My mother smoked her favorite cigarettes in the kitchen. Smoke billowed out into the living room and crept down the halls. A small television muffled the evening news as the three of us chewed away at overdone meat. Splatters of hot bacon grease slid down our throats as my father hurried through tough threads of roast. He ran the tractor after supper; and my mother splashed hot water around in the sink as she yelled at me for not finishing the black-eyed peas. “Black eyed peas are good luck,” she’d belt.
Holiday evenings were much the same. “Too much sage is good for the gut,” she’d remind us, as she broke cornbread into a large dish. She made one dish without turkey for my father. She made a second dish for him to carry to work. She made a third dish for the rest of us. My brothers leaned against my mother’s kitchen cabinets, laughing at stories she let out in little slivers. Her hands shook with an audience, but my brothers’ wives smoked cigarettes in the kitchen, too, and she was happy to hand them her lighter across the dining table.
Sometimes, when the kitchen offered German Chocolate cake, my mother pulled out a foggy plastic bag filled with red dominoes. My aunt Rita laughed at my mother’s stories and my father shuffled the red chunks as loud as he could. The white dots banged into each other as my mother grinned, lighting another cigarette and shaking her head at my father. My father grinned at my aunt Rita and for a moment, we were glad my mother was not mixing or wiping.
When the kitchen was empty, calls would come in. My mother pulled the long, curly line across the kitchen floor. The line tapped the linoleum tiles as she rested in her kitchen chair. The crisp cellophane crinkle of cigarettes held until she announced, “Dorothy has died.” My father and I watched the television in silence on these evenings of grief; and the kitchen gears paused.
After years of the kitchen exhausting itself between moppings and meals, crying children and daily newspapers, my mother’s bones stuck here and there. Her fingers cracked like eggshells and her eyes served as measuring spoons. She crept down the hall and curled herself into a bed, hidden away in the back bedroom. Her kitchen chair sat empty as black tar spilled like burnt grease down my mother’s face.
With no oil, the kitchen gears began to rust. The linoleum on the floor began to peel up at the edges and the oven hinges refused to do anything but screech. The dining room table began to collect crumbs along its midline and the closed cabinets held their breath of cigarette smoke. The lights from the ceiling began to sag, long screws pulling heavily from the sheetrock. Everything in the kitchen sagged. Everything moaned.
My father sat alone with his grief. The living room chugged along with his vanilla wafers and tiny wrenches. He took the phone from the wall, wound its long cord around the base and the receiver, and placed it in the hallway closet. He took his meals at the coffee table, as the refrigerator–now empty–hummed in place of the kitchen’s small television. The sink tarnished near the drains, but still overlooked the window as, “having a window over your kitchen sink is good luck.”
The roaches crept in as the lights began to flicker out of life and a rat made his home in the bottom of the oven. Pale acidic powder grew from behind the hands of the clock and the kitchen counters began to rot out small crevices for new life to sneak in with sticky legs. Like a dying branch, the kitchen darkened and calloused. The remaining pieces of the house were still green and growing, as the kitchen bore a hole right through its center.
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower