started off great, but then I got to this one question, and I wasn’t sure of the answer, so I put a mark by it to remind me to come back later. Then I just kept going, and I knew everything until I was almost done, but there were these two questions near the end that I couldn’t figure out, so I just sat there forever racking my brain. I was so frustrated, but I finally decided it was time to move on and finish, so I did. Then I went back to that question at the beginning, and I remembered the answer, thank goodness! I was getting really worried. I never could get the answers to those other two questions, so I took some wild guesses and turned it in. Anyway, I think I got a 96. It won’t be any lower than that.”
Now that’s what I was looking for.
A little later as we were all seated at the dinner table, she continued to talk a mile a minute, and she covered a lot of ground. It was a good thing, too, because if she hadn’t taken the trouble to do that, Matt and I would’ve been hopelessly uninformed. We couldn’t have that, not that there was any danger. She saw it as her duty to keep us updated on everything and everybody. Meanwhile her brother sat silently shoveling in his dinner with truly impressive speed. Actually, it looked more like he was inhaling it. He had been snacking all afternoon, but watching him you would’ve thought he hadn’t eaten in a month. Neither one of them noticed my hand.
It was Matt’s turn to clean up and load the dishwasher, so he headed to the kitchen, and Jeannie headed to the den. When he was done, Matt walked into the den where he found Jeannie seated in front of the TV. He looked at the screen, and a look of complete bafflement spread over his face. “Why are you watching that? Why would anybody watch that?”
“Are you kidding? It’s figure skating! It’s the second most watched sport worldwide, second only to soccer. You see that girl right there? She just landed five triple jumps, two of them in combination. Do you have any idea how hard that is?”
“No, and I don’t care!”
“It’s the championship!” she yelled back.
“How much longer is this going to last?” he asked, making no attempt to hide a seriously pained expression.
“Why? What do you want to watch?”
“Sons of Anarchy.”
“Oh for crying out loud! I should’ve known – violence and bloodshed. That’s right up your alley.”
“Beats the heck out of that,” he said gesturing towards the television screen.
I had been listening to this exchange from the kitchen when the phone rang. It was Matthew.
“Hi honey! How’s it going?” I asked.
“Same old, same old,” he answered cheerfully. “How are the kids?”
“At each other’s throats as usual,” I responded. “Hey, I have a question for you. When you give sailors an order, they have to do as they’re told, right?”
“That’s right,“ he said. “When I say jump, they say how high. I can even throw in an expletive if I want, not that it’s my style.”
“You have no idea how much I envy you right now,” I said.
“I believe it,“ he said laughing. “Look, I have to go. We’re really busy. I’ll talk to you again soon.”
“I love you to pieces!” I said.
“Same here,” he said and clicked off.
I walked back toward the den and the still raging argument that continued at full volume. I paused and said in exasperation, “Can you two for once, just once, find something you both might possibly like. It’s called compromise! It’s not that hard.” I turned and stormed off with absolutely zero hope of that actually happening.
About 10 minutes later I heard some familiar sounding music coming from their direction. I stopped what I was doing and listened. Then it came to me. It was the theme music from a movie I had seen years ago. A few minutes later I heard laughter, loud raucous laughter, so I quietly walked into the den and glanced at the TV screen. Sure enough, they were watching the comedy I had once mentioned was one of my all-time favorites, and they were in complete hysterics, practically convulsed. It was a sight I had given up hope of ever seeing, but there it was. The two of them seated side-by-side on the couch looking fully as if they were actually enjoying each other’s company.
It was a tiny, almost imperceptible glimmer of light at the end of a very long tunnel, but for the first time I could see it, and it was in that moment that I knew. Those two would eventually overcome their differences, and the years of conflict would fade into memory. They would get there. It would take time, but the day was coming.
And Matthew would be home soon.
I smiled and walked back into the kitchen to start the dishwasher. As I bent down to pour detergent into the dispenser, something caught my eye. It was a kitchen knife in the silverware basket, sharp end pointed down.
Our future was suddenly looking a whole lot brighter.