Sitting in her mother’s kitchen (still her mother’s kitchen, though her father’s, too, since she was 8 years old), Lorelle shelled peanuts and dropped them in a bowl, slightly salted water tearing at their rinds. Ice and peanuts crashed into one another, tinkling against the glass bowl as she poked the skins with her finger, chasing them over the rim and into a pile on the table.
A story her dad had told her once. It was 1958 and his arms were tired from shoveling coal at the mill. He was jogging home in shale-stained Dickeys and a blue workman’s shirt, dirt smeared on his stubble-covered face. The sun slowly dipped beneath the shadows of sleeping slums, blinking, sometimes glaring in Dad’s eyes. As he approached the corner where Main Street met the alley where he lived, the sun poked out between two crumbling brick houses, and the sudden crimson flash hindered his sight. Turning, he rubbed his eyes with blackened fists, and as his arm dropped limp to his side, he caught a glimpse of blonde hair reflecting the sun at his flank. A moment too late he stopped in his tracks, knocking the girl off her feet.
“You know, I’ve heard of knocking someone’s socks off, but I didn’t think you’re supposed to do it like that!” The girl, our Mama, grinned up at Dad, and he bowed his head, holding back a laugh and a tear, and taking her white hand in his dirt-coated one, he pulled her up with his aching arm, whispering, “I’m sorry, are you alright?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” she laughed. Her laugh, he said, tinkled itself into his memory. Her dress, pea green and flapping in the breeze, fell over her curves to her knee, lending her a class he'd never seen before in a girl. Yet she was looking at him, he in his dirty laborer's clothes, her dark pupils catching his eye as she bantered, laughing and placing her hand on his shoulder, not caring as her hair fell loose upon her shoulder, as a strand slipped over her turquoise eye. "You wouldn't happen to want to walk me home, would you, um, sir? That’s silly—what’s your name?"
"John. My name is John. And yes, I'd be honored to walk you home, it's the least that I could do.”
"My name is Raquel, and maybe this way the next guy turning the corner will knock you down instead of me!" She took his coal-covered arm, and walked down the street, pea toned dress swinging with her hips.
The peanuts, swimming in their sea of tap water, would get soggy if she left them there too long. She stared at their bloating forms, picking out which ones looked like kidneys and which looked like lungs. She glanced up only when Melinda swept the bowl from under her, and toppled the nuts into a strainer in the “clean food” side of the stainless steel sink behind Lorelle. “Rule number one in this house, Lorelle,” her sister said, “is that we don’t drown ourselves in the peanut wash. And it looks like you were about to do just that, so maybe you should get some sleep.”
“I was thinking of what you said the other day, Melinda. About dad, how he never was the ladies’s man.”
“That’s what Mama always used to say. You remember? You might have been too young.”
“But all us girls in his house adored him. Granted, we were children, and he was the best tickler in the world. He certainly did have that going for him. But it was more than that. Like the day, when you got your period for the very first time, and he snuck a care package into your bedroom, full of all kinds of pads and tampons, Midol, chocolate, and—”
“And a bottle of Metamucil. He wanted to make me laugh. Wanted us to think he had no idea.”
“But he did that in a way no other father could. I’ll never understand—how did he come up with that?”
“He did it like a mom. It was something he knew we needed growing up. And we needed so much in those days, huh? Rides to school, rides to the movies with boys who we swore were just friends, diet soda, affirmations we didn’t need diet soda, chocolate, peanut butter—”
“—More chocolate,” Lorelle interrupted, “when those boys who were just friends told us they didn’t want to be friends anymore.”
“Yah, that’s right. The man must have went through three hundred pounds of chocolate a year when we were all in those nasty teen years.”
“And I wonder why all my high school pictures seem to be completely overwhelmed by pimples.”
Lorelle slid her chair back from the table, the stubs of its legs grating against the grout crumbling in the spaces between the kitchen flooring’s tiles.