The cab dropped me in the driveway,
and I tossed my gear into the snow.
The ride from the airport had been quiet,
the road muffled by ruts now frozen from the plow.
I’m a week back from the war.
I’d phoned from the coast,
And my mom said,
“We’ll have a real nice dinner, tonight, when you fly in…
a nice meal, a good time.”
She serves up a thick helping of casserole,
Scalloped potatoes with peas and tiny chunks of ham.
Steam rises from the hole she’s carved in the crust
and hangs gently in a cloud around the chandelier
that is new since I was…home…last.
Dad’s cocktail is topped freshly
from the bottle above the stove.
The cubes dance bubbly with whiskey around the rim.
Her’s is on the counter with a drop of soup trailing down the side,
the glass greasy from her hand.
Her cheeks are puffy.
Dark circles ring her eyes.
She splashes soup from the ladle,
the shake in her hand.
It hisses on the burner and sizzles
until he looks away embarrassed asking vaguely
about my health, my plans.
He tells me how that kid, Hanson,
from the shanty-town west of the tracks,
was killed in action just two weeks ago.
He’d been blown to pieces by a land mine
during an attack of some kind.
Mom has tried to make everything look pretty.
She has the table set fancy with linen,
the china that I’d sent her,
and her silver from the chest.
I guess the girls have been sent to Grandma’s
so we can be alone.
The house looks so tidy-she watches me take a bite.
It’s hot. I blow on a potato slice to cool it.
She’s not really smiling, that grin etched crisp and dark.
It’s for me, her charade.
The tension between them is tremendous…
how it draws in her eyes.
She sips her drink slowly.
He, a gulp of his.
He lights another cigarette as she fumbles some biscuits
and turns off the stove.
The windows are frosty.
Over his shoulder I can barely make out the fence
across the yard.
There is laundry frozen on the clothesline.
The picnic table has been left out in the snow.
‘You’re gonna lose that tan pretty quick in this weather,”
he says with a frown.
“Too bad about that Hanson boy,” he mumbles.
“He was a real nice kid.”
“Yeah, well, sometimes that happens,” I say,
trying hard to remember him, but not able to, hardly at all.
Sometimes it does, I think to myself.
“The girls can’t wait to see you,” she says with a sigh.
“Grandma, too. We’ll go there tomorrow,
and she’ll put out a nice lunch.”
(I look around) the family kitchen in winter…
and eat a few potatoes, some peas and a chunk of fat ham.
I tell myself to stay out of it.
Over the phone she’d said she still loves him.
“Oh, it’s not so bad, not really…he means well,” she’d said.
I know from her thin smile that things couldn’t be worse.