I am on the edge of my family, a small bit apart.
Upset with them, but not really. Upset with myself. Upset they were here to witness my weakness.
I apologize, but I do not forgive myself.
I sit at the dining-room table in silence. The girls are milling about in the kitchen; their plans having been disrupted, they are unsure what to do with themselves, unsure of the volatility of the space that surrounds them. Mark is in the study at his computer, distracting himself by doing something that is not fixing me, for which I hate him a little bit.
I sit there and I stare at my hands and I wish for an invitation.
A way back in.
Mark’s voice, “Hey, Maj? Did you want to make mashed potatoes? You should probably get that started if you are making them from scratch.”
Maj is delighted to be offered some direction, “Of course I am making them from scratch.”
There is the sound of banging and thumping for a few seconds, and then Maj calls out, “Ummmm, Mother?”
“If I boil the potatoes, will you help with the adding milk part? I always add too much.”
Does she know how much her words mean to me? Does she know what she has just done? I laugh with relief as something tight within me unknots itself and allows me to breathe again, “Yes, babe. Sure.”
“And ummm . . . maybe you could beat them and butter them and spice them and transform them to fluffy goodness?”
Kallan interjects, “So exactly what part of this mashed-potato job are you doing, Maj?”
Maj is annoyed, “Don’t sass me, young lady. I am boiling the potatoes.” She turns back to me, “Mother, do I have to peel them?”
“Yes, babe. You have to peel them. You know Daddy hates when you make lumpy mashed potatoes.”
“Seems like Daddy is just one vote. If the rest of us vote for skins left on, my job is much easier – let’s take a vote.”
Mark calls out, “You know what’s weird? From here on my computer, I can access your bank account, Maj. Want to see? I can transfer money in; I can transfer money out; I can take money from your account and put it in my account; it’s kind of amazing; want to see?”
Maj grumbles, “Fine, Daddy. Way to undo democracy. I’ll peel the potatoes.”
There is more banging and thumping, and then Maj’s voice again, “Where are the potatoes, exactly?”
And then . . .
“What sort of pot do I need?”
“How much water should I put in the pot?”
“How high should I turn the gas so that this water boils?”
“Should I salt the water?”
“OK, call me when the water boils, and I will be back to peel the potatoes.”
I call her back, “Babe, peel the potatoes now. If you wait until the water is boiling to start peeling them, we are never going to eat.”
Maj huffs, “I think I know how to make mashed potatoes, Mother. No need to get all up in my face.”
And then . . .
“How many potatoes should I peel?”
“These guys are filthy. I’m going to need to figure out a way to peel them without touching them.”
Kallan comes to the doorway, “Mom, we are never going to eat dinner. Can I have a snack?”
“How about a banana?”
Kallan cocks her head, “How about a handful of chocolate-covered raisins?”
“Alright, a small handful.”
Maj yells out, “Do not even allow that girl to weasel her way into more chocolate raisins! She had a handful earlier, and she knows better than to ask for more. Besides, dinner is being prepared and she should not spoil her appetite with treats. Also, she should not be allowed to get her own raisins, because she sorts through them and picks out the big ones, which is unfair to the rest of us.”
Kallan turns and bonks her head repeatedly against the door-frame in frustration as her sister speaks, “Mom, make her stop being so Maj-ish.”
“Maj, listen up,” I wait until Maj’s face appears in the doorway, “Kallan is going to choose 25 chocolate-covered raisins, and I do not want to hear a word from you about how she goes about it. Even if she pours them into a bowl and then lowers her face to slobber-eat them straight from the bowl like a big drooling anteater, I don’t want to hear a word from you. Got it?”
Maj turns to yell, “Daddy! I need your help here!”
Mark calls back, “Kallan?”
“Bring me a handful of raisins, would you?”
Maj stomps back into the kitchen, “Fine! You people eat treats while I prepare your dinner. I will just be a potato-peeling slave.”
And then . . .
“Ack! This potato fell in the garbage can!”
“Somebody get this demon-dog away from me!”
