A dog bore its fangs through the chain link fence. It slobbered, teeth biting at the metal. Turning circles in dirt and dead grass, one lawn of plenty around them. Kat walked up to her house. The rooster on the cornice blew wild in all directions. An old town home neat and narrow into a little slice of Breeker Street. Little Armenia as it was. Not quite the Greek town she wanted, but the one she got. Kat opened the door with caution looking over her shoulder to her neighbors house where the dogs were perched with their front legs along the edge. The front lawn was dirt – it’d always been dirt as far as she remembered. And often a litter box for the strays. And judging by the smell, there’d been a cat here, say, two days ago. Things never changed. The old stucco walls peeling down the sides of the house, an alley dark and deep between the town houses where a trash collectors wandered into. She parked four blocks away, there wasn’t much parking in her house. Not in front of her lot and definitely not in the city. She did a sprint across the yard, the dogs pointed at her with their noses. Kat put her stuff in a small porcelain head of an angel on the table, she walked in on her father sat in front of the television. The belly round, bulbous. He was spinning his head at the screen.
“Run you cocksucker, run, run!” He leaned in. Put his hands up to his forehead.
“Hi dad.” She said.
Hi, he didn’t say it. Just mouthed the words and watched the figures on the screen.
She went to the kitchen (too much tragedy in the living room). Her mother wandered from the oven to the counter, taking things in and out and in and out and her at the door frame wondering how she didn’t twist her ankle or hadn’t ever. There was a distinct scent of pork and something lemony, a citrus scented salad being stirred in a glass bowl on the counter top. Her mother did not turn to see her. Beth had eyes for the cookery and for the window in the kitchen looking out to the narrow street ways and empty field of dirt.
“Something smells on you.” Beth said.
‘It’s sewer, mom.”
“No. It smells like hand sanitizer, like you were washing in it.”
“That’s ‘cause of the shit.”
Her mother passed Kat a sidelong glance, her eyes narrowed and small and sharp.
“I hope you fix that language by tonight.” She said. “Your sister is coming soon.”
“My sister is twenty four, going onto twenty five. I don’t think she’ll mind me cursing.”
“It’s me who minds. You should be more civil. That’s always been your problem. You get more out of life saying please and thank you and good bye. I don’t think you need any other words, honest.”
“How about no?”
Beth took out two wooden spoons and tossed lettuce and onion and cherry tomatoes, one rolled down the white subway tile. Kat grabbed it and ate it. Her mother looked at her. It was hard to tell between Beth’s almost-outraged face from actual-outraged.
“Is she here soon?” Kat asked.
“Ten minutes. That’s not a lot of time to shower.”
“That’s why I told you to get home sooner. But you didn’t. Here we are.”
“Here we are.” Kat sat and nodded. The furniture was something only known as potpourri. A long one slab live edge table, with little red chairs. All of it gaudy. The palette choice of red and blue and white hurting her eyes. LED bulbs out the top to give that orange warmth, but a bulb curtain she could only describe as a Chinese lantern. Things just seemed odd in her house – nothing removed, simply added. A set of china within those modern minimalist cupboard. A cabinet fridge without a working freezer. It screamed of a lower class family pretending to be middle class. Because that’s exactly what it was.
“Take off that hoodie. Put on something better.” Beth said. Kat sat still in the chair, eating small cashews from a center bowl.
“Don’t ruin today. It’s a big deal.” Beth said. “You know your sister rarely comes home.”
“I’ll try not to. But you’re making it hard.”
A light flared in the kitchen window, a beam that dragged across vertically. Tires rolled by and dragged pavement with them, loose asphalt and stones that jetted out in the side walk. The nightmare slowly coming by and tunneling in her dream. Kat looked down at the table and breathed heavy. Her mother set the bowl back down and rushed for the door. Of course they left the parking for her sister, of course there was room on the street for her. Her mother ran through the house and Kat traced her imaginary figure all the way to the foyer and door where she screamed, ‘Oh, my god you’re beautiful!’, and where they embraced and hugged. All of this she could hear and practically imagine from the kitchen seat. Sitting. Eatings seeds and nuts. Her sister walked through with her needle-thin stilettos tapping hard into the floor. She congratulated her father, her father who stood from his anchored seat. The seat snapped back and forth with the recoil. All of them congratulating each other and happy and Kat just eating frantically in the kitchen, waiting.
