Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Assignment


I went into the kitchen. My mother was wearing her scrubs and taking things out of our Kenmore refrigerator. She passed me an empty jug of milk to put on the table.

“Honey, can you go downstairs and tell your father that I need a ride to the store. We have no food in the house.”

An assignment! “Okay mommy.” I proudly marched downstairs to deliver the message to my father.

My dad sat cross-legged in our rec room. Homemade shelves of vinyl records covered the left and right walls. A record player hung on the front wall and amplifiers sat on the back wall. Hesitating, I approached my father.

“Dad… Mommy wants you to take her to the store.” I kept my eyes fixed on the floor. I didn’t like asking him for things, even if it wasn’t for me.

My father’s eyes stayed fixed on the strings of his old Les Paul. The way he sat made his large stomach form a bubble. His chubby fingers formed the chords.

“Tell her no, I’m busy.”

I trekked up the stairs into the kitchen. My mother stirred a pot of boiling Kraft Dinner noodles.
“Mommy, Dad says no, he’s busy.”

I could see my mother’s brows furrow. She turned around and placed her palms flat on the kitchen counter. Her head hung lifelessly.

“You tell him that feeding his family is more important than his stupid toys. And I need a ride to work.” She kept her back to me and continued to stir the boiling noodles.

I began to lose the thrill of my assignment. I made my way down the stairs and knocked on the door, which was now closed. I could hear Black Sabbath playing on the old record player.

“Dad.” I said to the bone painted door.

No response.



My father’s yell was perfectly terrifying. I had heard it too many times. Sometimes when we didn’t eat the cream of corn he made us. Other times when my brother and I play fought. My father’s yell taught me to hide, to go to my room and wait it out. Eventually my mother would come home and I would feel safe again.

“M-m-mom says she needs a ride to work and the store is more important.”

“Tell your mother she can go fuck herself.”

My eight year old heart stopped. My dad could get mad, but I didn’t remember him swearing before. What if he was mad at me? I ran up the stairs to my mother.

“Mommy?” I said, choking on the words. “Dad said…”

My mother turned away from the stove and put her hand to her forehead.

“Stacey, go outside.” she said calmly. Without hesitation I escaped through our screen back door. Our cairn terrier, Meghan, followed me.

The thin screen door did nothing to conceal the argument.

“What do you want me to do?” yelled my mom, “take a cab to work because you’re too lazy to drive me? That’s the husband I have: a stupid lazy good-for-nothing…”

“Well I’m not going anywhere when you’re calling me every name in the goddamn book. You’re so fucking smart, figure out your own way to get to work.”

“The kids need food! You won’t even take me to work so that the kids can eat. That’s how much you care about your children.”

“You know what?!...”

Meghan followed me to the concrete slab that sat against our aluminum shed. The shed was no more than seven feet away from the house, but it was far enough. I sat with my back to the brown aluminum, letting Meghan curl up at my feet.

“That’s it! You’re outta here. If you come back home tonight, I’m calling the cops!” As soon as my mother finished yelling, my father stormed out through the front door. I heard the ignition of our grey ’92 Cavalier fire up and then squeal out of our narrow driveway.

I patted Megan’s grey coat. She jumped up on the concrete slab and lay down beside me.

Why did mommy have to go to the store so badly? Couldn’t she just wait?

I could hear the faucet turn on in the kitchen. I heard the boiling water drain into the sink and the refrigerator door open and close.

I thought about my parents. She should have just stopped bugging Dad, then he wouldn’t have gotten mad. I could remember when my father had been so angry that he put his fist through the microwave door. I tried my best to be quiet and not bother him.

The August afternoon warmth kept me outside for another half an hour. My mother came looking for me. She sat beside me and pulled me in close.

“You’re still out here, Stace? You okay?” Her face was flushed and her eyes looked tired.

My throat cracked. I wanted to be a big girl and not cry, but the tears refused to listen.

“Your dad will probably come back tonight,” she said, stroking my long brown hair. “He’s going to be angry. You and Shaun have to stay in your room, okay?” I nodded in agreement.

I couldn’t remember seeing my mother so tired. Her face looked older and her hands fidgeted. Her eyes stayed fixed on our brown brick house.

Without a word she took my hand and led me inside. She did not look down at me. Her grip on my hand tightened as she led me to a chair beside my brother. We ate the half-hour old Kraft dinner. We waited…


  1. Stacey, this was a very powerful post. You took a risk by exposing something personal about your life but I think that it was very worth it because it a powerful and well written piece.

    You did a perfect job of showing and not telling. With respect to you being a child, you never tell the reader that you are young or how old you are but you make it very clear with your use of dialogue and words like "marched" as well as your excitement at having an assignment.

    I was very impressed with your descriptions of you mother and how you showed us how she was feeling, without having to tell anything. When you wrote, "turned around and placed her palms flat on the kitchen counter." we know that she is frustrated, angry etc etc, but we know this because you create such a powerful image.

    Seeing this experience from your POV as a young child also makes it very realistic and heartbreaking.

    I could go on, but overall you did a great job writing this. I look forward to reading more.

  2. Stacey, this was wonderful. I had to keep reading it, because not only was the story sucking me in, but I also loved the tone and the way you wrote it. I agree with Meghan that you posted something so personal, and I think the risk was worth it.
    I liked that you combined the point of view of an eight year old with the reflection and distance that you can place on the situation now. It made the story sadder and made me as a reader more emotionally involved. The whole story was showing, not telling, and you combined a lot of things, such as description, inner thoughts, and dialogue. The entire piece never lost momentum thoughout, and the tone was perfectly captured. For some reason, I could sense a type of tension before any of the fighting even began, and I found myself bracing for something bad to happen. I think it started with the line "She passed me an empty jug of milk to put on the table." - I could tell something wasn't right.
    Also, the title is great. It isn't so obvious that the reader can tell there is about to be a fight and a sad story, but it fits well enough to the story that it is still appropriate.
    Great work.

  3. Hello Stacey!

    You took a chance with this post and I think that it paid off. It is by far your best written post. You skillfully showed and revealed instead of telling. I think how you represent the simplistic viewpoints of children in complicated situations is the strongest part of this piece. But the entire post is well written, so great job.

    The only constructive criticism I can offer is that you should leave out the final sentence “We waited…”. I believe it doesn’t work well as an ending because the reader is left without a resolution, an end. I think that ending the post with you and your mother eating the half-hour old KD is the perhaps a better conclusion to this story. I hope that is useful for you.

    Great work!