“I’m bored,” Tina said, her thirteen-year-old face expressionless. “How long we gotta stay in this house?” She leaned against the refrigerator. “I miss Massachusetts.”
Karen Miller sighed, placed her hands on her hips, and said, “Sweetheart, we move every year, you know that. And how many times do I have to keep explaining to you about the damn virus situation?”
“But this is stupid.”
“Until the virus shit is under control, we have to avoid unnecessary interaction with other individuals, understand? We don’t want people to ask questions, right?”
“Who cares,” Tina said. “I’d be better than staying in this house. In this stupid state.”
The coronavirus known as COVID-19 was responsible for keeping Tina out of middle school and her mother home from work at the college, her position deemed nonessential by the powers that be. In fact, most of Naperville was on lockdown. However, the virus hadn’t affected her dad’s job because he worked from home anyway; he was a computer programmer for a software company based in Silicon Valley.
“I’ll tell you what,” Karen said. “When Dad finishes his conference call, we can ask him if he would like to play a game.”
Tina’s eyes grew wide; she jumped, her long, blonde curls spraying in every direction. And the moment her socks touched the kitchen floor, she asked, “Monopoly?”
Karen frowned at her daughter. I hate that fucking game, she thought. Why not drive a dull knife though my eye? “You know your father does not like to play that game. So . . . maybe we should let him pick. What do you think about that?”
“But Dad always—”
“Dad always what?” Mike said, stepping into the kitchen. He had a Bluetooth earpiece attached to his left ear and was still dressed in New England Patriots pajamas—even though it was almost six o’clock in the evening.
“Daddy,” Tina squealed, “you wanna play a game?”
“Sure, squirt. I’m done with work for the day.”
Karen tapped a wooden spoon on the edge of a big pot that was simmering on the front burner of the stove. “After we eat dinner, that is. The stew will be ready in about fifteen minutes.” She looked her husband up and down. “You smell like death. Take a shower and put on some real clothes.” She placed the spoon on a ceramic spoon rest shaped like a pineapple. “Maybe an outfit more appropriate for your age.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“You are not a college student dividing his time between frat parties, drunk sorority girls, and bong hits.” She locked eyes with him. “Once, just once, I would love for you to act your age.”
“Are you guys gonna fight again?” Tina asked.
“No, sweetheart,” Karen said, “I’m just having some fun with your father.” She looked at him with disdain. “Right, Mike?”
Through clenched teeth, he said, “Yeah, right. Just a little fun. Your mother is quite the comedian.” He turned and left the room.
To her daughter, she said, “Go wash up for dinner.”
Tina cocked her head. “But I already—”
“Now, young lady.”
Tina plodded off without uttering another word, for which her mother was grateful. And now the room was quiet, except for the soft bubbling sound coming from the stew. Karen closed her eyes and rubbed her temples in soft circles. She said aloud to herself, “Take a deep breath. At least the day is almost over.” She opened a cabinet door and removed a glass. “And you have plenty of wine.”
After a lengthy and uncomfortable dinner, they all gathered in the living room, seated on the carpet around a rustic wooden coffee table. The room was lit by two lamps on either side of a brown leather sofa. The cream lamp shades cast an eerie glow that created ghostly shadows around the room and etched hard lines on all of their pallid faces.
“Dad, what game do you wanna play?” Tina asked. “Sorry, Life, or . . .”
“Anything but Monopoly, right?” Karen said, taking a drink out of her third glass of wine.
“Let’s see . . . decisions, decisions,” Mike said. “Hey, I got an outstanding idea.” He pointed one index finger toward the ceiling. “How about we play my favorite game?” He glanced from daughter to wife. “What about that?”
Karen took a gulp of wine and said, “Obviously, you have forgotten what happened the last time we played that game.”
“Yeah! And you tried to cheat, too, Dad,” Tina added.
He lifted his head in a theatrical manner and sniffed loudly. “What is that smell . . . it smells like . . . chicken.”
Karen drained her wineglass; her ruddy cheeks were now even rosier. “Fine with me. If you’re ready for your funeral, then so am I.” She smiled at him sadistically.
“Chicken it is,” Tina said, raising both fists in the air in a symbol of victory. “But you two can’t fight, okay?”
Ignoring his daughter’s comment, he said, “I’ll get the knife. You grab the sand timer, sweetheart. Not the one from the Boggle game, but the thirty-second timer.”
“I know, I know. The red one.”
Karen lifted her glass and said, “I’ll pour some more wine.”
