Maisey opened the heavy oak door and stepped into the silence. The tension was almost palpable. She wished there was an alternative to going on in but there wasn’t. She’d lingered as long as she could already. It was near suppertime and if the meal wasn’t on the table, waiting, there would be hell to pay though more often than not it went uneaten.
She tried to slip into the kitchen unnoticed but failed. It was her own fault for neglecting to unlatch the screen door before school that morning. They were in the study, glaring at each other and caught the movement of her passing by the doorway.
“About time, girl,” her Uncle Silas yapped, his voice even more nasal than usual.
“Late again,” Aunt Petunia slurred. “What a disappointment you turned out to be.”
“I was at the library working on my book report,” Maisey offered by way of explanation. It was a half-truth but she wasn’t worried about being caught out. Her momma’s brother and sister had already dismissed her.
Maisey prepared a simple meal. Things that could be easily reheated. As she cooked she wondered about her classmates’ lives. Several of them came from single parent homes. Others lived in multigenerational households. A few even had the traditional family, a momma, daddy and siblings. On the surface her situation didn’t appear significantly different. But it was a façade. She doubted any of the other eight-year-olds in her grade were responsible for getting meals on the table at the end of the school day.
It was the norm for her. Had been for as long as she could remember. Her daddy was on the road the majority of the time and her monna couldn’t handle things on her own. They’d moved back home to Granma’s when Maisey was but four. When Granma got sick her aunt and uncle swooped in like turkey buzzards, staking their claim on the house before she was even gone. Since she passed they’d been at one another’s throats nonstop, each trying to evict the other.
The constant bickering overwhelmed her momma. She’d withdrawn deep down inside herself. Some days she didn’t even speak. Which left Maisey pretty much on her own, fending for herself as best she could.
It was okay at the beginning. Her aunt and uncle hadn’t paid her much mind. Not until they walked up on her carrying a tray to her momma. Once they discovered she could cook they demanded that she make their meals too. Occasionally they even ate them when they were still hot but more often than not they snuck into the kitchen later on and microwaved the leftovers separately. It was like they didn’t want to be caught eating or something. Too bad they left their dishes for her.
Momma didn’t eat much these days. She was pining for Daddy most likely. It was a year and then some since his last visit and that was way too long. Maisey used to wonder if he stayed away because he didn’t want her as part of their lives but then she realized that it was just his nature. Oh he surely loved them. In his own unconventional way. He was happy enough when he was there but it just wasn’t in him to settle down with them fulltime. He’d hang on less and less each time he blew in. She expected sooner or later he’d stop coming by altogether. She couldn’t help but worry what would become of Momma when that day came.
Maisey filled her momma’s tray and took it upstairs. “Momma? I brought you some supper.” No response. “Momma? Won’t you please eat some? Just a bite or three?” Again, there was no reply. “Well, I’ll just leave it here, should I? Maybe you’ll want some later.”
She went back down and stuck her head in the study where the tension had gone up another notch. “Supper’s on,” she said.
“What slop did you throw together tonight?” Aunt Petunia asked, pouring herself another tumbler of rye whiskey.
“Chicken and waffles, ma’am. Your favorite. And some of those early sweet peas I picked out of the garden yesterday. I know how you like them, Uncle Silas.” It was a challenge sometimes, keeping them balanced in her comments so neither would complain that she was taking sides. What she didn’t understand was why it concerned them at all. She was a child. What would it matter if she did choose one over the other? It wasn’t like she could be of any help to either of their causes.
Soon as Maisey ate her own meal she made up two plates, one for each of her kin, retrieved her momma’s untouched tray and finished up the dishes. Tidying the kitchen as quick as she could, she escaped to her room in the front corner of the house. No one else ever came up there. Not even Granma back when they first moved in.
She had thought it was strange. Until she figured out that something in that room weren’t right. In the beginning when she was still mostly a baby she thought her imagination was conjuring up things out of her nightmares. But then, as she aged, she realized that they weren’t just dreams. There was pure evil in that room. When she tried to talk on it with her momma or Granma they both told her to hush up, that she was talking foolishness. She knew they were wrong of course. If her notions were such nonsense why were they both too afraid to venture into her room?