A piece of pot roast, drenched in the brown crock-pot gravy and mushrooms, rests in a lukewarm pile on my sister’s abandoned dish. The forks of my father, mother, and I scrape nosily against porcelain plates. This is the only sound.
On the stove is a heaping pot of whipped mashed potatoes. In the hours before, while I was at work, my sister had diligently stirred and pressed those potatoes until they were soft and creamy. My father and sister disagreed about the consistency. My mother insisted my father took too long getting back and the dinner would be cold. This potato pot is too big for our family; it holds helpings for a family of twenty. We are only four.
Under the table, my dog scratches his left ear and whines. My sister’s door slams shut. My father grumbles under his breath. My mother’s eyes fill with tears.
I want to scream. I want to take my plate of mashed potatoes, corn, and pot roast and throw it across the room. I want to watch the pieces of the white porcelain crash into the wall next to the refrigerator, break, and fall into a haphazard heap. My dog will shiver behind the wooden legs of the chair. My mother will gasp and raise her eyebrows at me. My dad will look up and frown. My sister will open the door to her bedroom, and peek down from the upstairs landing.
I would open my mouth and everything would come out. My frustration with my father’s passiveness, my mother’s selfishness, my sister’s bold disrespect—it would all fall out of my mouth like the soggy broccoli stems in the center of the table. But I cannot. I know, even if I threw my plate into the kitchen wall, I would say nothing. I would get up from my chair, cross the room, and pick each porcelain piece one by one.
I do not have a knack for words when they are spoken. I cannot calm the storm between my mother and father that follows this silent dinner. I do not have the words to comfort my sister, who has locked the door to her room and sits in stubbornness, her stomach growling. I only have hands to wash dinner plates, to scrape leftover gravy from the bottom of crock-pots.
I can straighten shelves, wipe down countertops, leave everything as it was before. I can walk out of the room and into my car, the heater humming to life as I rub my damp, dishwashing hands together for warmth. I can drive down the street, walk the pathway, step on the treadmill and run until my chest hurts. But I can never fix what is broken, though I keep picking up porcelain pieces, my hands red and raw.