Clarissa walked in.
Kat locked eyes with her.
Kat looked wooden underneath the red glow. A statue in a lost mausoleum, a figure time-frozen in pompeii.
“Hi.” Clarissa said.
It was not an actual question.
Clarissa walked around the table and looked at the counter top and took small morsels for herself, eating a loose carrot and potato wedge, eating some salad, looking about the things on the fridge: a to-do list, some pictures of the two sisters in a pumpkin patch, an old family picture. Clarissa sat down opposite her sister. She smiled but they both couldn’t look at each other. The father went back to his game (only thirty minutes left with a two point lead!), Beth came into the kitching, sighing, and set the delicate plates, well… delicately. Kat got some pork, some salad, some potatoes. Clarissa went just for the salad. Kat went for an orange crush in the fridge, Clarissa for the wine. Kat wiped her hands on her pants, Clarissa went for the towlette.
Beth looked disgusted. She sat in between them, meat and vegetable skewered on her pointing-fork.
“How’s medical school, Clarissa?” She asked.
“The same. Crazy. Now with tests. But it’s going well, you know, all things considered.” She said.
“I don’t know how you do it. You have a lot of your grandmother in you. Are you going to take any breaks?”
“I’d rather just get it over and done with. The faster I can intern, the faster I can move to Europe.”
“Europe?” Kat asked.
“Oh. You don’t know.” Beth smirked. To her rear an empty glass waited, she poured it full and took long drinks.
“What don’t I know?”
“Your sister is getting -” Beth did jazz hands. “You tell her.”
“I’m getting married, Kat.” She said.
“Oh.” Kat tapped her foot. “What’s that got to do with Europe?”
“Kevin is moving to Ireland for an internship, he’s already there, the plan was to do it there, with his relatives you know. I’ll be leaving as soon as I finish school. He’s got another position ready for me.”
“Europe, huh. Is Ireland even part of Europe?” She asked.
“Kat.” Beth said.
“What?” Kat asked. “Ireland, huh.”
“Makes sense.” Clarissa said. “Less stressful medical system. His family is close. Fewer hours.”
“Kind of a lazier life over there, for a doctor.” Kat said. “Wouldn’t you like to put our citizens in debt, though?”
Kat laughed. Clarissa almost laughed, until she looked at their mother who ate woodenly. Mechanically. Like the hinges in her mouth were long rusted..
“No politics, girls. Instead, why don’t we talk about how he proposed?”
Clarissa started. Kat checked out. She nodded her head and took sips and and chewed loud. She finished her plate and went for seconds, her stomach was full but she continued. Watching her sister with tired eyes. Like a wind-up-doll, pull the string and watch her go and go and go. The habit was born about long ago, when they were both children. In the third grade when her parents had made the mistake of asking Clarissa what the first day of school was like. And all the friends she talked about, and how smarter she’d been. That might have been the first point of contention between the two, certainly the first point of difference; their parents had listened to her hour long story about the fun of school, the fears, the boring of it all while Kat went silent into her room to play with Miko the house cat (rest in peace). She didn’t complain. She was in fourth grade by then, the older quiet child by then. It was hard being a prototype of parenting. And all the reflection she’d done – all that injured child shit she played at in therapy hadn’t done much but affirm traits already intuited.
Ireland, huh. She laid both palms out on the table and stood.
“I gotta go do work early tomorrow.” She said. “But I’m so happy for you, Claire.”
Clarissa stopped. She must have been mid sentence, not that Kat was tracking.
An atomic clock at the top of the door frame finished its slow stroke to eight on the dot. The game in the living room surrendered to mumbling silence as the volume bar decreased. Something of a draft stepped into the room that blew the flower curtains to the side and interrupted the slow stream of steam from the pork roast at the center of the table. Beth took another sip of wine. She pinched the vinyl tablecloth on the table and pulled at it slightly.
“Your sister isn’t finished.” Beth said.
“Cool. We can talk about it later.”
“We’re doing it now. You’d know that if you were involved.”
“I’m what you would call, very, very tired.”
