“Meredith has been seeing Father.”
Dan sat at his mother’s kitchen table, spinning his coffee cup, intently staring at the single drip that had run down the side and dried there.
Mother sighed. “I know.”
Dan looked up, surprised. “You know? She told you?”
“Your father told me.” Mother looked at him side-eyed, waiting to see the effect of the information.
“He told you? He told you? You talk to him?” Dan’s voice was a mixture of outrage and disbelief.
“Of course I do.”
Dan looked at her, mouth open, and the full truth occurred to him. “You’ve always talked to him,” he near whispered.
“Of course I have, Dan. He’s your father. He was my husband.”
“He left us!” Dan’s voice grew louder and cracked.
“He’s still your father and he has a right to know…”
“He has no such right!” Dan yelled and rose from the table. “He has no such right! He left you and he left us and it was his choice to not be a part of this family.”
“You have no right, Daniel, to tell me what I can and can not tell my former husband about his children. My children. Your father left for reasons that had nothing to do with you. He didn’t call because I asked him not to. What happened, it happened because of us, not because of you. If you had ever opened your eyes to what was going on around you, you may have seen that. Instead, you chose – and continue to choose – to be a completely self absorbed little shit.”
Mother was close enough that he could see the spittle flying from her lips and feel her hot breath on his face. She smelled of maple syrup.
Suddenly, he was eight years old again, in this same kitchen. It was his mother’s birthday, and he’d gotten up early to make her a surprise breakfast - pancakes, her favorite. Dan had burned the first batch, but the second set had turned out golden and round and hot. He put her plate on the tray with a small pitcher of syrup and a saucer of orange slices arranged like rays of sunshine. He folded the napkin the way they did at the beach hotel they’d stayed at the summer before; a tidy little triangle, standing up on its own.
He walked down the hall to his parents’ room, carefully holding the tray. With every tentative step, the knife clinked against the saucer, and Dan winced. It won’t be a surprise if she hears me coming! Finally, he reached his parent’s door. It never latched quite right – when you closed it, you had to pull in and up, otherwise it didn’t catch and would open with the slightest pressure. Mother had told Father countless times to fix it, but he’d never gotten around to it. Dan nudged it with his foot, and the door opened soundlessly.
They were awake, because he could hear them, talking? Maybe? But they were completely under the blankets. His father was making a low growl and his mother seemed to be having difficulty breathing. Was she sick?
“Mom?” he said, and gingerly sat on the edge of the bed.
His father angrily threw back the blankets, knocking the tray from Dan’s hands.
“Get out!” Father yelled.
“Oh! Oh, Dan!” Mother said.
Dan’s eyes burned with tears and he clumsily tried to clean up the mess. Pancakes and oranges on the bed, and maple syrup dripping into a sticky mess on the floor.
“Get out!” repeated Father, his face red.
“It’s okay, Dan, honey. I’ll get it.” Mother caught his eye and held him there. I’m sorry, the look said.
Dan had that same feeling now, standing in his mother’s kitchen. His face hot with shame and embarrassment, he turned without speaking and left, closing the door behind him.