“The peels are shooting everywhere – this is a nightmare!”
“OK, I am a genius! Look! I have crafted a tool with which to impale and then hold aloft the potato while I peel it!”
Kallan speaks through a mouthful of chocolate, “You’ve crafted a tool? Maj, you stabbed the potato with a fork.”
“Be quiet. I am a genius. Look, I don’t have to hold the potato with my hand anymore – I just hold the fork.”
And then . . .
“Aiieieieieeeee! The potato leaped from its fork-perch!”
“There has been horrific flying backfire failure!”
“DOESN’T ANYBODY CARE? I COULD HAVE BEEN KILLED!”
Kallan steps through the carnage and wailing to bring me a handful of raisins, and I smile, “Thank you, babe.”
Maj starts screaming at me, “I ALWAYS KNEW SHE WAS YOUR FAVORITE! LOOK AT YOU TWO, EATING CHOCOLATE WHILE THE DOGS AND I CRAFT ME A DRESS FOR THE BALL OUT OF POTATO PEELINGS!”
And then . . .
“I am choking on potato dust!”
“Mother, the air is choking me! It is filled with potato dust, and I am being choked to death! I cannot even breathe!”
“Mother, I am serious! My lungs are filling with potato dust! Is this a common problem for potato peelers?”
“Mother, I am talking to you! Potato dust . . . is this a common health hazard for potato peelers?”
“No, Maj. No, it is not.”
“Is that because normally prisoners peel potatoes, and nobody cares if they die?”
“Yeah, that must be it.”
Kallan is thoughtful, “OK, how does that work, exactly . . . the whole potato-peeling prisoner thing? I mean, they can’t give bad guys potato-peelers; they would just stab and peel their way out of prison and all the guards would be blinded.”
Maj pauses, “Blinded? Why blinded?”
Kallan explains, “Duh. That pokey part on the end of the peeler is to remove eyes.”
“Huh . . . hey, Mother? How exactly do prisoners peel potatoes if they can’t have actual potato-peelers?”
I don’t hesitate, “They make the prisoners peel potatoes with their toenails. The guards feed the prisoners extra gelatin to grow their toenails superstrong, and then they make them peel potatoes with their toenails.”
Both girls appear in the doorway to stare at me.
I pop another raisin in my mouth, “What? It’s true.”
Kallan speaks using her best educational filmstrip narrator voice, “Here you can see that some prisoners merely toe-peel potatoes, while other more talented prisoners work on the peeled potatoes to achieve something finer. Watch as a seeming frenzy of flailing toe-nailed artistry reveals a pile of perfectly-sized shreddings that are then spread out in the hot prison sun to dry. And that, boys and girls, is how we get potato flakes!”
Maj gags, “Ewwwwww!”
Kallan continues in the same deep educational voice, “Next, the flakes are sent for sorting to be sure that no toenails make their way to your dinner table.”
“MOTHER, MAKE HER STOP!”
And then . . .
“OK, I have peeled the potatoes.”
“OK, I am cutting them up.”
“OK, I managed to cut them with zero bloodshed. I, for one, am quite impressed with me.”
“OK, I am putting them in the water.”
“OK, I am dropping them from a great height because the water is boiling and I am not in the mood for skin grafts.”
“There has been some splashing and some flooding and some mess. I am going to leave these issues to be addressed by someone who is not me.”
“OK, call me when it’s time to eat them. Mother, I am passing the potato baton to you.”
I head into the kitchen to accept the batons of both potato and mess.
Mark walks into the kitchen as I am cleaning up. He stands leaning against the counter for a moment, and then he stretches out his arms, “You want a hug?”
I sink into his embrace . . . his invitation . . . and I mumble against his chest, “I’m sorry. I really am sorry.”
After the potatoes have boiled sufficiently, I beat them and butter them and spice them and transform them to fluffy goodness.
We sit down to dinner (which yes, involved more than mashed potatoes . . . don’t be silly).
I sit down with my family.
I am a part.
“So, Mother . . . I wonder if we might review the bad decisions you made today . . . just as a lesson for us all.”