Family Dinner

Harvey dished out the Chicken House macaroni salad.

John eyed it skeptically, “what is this crap?”

“John, watch your mouth. It’s good food, eat up.”

The boy rolled his eyes. Harvey hated family dinners, he hated them growing up, he was unsure why he inflicted them on his family, other than that it was the thing to do.

“Where’s mom, why doesn’t mom cook dinner anymore?”

“She’s not home from work yet.”

Sure, he suspected something, that wasn’t the point, the point was she came home.

“Tom, what are doing under the table? Can you unplug yourself for five goddamn minutes while we eat dinner together as a family.”

Every time, it was so tiring, every time.

“You’re always telling me how important it is to have good friends, how am I s’posed to have friends if you don’t even let me talk to them?”

“You can talk to them after dinner, now put it away or I’m taking it away.”

Same empty threat.

“Uhh, you’re so annoying.”

“5, 4…”

He dreaded the thought of making it to 1 and being forced to act. Susan was the disciplinarian, he was the reinforcement, though he was rarely consulted.

“Fine, you’re just jealous cause you don’t know to use it.”

No respect these kids. Maybe he ought to use some force, instill some fear, have occasional fits of rage, that way he’d be unpredictable and they’d always be on edge.

“Now eat your food, John stop playing with it and eat it, you should be grateful.”

“How can you even call it food, it was probably the first place you passed on the way home from work.”

Perceptive, this kid.

“Alex at school, who’s on food stamps, eats better food than this crap…”

“Hey, what did I say about your language, you’re not leaving this table till you empty your plate.”

Will dining room banter cliches ever die or just get passed on from generation to generation. One cliche he wish he could pull out now, “When I was a kid we couldn’t afford to eat take-away, we had to make do with whatever roots and dead animals we could rummage from the yard.” But he knew his mother’s hours of labour in the kitchen wouldn’t attest to that.

“So, how was school?”

No response. I guess the lack of originality was uninspiring.

“So John, the soccer team have any games lined up?”

Hopefully this wouldn’t remind him of his father’s lack of presence at his games.

“The season hasn’t started yet.”

“Oh, right.”

“Tom, trying out for any role in the school play?”

“Theatre’s for losers.”

“Hey, I used to be in the theatre group.”

Roll of the eyes, this wasn’t helping.

Tinkle of the keys in the dish, closet hinge creaks, hangers clang, audible sigh.

“Mom’s home,” in unison. Exodus of the table, mashed and torn unconsumed remains. Dad, the chump, left with maid duty, as those ungrateful shits ran in the arms of their whoring mother.

“Hi, my loves,” as she bundled them in her embrace, “How was school?”

“Super boring, I have so much homework, dad’s been making us eat dinner like forever, and it’s not even healthy, they taught us in PE about take-out.”

“Ya, and dad won’t let me talk to my friends.”

“Ok, ok, go do your homework, and no phones till you show me you’ve finished, ok Tom?”

“Yes mom,” disappearance in the bedrooms.

Now for Act II of this humiliating and exhausting play he was in.

“Hi honey, how was work, another late one?” Awkward embrace. “There’s some chicken left if your hungry.”

“No thanks, I already ate.”

Pause, what now? Sit and finish his dinner? It looked so pathetic now, after seeing the kids discarded remains. Clean up, watch some TV, go to bed, replay.

“Harvey, I need to talk to you about something.”

Oh no, oh no, oh no, what’s this?

“Sure honey, what’s up?”

“Let’s sit down.”

Not good, ‘have an affair, I don’t care,’ he wanted to tell her, just as long as we can keep up this ruse of a family. We can have separate rooms, be like roommates, we hardly have to see each other. Just don’t make me find a depressing bachelor pad, don’t make me have to start again, I’ve done all the mandatory steps in life, I have no desire to repeat them. Don’t make me have weekends with the kids, where I have to spend actual time with them and bond.

“Look, I don’t care, just…”

“Huh, I haven’t told you anything yet.”

“Uh right, sorry, OK, go ahead.”

He braced himself.

“They want to relocate me to China.”

Interesting turn of events.

“I know this is unexpected and I haven’t said yes or no yet, we can discuss it first, see what the kids think, It would only be for a year or two, and you’ve been saying you can practically work from home now.”

China, interesting, it had an exotic sound to it, ‘I lived in China.’ That’s where all the money was nowadays anyways, really it kinda made sense that they should go there. What would his life be like in China? He could have his local opium den, play mahjong with the old men, or Chinese checkers, whatever they played. He’d learn their wisdom and be at peace. He could have an affair with a mysterious woman who always wore red and put her hair up with chopsticks. But wait, wasn’t China communist, although that didn’t really bother him, maybe it’d teach those boys to smarten up.

“Ok.”

“Really, you don’t want to discuss it first, have a few days to think about it.”

“No, I think it’s a great idea, makes sense really.”

“Hmm,” eyes blinking, slightly bewildered, “good, I’m glad you’re on board, of course there’s lots of preparations we have to make, the house, the kids and school, I think it’s be good for them, expose them to another culture, it’s Hong Kong so it’ll be easier for them to adapt, they’ll hate us at first, but we’ll get them excited about it.”

Maybe he could find a Chinese wife, they make good wives don’t they, submissive, take care of you, he could open up a restaurant, never leave, he’d start learning Chinese as soon as he got there. China, why hadn’t he thought of it before?

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