Three of us are seated. Mum continues to fuss. Silent fussing. Even my brother and I are stilled. We’re teenagers with only limited understanding of family dynamics, but instinct kicks in and we know. Shut up and eat.
Arms reach across the table. Eyes avoid direct contact. Salt, pepper, butter, pickles are passed from one end of the table to the other without words.
I keep glancing at my mother to judge her mood. Her next move. She has a look of steel in her eyes. They stare a hardened cold steel stare.
My father coughs, drawing unnecessary attention to himself. My brother and I both turn our eyes in his direction while my mother’s standing figure holds her back resolutely to us, standing watch over the gas Kooka stove. She has dad’s prized carving knife in her hand. The one that I love to watch fly in a blur as it flashes across the 'sharpening' steel when dad gives it its regular touch up. I hope that one day I will be able to flick and slash the heavy blade up and down that steel, wrists relaxed, blade shaving the surface with a rapid rasping sish sish sish sish sish sish.
The tension is unbearable. My father decides to make his move. He finishes his mouthful of tomato and sweet corn, swallows, hesitates and begins. I can see the fear in his eyes. I watch the perspiration popping through the pores of his red face. I watch his adam’s apple travel up and down his long neck. “Darl….”
He only gets the one word into the thick air between him and my mother before she lets out a convulsive sob and then, in an explosive few seconds, she attacks the fridge, the beloved Kelvinator, with a no holds barred fury smashing the blade of the carving knife into the top of the fridge door. I am strangely aware that, while this is not normal, there is also the issue of the blade. She’ll ruin the cutting edge of the knife which has been finely honed over many years. Doesn’t she understand that? Dad will be furious.
Then the knife is clattering into the stainless steel sink and my mother is pushing past my father’s chair in this too small room and disappearing into the sun room.
The three of us are frozen mid mouthful. I sneak a look at my brother. We make eye contact and blink in unison, our blinking out of synch with the uneven sobbing from the front of the house.