My mother fell off her chair at Waddy’s. Which is what started it all.
I should say “that” as in “and that’s what started it all” because Mom was an English teacher, and she always corrected kids who used “which” in “that” context. I never questioned her until that moment, sitting with a french fry suspended in the air over my Freezy Drink. It was the first time I ever found myself questioning Mom’s use of any word, because the one she uttered upon hitting the floor was forbidden in our home. I looked at my fry. Ketchup oozed from the end of it and splattered onto my Freezy Drink.
But that didn’t solve the problem of Mom on the floor. I stuck the fry ketchup-first into the chocolate flavored Freezy Drink, like a sign post, and dove to the floor to help her up. We didn’t think much of it at the time. She took my hand, righted her chair and sat back down. Her crispy chicken lay splayed across the dark blue industrial carpet. None dared touch it. A girl in a visor and pony tail appeared to dutifully scoop it up. The cleaning device gaped hungrily for Mom’s lost crispy chicken, swallowed in one bite. Satisfied. Dad cut his sandwich in half and offered it to Mom, who good-naturedly sipped her cola.
“Boy, we sure do make these chairs top heavy,” she joked.
If this were a cartoon, we’d be called the Apples, because that was the shape we all were. Except for little Mindy, who was only eight and still scronky, but when she hit puberty she’d fill out, alright. We all did. Skinny until about twelve, then boom! the bomb would drop, right in our middle. I was thirteen, and burgeoning. I sucked on my chocolate Freezy Drink. A bit of ketchup mixed in. Sweet and sour. Dad declared our shape was a twist of genetics from long ago. There was nothing we could do to combat the shape of our bellies because we’d genetically inherited it. And that was funny because Dad didn’t believe in Darwin.
The rest of dinner was quiet. Mom was none the worse for wear, I got my Freezy Drink; it was a fun family Friday night. We’d go home and watch the Disney channel, or CBS, or whatever it was that a movie was coming on that night, maybe bake cookies and have popcorn.
None of us wondered what exactly had tipped Mom’s chair.
But looking back on it now, it seems pretty obvious.
The next morning Mom and Dad heated up our strudels like we always did on Saturdays. Dad pulled the pre-made cream cheese icing from the microwave and hefted his coffee and strudel into the living room to sit at our dining table.
I watched in mute horror as Mindy sneaked up behind Dad and slipped his chair back. A squeak released from my throat as he tumbled down. He yelped as his left wrist caught too much of his weight and the hot coffee splashed over his right hand.
“Harry!” Mom trundled toward him as fast as she could, “Are you giving an encore of my performance at dinner last night?”
“No, Mom, Mindy is, she pulled his chair out from under him!” I exclaimed, pointing at Mindy.
“I did not, you did!” Mindy screamed in reply, pointing back at me.
“That’s a lie!”
“You’re telling a lie!” Mindy squealed, her voice hitting the top of her little girl register.
“Stop it!” I screamed back.
“Both of you, quiet!” Mom slapped her hand on the table top, silencing both of us as Dad pushed himself to his feet. “Neither of you touched the chair, I saw it. You’re both lying!”
“But that’s not true—” I started and Mom lumbered over me. “Don’t make me count to three.” Counting to three preceded getting the belt. I’d only got to four once in my life and I had no intention of it happening again. I snapped my mouth shut.
Mindy and I pouted at each other at breakfast. Mindy only ate half her Magicwave strudel.
“Finish your breakfast,” Mom admonished her.
“You are not.”
“I’m not hungry!”
Mom sighed at Mindy. “Fine, Candace, you want it?”
I looked at Mindy. She scowled at me and I got the feeling if I reached my hand across the table she’d bite it.
“Going once, going twice,” Dad muttered, then plucked it off Mindy’s plate.
Mindy crossed her arms over her chest and directed her scowl down.
I was about to open the door to our bedroom later that day but paused when I heard Mindy’s voice inside.
“Why did you tip over Daddy’s chair?”
There was a pause, then Mindy spoke again. “What happens then?”
“But you shouldn’t eat my family. Who will feed me?”
“I bet you can’t even make popcorn.”
“Well, what are we allowed to eat, then?”
I pushed the door open to find Mindy in the middle of the floor with my old dolls, assembled in a semi-circle. I hadn’t thought about them in months, but it sure did give me affronts that she was just playing with them without asking.
I grabbed Mindy’s arm. “Why did you say that to Mom and Dad?”
Mindy yanked away from me and screeched, “Why do you keep lying, stupid jerk!” She pushed me as hard as she could and I went toppling backward.
Mom suddenly stomped into our bedroom, the plastic dolls and their furniture rattling dangerously on the top dresser shelf.
“Stop it, Candace!” she pulled me up and paddled my butt with the flat of her palm. While it didn’t hurt my butt, my pride was in pieces. I burst into tears as Mom cornered Mindy and gave her a similar treatment.
We locked eyes on each other and wailed.
“I’m going to count to three!” Mom bellowed over us, and we snapped our mouths shut. One thing Mindy and I could agree on, neither of us wanted the belt. After all, it seemed like Dad’s belt got bigger every time we saw it.
I stamped to my dresser seat and turned to sit, but as I did Mindy’s eyes went wide. I tumbled to the floor and Mindy immediately started wailing all over again.
“One,” Mom snapped at Mindy, but this time she looked straight up into Mom’s eyes, tears flowing down her cheeks, and wailed harder.
“Two!” Mindy’s face turned red with the escalating effort of screaming back at Mom.
“Three!” Mom turned and tromped from the room. “I’m getting the belt!”
“I hate you! I hate you!” Mindy squealed as as hard as she could, but as I clambered back up to my dresser chair, catching a glimpse of my own ever larger belt-line, I noticed Mindy wasn’t screaming at Mom anymore.
She was screaming at me, or rather, at something behind me.
TO BE CONTINUED…