Lunch Time

Samantha Long

 

McDonalds tasted like tear salt on that Monday noon.
I’d missed my first class and the next was an hour at eighty miles an hour away.
Dad stood on the other side of the counter as I slumped over soggy fries.

 

“You can’t keep coming home every weekend
You’re going to fall behind
I’m paying for that room
You said you were gonna try.”

 

And so it went. Stitches in a curved hook on the side of his half-shaved head. I couldn’t take a bite. “I don’t know why you have yourself so worked up—you need to calm down.” I raised the burger to my lips. “Eat.”

 

And I sobbed into it.

 

“Relax. You’ve just got it all in your head now. You always do this and you know it.”

 

School was an accessory—dangling dead—a worn-out argument thrown out for what could not be said or fought, not with knives or radio waves, not with poison, not even with will—pure will, the kind that mothers lift cars off their babies with.

 

But we waltzed with it still. I said I wouldn’t fall behind, you said I would. Said I couldn’t come home anymore, said I would anyways. I cried harder; you got louder.

 

Those black plastic stitches stapled, staring at me as certain as the divide between Yin and Yang.

 

We could both count the months the doctor gave the first day I learned there was No Such Thing as remission, No Such Thing as freedom in the final stage. There were only encores until the audience’s applause gave out. The real show was over. Just the violinists on the Titanic playing at a 45-degree tilt —tilts their strings to sound strange—and that’s the only music I could hear.

 

We both knew what that growing lump was going to do. That demon restless, ready to torture, twisting.

Run. That’s what pushed hard in your pale eyes. Run.

 

I wish I could change what happened next. I just couldn’t play the game. You seemed so mad. I looked straight at you so I could see your reaction spread when I said it. When the words came they were in one little line, hard and unstopped and honest and unforgiving:

 

“I’m sorry I’m sad about you Dad, okay?”

Euphemism Campus Box 5555 Illinois State University Normal, IL 61790