Mike narrowed his eyes and said, “Darling, you might want to stay sober. Don’t want you to have an excuse when you lose.”
“Darling,” Karen said, “you might want to plant your thin, chapped lips on my big, white ass.”
And a few moments later, they were all back in the living room. A large butcher knife and a plastic hourglass with red ends now lay in the center of the coffee table, kitty-cornered to a glass of merlot placed in front of Karen.
“Who’s going first?” Tina asked.
“The same person that has gone first for the last fifty-plus years,” Karen said, then took another gulp of wine. She hiccupped, swallowed hard, and added, “If nothing else, this family is mind-numbingly consistent.”
Mike picked up the threatening weapon by its black handle. “Okay, remember the rules.” He stuck the tip of the blade into the surface of the wooden table, dead center, butt of the knife jutting upward. “Once the timer is started, you have thirty seconds. The other two have to keep their hands flat on the table—fingers spread.” He looked at his wife. “And if you pull your hand away . . .”
Karen stuck up her middle finger at him.
“How ladylike,” Mike said. “Now, as I was saying. If you move your hand, you lose. And if the timer runs out, it’s the next person’s turn—in a clockwise rotation.”
“Come on, Dad,” Tina said, “let’s play sometime tonight.”
“Okay, okay, take your positions,” he said.
Tina and Karen placed their hands on the table, fingers splayed out wide. Tina’s hands were directly in from of her, pinkies almost touching, but her mother’s hands were left and right of the wineglass placed in front of her.
Mike rubbed his palms together. “Here goes nothing.”
He flipped the timer over; sand began to spill from the top bulb into the bottom bulb. His eyes fixated on the butcher knife. Several seconds later, apparently concentrating so intensely his entire body trembled, the knife began to vibrate. “Move dammit!”
“Times’s up!” Tina said, nodding at the hourglass. “Nothing for you.”
“Shit, I almost had it. I was so, so close.”
Karen leaned over to her husband and whispered into his ear, “Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and stories about women you almost fucked.”
“Umm, you said a dirty word.” Tina clasped her hands over her ears. “No fighting, guys, please.”
“Your turn, Dirty Girl,” Mike said, flipping the timer over.
Tina and her father placed their hands on the table. Karen concentrated on the knife, focusing her ice blue eyes first on the blade, then the handle, and finally the tip—which was partially embedded in the wood. Move you piece of shit. The knife wobbled back and forth. Her eyes widened, and she clenched her teeth. The knife jumped into the air, hovered for a second, and shot downward, sticking into the surface of the table halfway between her husband’s index and middle finger.
“Damn! That was close,” Mike said, yanking his hands from the table. “Thought I had another hole in my hand coming.”
“Way to go, Mom,” Tina said. “My turn, my turn.”
“Your precious hand would heal by morning,” Karen said. She took a sip of wine and then under her breath, “Unfortunately, you insignificant prick.”
Tina took her turn but wasn’t successful in moving the knife. “It’s not fair. I never win at this stupid game.” She folded her arms. “Why can’t we ever play Monopoly?”
“My turn again,” he said. After his wife and daughter had positioned their hands on the table, Mike began his turn. This time, he managed to get the knife raised into the air; however, it flipped on its side and zipped wildly to the left, piercing Karen’s left eye. “Oops, my bad.”
“You are a bumbling, worthless, sack of shit,” Karen said. Blood now oozed from her eye and ran down her face in tendrils. “This is the last time I’m playing this damn game. Do you hear me? The last fucking time.” She grabbed the knife by the handle and pulled. There was a wet, squishy sound as she removed the blade. “That shit hurt.” She tossed the knife onto the table.
Tina reached over and put a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “You’ve been saying that for years, Mom. But it’ll be healed by morning—like you told Dad, right?”
Karen looked at her daughter with the only good eye she had at the moment. “This game is over. Time for bed, smartass.”
Tina started to appeal to her father, but he shook his head. “This isn’t fair. I hate both of you. I wish you guys would have died in that car accident.” She stormed out of the room.
“Me, too,” Karen said, covering her bloody eye socket with one hand and guzzling wine with the other hand. “Anything would be preferable to this horror that never ends.” She thought about crying, about screaming until she felt better, but what was the point. “And you, dumbass, get me a towel.” She put her glass down on the table. “And fill that up, too.”
“At least we have each other,” Matt said. “Sure, we have our problems, but at least we’re all together.”
She smiled at him with an exaggerated lovingness. “Sweetheart, I’m bleeding all over my clothes. Get me a damn towel and some wine. Now!”
And they lived happily ever after, and after, and after . . .