“You need to shut up right this second, the kids are going to hear you!” Her shrill voice echoed through the now empty house, the pungent scent of chicken pot-pie, her rainy day special, wafting through the kitchen. The familiar tension consumed the couple, wrapping its suffocating tendrils between their cold glares and untrusting stances. Eyebrows furrowing, the once-unnoticable lines that only appeared when she laughed now carved stark lines that ran deep into her sallow and tired expression. She was exhausted. He was exhausted. But the kids couldn’t know. He would pick up his pillow and throw blanket from the couch early each morning, placing them back on his untouched side of the bed before the kids were downstairs for breakfast before school. She would wipe her red rimmed, mascara laden eyes as she stared back at herself in the mirror, watching the woman with empty eyes and a bright smile stare back at her. What started as an occasional disagreement between the once happy couple escalated into complete avoidance of one-another, knowing the loud and draining consequences of potential interactions. Disrupting the facedown between the two spouses, the oven timer rang, lonely without the company of laughing children or echoes of “I love you”. Knowing the kids must have heard the timer, the two automatically plastered on a shiny smile, like some sort of Pavlonian response, and silently took their place at the kitchen table.
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Whipping her head around, she spotted her brother cloaked in the fog of the evening, coming ever nearer her with his long strides and determined expression. Breath hitching, she pumped her arms as fast as they would go, glancing down to her soggy, grass stained socks, praying she didn’t slip on the grass, wet from the rainstorm earlier that evening. Gasping for air as she urged her body to go faster, she spotted the line of tall shrubs that stood proud before a 3-foot drop off onto the gravel driveway. Her mind whirring, calculating the risk of the jump, she continued bounding forward with leaping strides, attempting to evade the reach of her brother’s advancing hand. With great fervor, she continued forward, to the confusion of her brother, and took one final, impulsive step before launching herself into the air. Arms flailing, the gravel driveway that was once blocked by the intimidating shrubs neared at a frightening rate, until the soles of her socks skidded across the slippery pebbles of their driveway. Twisting around, she faced his brother who had stopped on the other side of the shrubs. They were quiet for a moment. She could practically see the gears turning in her brother’s head, trying to figure out how to tag him before dinner would be called. As if she had planned it, the two siblings heard the oven timer go off, indicating that their game of tag was over. Smirking at her brother, she sauntered into the house, greeted by the warm smell of chicken pot-pie. Darting through the cottage-like, North-Eastern style home, she evaded her younger brother’s grasp yet again, giggling as she skidded into the dining room for dinner.
Being elusive through cleverness
The remnants of the cold chicken pot-pie sat on the dull granite countertop, as he sat back in his chair, plotting. His parents had left the kitchen table earlier, separately of course, after another meal filled with awkward, forced conversation. His younger siblings, who were now both exhausted from their game of tag in which he refused to participate, never seemed to notice this practically palpable tension between their parents. Now he, his two younger siblings, and Great-Aunt Tilly remained at the kitchen table. The siblings shared a knowing look; whoever remained at the table last with Great-Aunt Tilly would be stuck there for the next 45 minutes, listening to her gripe about her osteoarthritis and have to dutifully accept her never-ending critiques of whatever her seemingly senile mind brewed up. Racking his brain for a new way to avoid her, he went through all of his previous tactics that he took a remarkable amount of pride in. Of course, the classic homework excuse is generally applicable, but not guaranteed to be effective. Feigning sickness would almost undoubtedly excuse him from the situation, but could only be used sparingly before raising concern or suspicion. His other personal favorite was helping one of his younger siblings with their homework. Depending on who annoyed him less that day, he would save himself and whomever he chose that particular day. But today was different. Great-Aunt Tilly had surpassed her typical glass of wine and was nearing her third glass. This meant she would be feeling extra chatty about her favorite subject: the faults of everyone around her. With this in mind, he knew that coming up with a foolproof escape plan was imperative. Tossing around various ideas that all had faults, he found himself stumbling upon a potential contender. It was risky- and that’s exactly what he needed. Catching the uneasy eyes of his siblings, he winked, before clearing his throat. Great-Aunt Tilly slowly turned around, her slightly hazy eyes narrowing as she smirked, brewing up a new insult regarding his laziness or perhaps a jab at his below average grades. As she opened her mouth to begin her slightly slurred rant, he expertly cut her off. “Great-Aunt Tilly,” he queried, feigning innocence “why is it that our parents seem to be a bit… off? I don’t know how to describe it, but it almost feels as if they don’t lov-”
She quickly silenced him, to his utter glee, which he masked with a confused face and head tilt. Her typically low and nasally voice was a few octaves higher and louder than usual. Face flushed, she looked between the two younger siblings, searching their expressions to see if they caught on to what their brother almost revealed. With a huff, she quickly dismissed the three, shooting an uncertain glare at the oldest. Bidding a goodnight with her typical flourish of her hand, the two youngest set off through the dimly lit house, the oldest straying a bit longer.
Placing her lipstick stained wine glass in the sink, he said his final goodnight, turned around, and trudged to his room in the attic with twinkling eyes, but a tug in his heart.