A Place at the Table
The table is long and deeply grooved exactly like her father’s face and Molly’s place at it is small with everyone else crowded in around her, talking and laughing and eating noisily, as they always have. Her four older brothers are here too, each confidently splayed in his familiar spot. The oldest, John, now has a wife seated next to him, across from Molly. Molly thinks she should be glad for this attempt at balance, but the sister-in-law sits with her arms akimbo just like the boys. She is a big woman, broad in the shoulders with a square, powerful jaw. Her name is Jill and she teaches the third grade at a progressive elementary school in Batavia. Molly wonders what could possibly be so progressive about the third grade, but figures there must be something she has not been told, some vital piece of information not given as usual, so she keeps quiet.
Her father sits at the head of the table. This is where he is when Molly thinks of him, not in the brown chair in the living room where she knows that he must sometimes sit, not in the shop in his garage because it is his garage, even though her mother parks her car in there too amongst the vast acres of broken remnants of their childhoods piled deep against the walls, along with other, more terrible secrets. At the table in her mind, he sits, immutable as the river.
Then her third oldest brother, Eric, says something about the Republicans having a chance
of taking this election, what with that dumb twat that the Democrats have put up and Molly does not hear the end because a great battle-cry rises up from the table, both for and against. Their mother gets in on it too, saying that there’s never any reason to use the word twat at the dinner table and she is going to beat all of them, don’t think that she won’t, it doesn’t matter how old they are and how big they’ve gotten. Her threats are tiny, blunt arrows and they are all Goliath, every last one of them, even the sister-in-law Jill. Not Molly though, who sits at her small spot and looks around her, amazed at by the theater she feels tricked into participating in. Her father is unmoved, and the grooves in his face are the same ones in the weary table.
Afterwards, Mom washes dishes in the dying light. Molly used to resent her for doing them right away, but after nineteen years acknowledges that this is an escape for her mother: to be at the sink, with her hands plunged into the hot and soapy water, helpless for anything but woman’s work. She looks out the window over her sink, at the brown river which flows past their house, sometimes so close that they have to advance to higher ground in order not to be swept away.
“The water is so wide, Molly.” Her hands are cutoff at the wrists, below the bubbles, and she pauses for a moment before she picks up another plate, the cracked one with the chipped rim that Molly has just eaten off of.
“You know that’s bullshit, right, Mom?” she says, smug with knowledge that her mother has forgotten in her middle age. Molly picks up her towel and begins drying, something she has never, ever done before. Her mother doesn’t answer, but presses her lips together and continues washing the dishes. Molly dries them, like the daughter she has never been, as her four brothers and her sister-in-law linger over the pitted table.
Outside, in the doorway of the garage, her father presses his stony forehead into the doorjamb, battle-weary and no longer able to contain the things that crowd behind him, hungry-eyed and sharp from their long sleep. He watches the river without really seeing it. The light on the end of his cigarette is dulled by the brilliance of the dusk. If he was a certain type of man, he might keen at his failure to teach them all, especially his only daughter - poor Molly! - of the things that snap and growl at his heels, hungry to find their own rightful places at the table. But he's not that kind of man, and the butt he flicks into the river is extinguished before it even makes it to the water.