“It must be convenient living like that.”
“In your head, alone. Uncaring.” Beth said.
“Beats living here.” Kat said.
“You’re more than welcome to leave. Most people at twenty six do.”
Oh boy someone said in the quiet corner of the house.
“It’s not a big deal, mom. It was just a wedding cake. Not really as interesting as journalism, is it, Kat?” Clarissa smiled.
Not that it was meant to be snide, but it was snide. Kat’s eye twitched.
“I’ve got a big project, you know. Huge. The cities infrastructure is absolutely ruined and it’s the council’s fault.”
“That sounds exciting.” Clarissa turned to their mother. “Maybe we can talk about that?”
“I’d rather not.” Kat said.
Beth went red. Underneath that pale exterior, the Russian doll makeup was a growing fury, the matryoshka undoing. Beth’s neck turned red.
“Oh. So I’m the inconsiderate one?” Beth asked. “Alright. Well, lets talk then Kat.”
“I didn’t say that, mom.” Clarissa said.
“A little too much wine, mom?” Kat asked.
“No. No. No. How about we talk?” Beth said.
They all went quiet and the draft went cold and the faucet dripped into the empty sink and the ambient heat of the stove grates diffused into a quick-filling cold that raised the skin on Kat’s arms. Her hairs stood.
“I’m busy.” Kat said.
“Always busy, aren’t you? It’s a wonder how you’ll even make it to the wedding, being so busy.” Beth said.
“When you have to work as much as me to pay the bills, it gets hard.”
“Pay the bills? I left you three – internet, electricity and gas. All things only you use.”
“Oh, I’m the only one using electricity in the fucking house?” Kat asked.
“Who gives a shit if I curse.”
“I do. I care, you little shit.”
“Little shit? I’m twenty six.”
“Twenty six and living with your mom in a dead end job that’s still paying minimum wage.”
“I just started an internship. It’s a big deal. It’s Channel24.”
“You say that year after year after year. And I don’t see a difference.”
“What’s your problem, mom?” Kat asked. “Pissed ‘cause I don’t want to listen to some boring small talk? As if you won’t recap it later.”
Kat stood. Started for the door. Her father looked over his shoulder, sighing.
“Why do you have so much contempt for us?” Beth asked. “Why is it so hard for you to be a daughter?” Beth asked. “I am convinced that you are hell bent on becoming an irrelevant for the rest of your life. Go ahead, go to your room and do whatever you want.”
Kat stopped with her hands extended out their whole length, her fingers gripping tight the frame. A cross at the top of the entrance sat crooked, a little off kilter. Everything always a little off kilter. Kat’s father put his hand on her shoulder, but Kat hiked them up and bumped it off. She turned and faced her mother, her teeth gritting hard and her chest struggling to contain the breath of air. Eyes swollen and red and glossy. She hated that she always cried when she was angry and thinking about it made her flush into worse heat yet. Kat licked her lips and approached her mother and bent slightly to be at the level with her.
“Do you really have to wonder about my…contempt?” Kat asked. “I’ll tell you what, mother. I think you’re over it. And I think I’m over it too. So how about I leave?”
“Make it today.”
“Beth. Please.” The father said. “Knock it the fuck off.”
“Be quiet Henry.”
“Okay, mom. Just for you.” Kat said.
“I think I should leave.” Clarissa stood. “I’m sorry.”
“Why are you apologizing? You’re the last person who should apologize.”
“I’m sorry.” Clarissa said. She ran past her sister. Beth stood chasing after her.
Kat trailed her with her eyes, her imaginary form. Both of them through the dark of the house. Meeting at the foyer, hugging, whispering. Mumbling extensively into silence. Kat’s imagination already working at filling in the silence. Apologies and hugs and kisses. Always Clarissa first. Always, since six. Since elementary. Since middle school. Since conception. Kat the oldest, but second still. Oldest abandoned.
Kat stood and rubbed her temples and passed them looking at each other consoling themselves with simple embrace. Clarissa cutting it short. Kat stopped at the front of her room.
“Hey Honey, let’s talk.” Her father walked up halfway, but gave up. He groaned and sighed and sat at the steps. Twenty six acting sixteen. Letting it happen, again and again.