My mother and father are sitting across from each other at the kitchen table, and I’m sitting at the head of it. My mother has her laptop open in front of her, my father’s eating blackened muffins that he intentionally burnt to a crisp in the oven, and I’m eating cold spaghetti from the fridge that I didn’t bother to heat up in the microwave first. One of our cats casually dips its tail into my mother’s iced tea, and my father and I look at each other. Neither one of us says anything.
Dad: What’s that sound?
Mom: The washer.
Dad, furrowing his eyebrows: Does it always make that sound?
Mom: Yes, I think so. You know that.
[A different clanking comes from the opposite direction. The cat who’d dipped its tail into my mother’s drink is startled, and jumps off of the table in a huff.]
Mom: Why is the oven still on?
Dad, averting his eyes: I don’t remember the washer making that sound before.
Mom: It did. Why is the oven still on?
Dad: Because no one turned it off. I should think that would be obvious.
Mom, rolling her eyes: Read my mind. My next question is…
[My father looks down at his coffee and muffins. He clearly forgot to turn the oven off and doesn’t feel like getting up to do so now, so he laughs instead. The sound awakens our dog, who immediately scares the cat back onto the table.]
Dad, speaking to the cat: Shoo! Shoo! Go bother her.
[My mother leaves a voicemail for someone that begins “Hey, Cindy…”]
Mom, after hanging up: Uh-oh. I called her “Cindy.”
Dad: What’s her name?
Dad, shrugging: Close.
Mom: Great, now I have to call [some woman’s name that she clearly can’t pronounce correctly].
Dad: Call her Cindy.
Dad, affecting the Western accent that Trump supporters on TV always seem to have: You gotta American up, girl!
[My mother shakes her head wryly. The cat, having been wooed by the soothing tones of her “I must not insult my clients’ intelligence” voice, has wrapped itself around my mother’s glass of iced tea and is now leisurely licking its toes.]
Dad: Okay, dear, I’m pouring my coffee, so get ready to ask me to do something else as soon as I sit down to drink it again.
Mom: Yeah, I was a bad person for asking you to do one thing all day. How awful of me.
Dad: Not true. You also asked me to get Christmas cards today.
Mom, seizing the moment for indignation: You need them, too! For your people at Giant.
[A thread of disdain seeps through my mother’s voice. She thinks that it’s ludicrous for him to give cards to his friends who work at the grocery store, and my father catches it. He gets up, and puffs of cat hair float up and into her glass at the sudden breeze.]
Dad: But I’m buying them when I need them. You’re not buying them when you need them.
Mom: Well, I don’t need them today. I need them for tomorrow.
Dad: Fine. So then I’ll just buy mine today, and then you can go out and buy yours yourself.
Mom, sarcastically: Oh, how very nice.
[She types for a moment or two, and the cat, bored at the silence, slinks off of the table again without her noticing.]
Mom, turning toward me: Who are you texting?
Dad: Why do you always ask her that? She’s not texting anyone. She’s writing down everything that we say. You know how she does that.
[My mother shakes her head at both of us and reaches for her drink.]
Mom: Hey, why are there so many cat hairs in here?