Tracy woke up early, before sunrise. Tom had assured her they could leave at dawn, and she waited for the first sliver of sun as a sprinter waits for the crack of a pistol. She tiptoed down the stairs, arms wrapped around suitcases, and gently deposited them by the door. When morning came, she would rouse her husband with breakfast in bed if that’s what it took. They were leaving.
She’d learned the house well enough that she could navigate in the dark. The stairs creaked, as they do under the strain of desperation. She prepared excuses, “Couldn’t sleep, just wanted to get an early start,” and felt safe knowing that soon she would have a hundreds of miles buffer. As the last duffelbag dropped into place, she noticed an underline of light from the kitchen, and shadows of footsteps.
“Oh hi, I hope I didn’t wake you,” she rehearsed. She muttered the words with different shades of mock surprise as she worked up the courage to act nonchalant. “I thought I could sneak a piece of that delicious chocolate pie.”
She opened the door and acted startled to see the little old man sipping tea and making notes at the head of the table. Her surprise became real as she realized who it was. This was David, her husband’s father. “Oh hi,” she said. She couldn’t say anything more. He said nothing at all.
She didn’t want any pie. She pulled a glass from the cupboard and poured some water from the flap on the front of the fridge. She drank it in a few gulps, and filled her glass again. “I haven’t seen you since the wedding. How have you been?”
The man made no reply. He batted at his teabag a little, and resumed sketching whatever diagram or schematic happened to be on his mind. She wondered if he could hear her, or if in his brilliance the passion of his work overrode all senses. “Do you love your wife?” she asked. “Do you love your son?”
He stood up. “I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous.” He threw his teacup in the sink, breaking it. As he stormed back to his basement workshop, he knocked more plates off their shelves and onto the floor, and slammed the door behind him.
As Tracy cleaned up the mess, a piece of glass found its way in her finger. “I’m sorry I’m so clumsy,” she rehearsed. “I just wanted a piece of that delicious chocolate pie.”
“You should have turned the light on,” her husband said. “You should have done everything different. Apologize to Mom right now.”
“I’m sorry,” Tracy said again. They were words his mother understood.