On the weekends, sitting in the den was not required before dinner like weekdays. Before dinner during the week, Timmy and I were required to remain seated until Dad got home from work, went to the bathroom to wash up, replacing a lingering work smell with the odor of a very dry vodka martini and a lit Tareyton cigarette. Timmy and I sat still, taking a seat on the faded purple and mustard plaid couch while directing our attention to Mom and Dad sitting in their respective leather chairs. The silence was stabbed by Dad’s wee slurp from his martini glass and ice cubes pinging in Mom’s Scotch Old Fashioned. I don’t remember much conversation. I do remember Dad peering down his bifocals at the TV Guide, looking up at the TV, taking a martini sip and then a cigarette drag, in that order. I could almost feel the air in the room decompressing as he worked through his ritual of relaxation.
And we’re off, I thought, like horses lined up in their stalls anxiously awaiting the sound of the bell and the opening of the gates. Dinner was well into play with first bites committed.
“Just leave them there,” I whispered to my brother.
“I’m not gonna do anything,” Timmy said.
“I know you’re gonna do something, something that’s bad.”
Timmy ignored my comments. Dad’s cough-clearing interruption, which always startled me but went unnoticed by my mother, followed after a brief silence. Dad asked, “What on earth are you talking about? What must he leave there, Nancy”?
“Nothing, it’s nothing going on,” I replied.
“She found this nest of bunnies in the front yard and she thinks I’m going to do something,” Tim blurted. My secret was ruined. Now everyone knew, except Mother, who replied, “Bunnies?” with her eyes on her plate.
I tried to avoid thoughts of the discovery by searching for a distraction in the backyard. I wanted to be in a better place. It was still light out. I could hop on my bike, cruise the neighborhood, feeling the freedom to discover every street again, leaving behind disconnected, staccatoed conversation. The familiarity of my neighborhood gave me security where insecurity was exposed.
I surveyed the dinner remains in front of me. Dad slowly pulled a Tareyton from the open pack in his shirt pocket, examined both ends of the cigarette and lit one of them, taking a deep draw until the tip turned red-orange. I paused just as he did to witness the calming effect this smoking stick had over him. Dad snuffed the spent stub. His mind returned to the dinner table after succumbing to a foggy trance, signaling the kids were dismissed. The dinner circle was broken. Dad left the table to grab a toothpick from the cupboard to pick his teeth, one by one, until the wood splintered. He’d spit, then on to having perhaps another cigarette. Dad didn’t have much to say about anything maybe because his mouth was occupied with chewing, cigarette smoking, or oral hygiene. We went our separate ways, scattering like cockroaches that rushed to dark corners when the lights went on.