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The Last Supper

by Susan Buttenwieser

Even though it's only Thursday, we're watching a movie tonight, Mom tells us when we get home from school. I can tell she's been cooking all day, the whole downstairs smells like garlic and roasted tomatoes. She made lasagna from scratch and homemade garlic bread, not the frozen kind that we usually have. Also a chocolate cake. She says that me and my little brother, Tommy, can have Coke to drink with dinner if we want.

Tommy is so excited, he spills his juice while we eat our snack. He thinks this is all good news, but it's not.                 

Usually, we're only allowed to watch movies on the weekends. Tommy gets to choose on Friday nights, and we watch my favorites on Saturday. But tonight it's my dad who is picking one out, my mom explains.        

"It's his special night. Like when it's your birthday," she's down on all fours, sponging up Tommy's drink off the floor. He nods like he understands what she's talking about.

Except it's not my father's birthday. He never eats breakfast with us anymore, just stays upstairs in bed, waiting until we've left for school. I know he's going to pick Finding Nemo which used to be my favorite until I got too old for it. But I'm not going to complain. Tommy still likes it and I want my dad to be happy tonight. Besides, I'm the big brother, my mom keeps reminding me, and part of being the big brother is sometimes you do things when you don't feel like it.

Jimmy Winters told everyone at school about my father. They live across the street from us so they know all our business, I heard my mom saying on the phone right after she had a big fight with Mrs. Winters at the Super Stop and Shop. We were in the cereal aisle when it happened. Tommy was hassling my mom to buy Fruity Pebbles. He'd just been on his first sleepover and his friend had Fruity Pebbles at his house. It wasn't fair, Tommy kept saying over and over. I was just hoping he wouldn't start screaming like he does sometimes if he wants something that my mom won't get. When he has a tantrum, everyone stares at us, as if they've never in their whole life seen a little kid be an idiot in a store. My mom was explaining yet again that Fruity Pebbles were unhealthy when Mrs. Winters came right up close to us.

"You got some balls going out in public! After what your husband did!"  Her coat hung over her large body like a vampire cape.

My mom's face got all pale and glassy, and for a moment I thought she might throw up. She told me so quietly, without really opening her mouth, to please take Tommy and wait for her by the check-out lines. And for once in his life, he dropped it about the Fruity Pebbles and I took his hand and led him away. We could still hear Mrs. Winters shouting at my mom, who didn't seem to be saying anything at all. Tommy sat in my lap and covered his ears while I flipped through magazines, trying to find funny pictures for him, but nothing would make him laugh. Instead he hunched over, rocking back and forth. Everyone was looking at us. Then I heard boxes toppling over and Mrs. Winters was being hustled along by the manager. "You're throwing me out?" she was still shouting. "She's the crook, not me!"

My mom's face was tight as she wheeled the cart towards us. She didn't even need to ask me to take Tommy outside and let him have a ride on the mini Bucking Bronco and the fire truck that are right by the rows of shopping carts.

On the way home, I could see her crying in the rearview mirror, so I played I Spy with Tommy to distract him so he wouldn't ask her any questions.

That's all I do now is keep Tommy distracted. My mom can't handle it when he whines, just screams at him until he starts sobbing, pours herself a big glass of wine and sits outside in the back yard. Then she cries too and doesn't really cook dinner, maybe just fixes us some toast and eggs. And I really like a proper, cooked dinner and I really don't like it when everyone is crying. So if I can just keep him occupied and away from my mom when we get home from school, then she's able to make something.

Some nights she goes all out and we light candles. Tommy loves it when we do that. Or she'll let us listen to music while we eat.

Our favorite thing though is when she makes Italian food, especially my dad. He eats it real slow, not saying anything the whole time, just chewing and breathing.

Sometimes after I've gone to bed and he thinks I'm asleep, he'll come in my room and sit on the edge of the bed and I can hear him quietly crying. The first time he did it, I sat up and asked him what was wrong and he got really mad at me. Now I just lie there with my eyes closed and pretend to sleep, the bed moving slightly with the weight of his trembling body.

