A quiet table covered in immaculate white lace. Three glasses—two wine, one juice. Five plates lit by frosted orange lights dangling in a tentative elegance. One knife sawing through roast pork; two forks hovering anxiously above mashed potatoes.
“You overcooked this meat, again,” rumbled a deep voice at the head of the table.
“I’m sorry, honey,” came a sweet apology, “I thought I took it out—”
“I didn’t ask what you thought,” cut the man. “I said you overcooked this meat.”
“Did you save anyone today?” a young voice piped. “I haven’t watched the news, yet, but—”
“Then you’ll find out when you watch the news, won’t you?” said the man, still clutching his knife.
“Your father’s tired, baby,” she offered. “I’m sure he’ll tell you all about it later tonight.”
“You’re right, Lisa,” he said. “I am tired.” He dropped his knife and fork onto the table. “I come home after running all over Upville today, and all I want is a decent damn meal.” He set his elbows on the table, “How come I can’t have a decent meal, Lisa? Tell me that, since you know everything.”
“Honey, you know I always try to make—”
“I don’t need you to try, goddammit,” he said to her, “I need a pork roast that I don’t have to chew a thousand fucking times.”
“Dad,” said the boy, eyes not leaving his plate, “it’s fine.”
“Your father’s right, it does—”
His father shot him a menacing glare, “Was I talking to you?”
He held his breath.
“You better not be ignoring me, boy,” he leaned over the plate, lowering his head to force his way into the boy’s vision. “Was. I. Talking. To. You.”
“Come on, Eli,” his mother tried to intervene, smiling, “all this over some pork roast.”
“It’s not about the damn food, Jenny!” bellowed his father. “It’s about principle.”
His father exhaled through his nostrils, teeth digging into his bottom lip. “Do you know what I put up with out there?” He threw a finger towards the closed curtains at the opposite end of the table. “You think being the hero is easy, Lisa?” He stood up, “You think they don’t want me to slip up, just once?”
“I know it’s hard for you, honey,” she began, laying her fork on the starched napkin next to her plate. “I’ll go put those steaks on the pan right now.”
He took a step around the table, “You think they don’t got a white replacement lined up for me, already?”
“You always do great, Dad,” offered the boy. He watched his father’s eyes bore into his mother like an electric drill.
“A hero deserves to have something decent to eat when he gets home, Lisa,” he said, ignoring the boy’s comment. “What if I run out of energy during the middle of a fight?” He stood over her, now, “What then?”
She got up from her seat, “I’ll be right back with your—”
“No,” he said and fashioned a force field around her knees, locking her in place. “What if I can’t contain all the debris falling off a building, Lisa?”
“Eli, if you just let me go I can make you a steak,” she said. “Medium, just like you like it.”
“What if it’s a little blonde girl?” he grabbed her arm. “What then, Lisa?”
The boy got up, “Dad,” he said, his voice cracking.
“If you let me go I’ll put the steaks—”
“What happens then, Lisa?” he screamed. “What happens to us, then?”
Tears began pooling in his mother’s eyes, “It’s gonna be okay, honey.”
“You don’t know that!” he bellowed at her. “You don’t even know how to fucking cook! And now you know the future?!”
He jerked her backwards from her chair, legs still bound by the blue forcefield, headed towards the kitchen entrance.
The boy picked up his knife, “That’s enough, Dad!”
“It’s okay, baby,” she said to him through a forced smile, stumbling out of the room.
Then they were all in the kitchen.
“If you’re gonna make me a steak,” he threw her on the tile in front of the stainless steel refrigerator, “Then make me a goddamn steak.”
She struggled to get up, grabbing at the counter, but she fell back to the ground. “If you give my legs back I can do it, honey,” she said through soft tears.
“Let Mom go,” commanded the boy, knife held in front of him, pointed at his father’s back.
“Look, Lisa,” his father said turning around. “I didn’t know we had another hero in the house.” In a flash the knife was stuck in the ceiling.
The boy’s wrist were now bound, still hanging in the air in front of him, defenseless. He started to cry. He wished he didn’t have to see this same scene played out, again. He wished he could do something, anything, to placate his father’s rage. He wished, desperately, that his father wasn’t a superhero.
“You just broke rule number 1, son,” said his father. “Looks like you’re just not cut out for this line of work.”
The boy’s bound hands dragged him to the ground, joining his mother.
“That’s enough, Eli!” screamed his mother. “He didn’t do anything!”
“Now you gonna tell me what to do?” he flared. “Who bought these floors we’re standing on?” He stomped his feet near his wife’s head. “Who bought these goddamn counter tops you insisted we need!?” He slammed his fist on the counter, sending a marble rolling pin crashing onto the floor. “Who bought those steaks in the fridge?!”
The boy watched as his father trapped his mother against the refrigerator, body rigid, toes hovering above the ground.
Then his father’s hand was in the air, still as a cobra.
“Stop!” he begged.
And it banged across her cheek.
“Stop it!” softer this time.
And then it flew across her temple.
“Dad—” he choked, dragging himself to his father’s feet.
And crashed across her jaw.
Blood dripped onto verdant tile at the foot of the fridge.
He grabbed his father’s ankle. He needed him to stop. He needed the world put to pause. He needed a serenity in the obscene. Because then he would have time to fix him; there would be time to make his father into the man he could now only love on the news.
Two bodies hit the ground around him. One was his father, lying limp to his right. The other his mother, on all fours, blood and tears leaking onto the tile in turns. He thought he was dreaming.
His hand loosened around his father’s ankle, and he did not dare try to wake him, yet, or figure out what had happened. But when he turned to his mother, again, he found her gripping the marble rolling pin that had been cast in the floor during his father’s rage. There was too much to process; he couldn’t keep up.
Then she stood over his father’s peaceful form, nudged him out of the way with her foot, and slammed the marble against his father’s head with all of her strength.
He covered his mouth in shock, “Mom, you can’t—”
It smashed into his father’s skull, again.
Exhausted, she sat on her knees and let go of the scarlet pin. Then she locked eyes with her only son. “Run, Blake,” she whispered, “run to Grandmama’s house.”
He watched her swollen jaw harden through drying tears.
“And don’t you dare come back here.”