– bringing down dinner

Bringing Down Dinner
by Susan Pogorzelski

“Hold it! Hold it right there. What are those?”

The screen door slammed shut behind me, echoing as it bounced off the wood frame before settling back into the grooves. Mom was standing directly in front of me, staring in horror at my feet.

“What are what?”

Those.” She repeated, but this time she pointed, and I cringed, wishing I could run out the backdoor and have a redo.

“Um…”

My mother placed an open hand over her face, inhaling sharply as she shook her head. “Anna, I told you not to play in the creek…”

“I wasn’t!” I protested as she placed her hands on her hip, eyebrow raised. I bit at my lower lip and glanced down at the muddy footprints that trailed behind me. “I was…playing in the creek. But Mom-” I stepped towards her, but Mom held her hand out and stopped me.

“Don’t take another step!” She moved towards me and opened the screen door, shooing me out. “Take them off outside, I don’t want you tracking mud in here.”

I heaved a sigh and stepped back down the concrete stairs, kicking at the heels with the opposite foot until they slid off my feet.

“And hose them down!” she called out through the open window.

As I gathered the hose from the side of the house and dragged it to the back patio, I could hear the clang of pots as Mom started to prepare dinner and the gentle hum of her voice as Audrey walked into the kitchen.

I twisted the faucet and listened for the water snaking its way through the bright green hose until it poured out in a steady stream onto the concrete. Small clumps of mud peeled away from the shoes and began to trickle into the grass. I scrubbed at the canvas with my forefinger and thumb, easing the dirt out. The best part of white shoes was that they would always display the visible scars of summertime play, and no amount of hosing them down could erase that. I smiled smugly as I dropped the hose and lifted them up, excess water trickling down my arm.

“Mom!” I called out. “Mom…Mom!”

“What, Anna?” She came to the window, her features slightly distorted by the screen that separated us.

I grinned as I held up the dripping shoes for her inspection.

“Great,” she replied, unenthused. “Now grab a towel off the line and clean up the mess you made inside. And don’t forget to shut off the hose.”

The screen door creaked as Audrey came out of the house. She glanced at the shoes lying in a puddle on the patio and then at me as I unpinned a towel from the laundry line.

“You can have my old ones, if you want.”

I glanced at her shoes — perfectly white and unstained. “Those are your old ones.”

“Yeah, but you can have them now.”

I shrugged as I walked past her into the house and threw the towel on the floor to cover the mess. “Ok.”

“So,” Mom looked up from the stove as we wandered into the kitchen. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“Not really.”

“Annie…”

“We were panning for gold and I tripped in the creek.” I hopped up onto a stool at the counter and watched as she opened a bag of frozen vegetables and poured them into the wok. “Stir fry again?”

“You know that creek belongs to Mr. Martin,” she ignored me and poked at the vegetables with the wooden spoon.

“That’s ok, he doesn’t care.”

“Oh, so you’ve spoken with him.”

“No…But I promise if we find gold in the creek, we’ll split the profits with him. 90/10, that’s how Dad does it, isn’t it?”

“That’s how Dad does what?” He walked into the kitchen, loosening his tie. “Why do I hear my name?”

“Don’t listen to her, James, she’s trying to strike a deal for the gold in Mr. Martin’s creek.” My mom smiled as Dad leaned over to kiss her on the cheek.

“If there’s gold in that creek, Annie, you keep every cent.” He placed his hands on my shoulders and planted a kiss on top of my head. “You left the hose on,” he whispered.

I jumped down from the stool and ran out the back door. Through the window I could hear him asking Mom and Audrey about their day and Mom telling Dad to go on up and change, dinner was just about done.

Audrey was setting the table when I walked back inside, and I grabbed some paper napkins and started folding them to help her as Mom scraped the last of the vegetables from the pan onto a bed of pasta.

“I figured I would get some gardening done after dinner.“ Dad said as he walked back into the kitchen. He was wearing a t-shirt Mom had been trying to throw out for years. “Those flowers are going to be lost in this heat if we don’t get them into the ground. You want to help me, Kiddo?” He asked as he seated himself at the table.

I nodded as I picked the lima beans out of the mix with my forefinger and pushed them into a corner of my plate.

“What happened to your shoes; they’re looking a little worse for the wear.”

“Connor and I went down to the creek — oh, shut up, Audrey.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“Don’t tell your sister to shut up.”

I stared down at my dinner plate, but I could just imagine the amusement in Audrey’s eyes and I swear my parents were exchanging glances.

“I thought you had a crush on Connor.”

“Mo-om!” I whined. “It’s not a crush.”

“She daydreams about him.” I reached out to kick my sister under the table, but either my legs were too short or she saw it coming because my legs kicked at air. I narrowed my eyes and glared at her; I’d get her back. Shoes or no shoes.

“I went to see my mother today.”

“I thought you took Audrey shopping.”

“We did,” Audrey confirmed, “but then we went to see Grandma.”

I looked at Audrey, then to my mom, then back at my sister. “But I thought you said you didn’t want me to go.”

“I didn’t.”

“But you let Audrey go.”

“That’s because she’s older.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Anna, watch your mouth!” My dad turned to my mom, fork halfway raised. “Where does she learn this stuff?”

“School,” Audrey replied, giving me a glance and offering a shrug. She was trying to defend me, but I didn’t want her to. I was pissed, and I wanted everyone to know it.

“I want to see Grandma.” I announced, hand frozen around my glass of milk as I waited for their reaction.

“We’ll have to talk about it.”

“What’s there to talk about, she’s my Grandma.”

“Annie,” My mother tried gently, “there are some things we need to talk about first.”

“Like what.”

Mom sighed, her eyes flicked over me to my Dad. “Not now. We’ll discuss it later. Finish your dinner and I’ll cut some apple pie and ice cream for dessert.”

I stared at the dish in front of me — a colorful display of too much and never enough.

“I hate lima beans,” I muttered.

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