So I really don't care about watching a baby movie like Finding Nemo. As long as no one cries or yells or whines, then everything is okay with me.

We play in the yard for awhile and then my mom calls us back in. My dad is sitting at the kitchen table, drinking red wine. He grabs Tommy, holds him tight as Tommy tries to squirm away.

"Lemme go!" Tommy laughs, not noticing my dad's grimaced face.

It's my mom's idea to put on pajamas. Then Tommy helps her spread out a tablecloth on the living room floor like we're on a picnic and serve up the plates of food. I turn off all the lights and set up the movie.

The food is so good, I have to stop myself from wolfing it down. I dip a piece of garlic bread in the tomato sauce, take a bite of lasagna then wash it down with Coke. Tommy shakes out too much Parmesan cheese, so my mom has to switch plates with him. I don't want to look at my dad in case he is crying because that will make my stomach hurt and I won't be able to eat any more.

"We'll deal with the dishes later," my mom whispers to me when I'm finished. She brings over slices of chocolate cake, large glasses of milk and we move onto the couch.

I sit right between my parents, Tommy pressed up against  my mom on the other side. By the time it gets to the part where Nemo finds his dad, we are clinging to each other like we're on a life raft, all crying a little bit. Even me.

After the movie ends, my dad asks me and Tommy to sit on his lap and we curl up in it, his big arms wrapped all the way around us.

"Get the camera, Lorraine. Please."

They think I don't know where my dad is going tomorrow, but Jimmy Winters showed everyone the article in the paper. Five-to-15-years for grand larceny. He also said I had to give him my bike, to make up for what my father did, or else he was going to get his older brother to beat me up. His older brother is in seventh grade and really huge and has lots of huge friends that are always in their driveway shooting hoops or out in the middle of the street playing hockey so I wasn't taking any chances. I gave him my bike. And I stopped playing in front of our house. Now me and Tommy stay in the backyard and play in the tree house my dad built for us last summer. He made it all from wood he got from the dump or found on the beach. Me and Tommy helped hammer nails and make the ladder. Then all three of us painted it black and red. It was my dad's idea to put glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling. "For when you have sleepovers," he explained.

But now the only kid who wants to come over is the one who just moved to the neighborhood. But he's actually kind of all right and thinks up good games. Like pirates, where we are in the tree house and there's sharks below in the grass, but we have to steal treasure from the other boat, which is the jungle gym. Tommy loves that one the best. We'll stay outside until it's dark and cold, and he never complains that he's hungry or has to go to the bathroom or that I cheated.        

While my mom is looking for the camera, I can feel my dad's chin on the top of my head quiver a little bit. I hug him extra tight, taking in everything, the way his skin feels on me, his smell, the sound of his breathing. The lights are still off and the blue glow of the television filters out over the remains of dinner.           

This moment is going to end soon, when my mom comes back in the room, takes some pictures and tells us it's time for bed. I try to freeze it, so I can come back to it at a later time. The moment when we are still like this.



Susan Buttenwieser's fiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and appeared in Failbetter, Bound Off, FictionNow and other publications. She teaches creative writing in NYC public schools and organizations for underserved communities including incarcerated women at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.

Articles in this Issue

Introduction, by the Editors
Monkey Head Soup, by Charles Lindsay
Barbarians at the Hotel Bar, by Edward Chupack
Desert Survival, by Craig Childs
A La Recherché du Cheese Perdu, by Brenda Peterson
Heaven on the Half Shell, by Andrew Beahrs
A Hog Butchering, by Thorpe Moeckel
Lamb Shanks Roasted in Paper, by One Ring Zero
Lemon Meringue Pie, by Alan Huffman
Making Sajur Lodeh, by Julie Lauterbach-Colby
Lost Meals, by Phil Buehler
It's Seaweed Weather!, by Wendy Noritake
The Ingot, by Edward Hardy
My All-American Bacchanal's Deep-Fried Remains, by Nick Kolakowski
The Last Supper, by Susan Buttenwieser
The Spoils Room, by T. D.
A Taste for Tonka, by Ramin Ganeshram
Recipe Cards, by Ted Weinstein