By Grace Heckman
Her mind wandered as she peeled the green skin from the round yellow flesh. The task was tedious, pulling strands of husks, watching the whitish-yellow hair amass itself on the kitchen table.
Seeing as she had some time on her hands, Mac began to tell herself a story. She chose her favorite one, which was the one that her parents always told after she had done something mischievous.
Her mother’s voice echoed in her ears.“You were born in the summertime and it was the closest thing to Hell I had ever experienced while on this Earth.” Papa thought it was befitting that she had been born during the hottest summer that he could recall. He claimed it was how she had developed her fiery spirit. She knew that the story had been dramatized to make it interesting. Who really wants to hear about all the boring details of their own birth story anyways? Her older brother, Jo, recalled that it had been really rather boring. Most of the time had been spent sitting around waiting. She could always rely on Jo to speak frankly.
A haze of smoke wandered through the air and occupied every unsuspecting nostril. He sat in a faded red chair with a cigarette cradled between his pointer and middle finger. It occupied that space like a sixth finger. He slowly pulled it up to his mouth and took a drag. The inhale, and then exhale, inhale and exhale. Monotonous and steady, like a beating heart that only stopped to adjust the paper in the opposite hand.
His eyes scanned the help-wanted ads in that morning’s paper. The plant was closing, and he knew that if he didn’t find a new job his family would fall on hard times.
“If only Jo were here,” Papa mumbled to himself, “he would know what to do.”
The pungent scent of freshly chopped onion started to overpower the rich aroma of his tobacco. He noticed the rumble in his stomach and wondered, when will dinner be ready?
Her hair was feathery, with streaks of grey running down it. The corners of her mouth wrinkled a bit from years of grit and determination. As the tears slid down her face, she gently brushed them away with the corner of her worn sleeve. Mama focused on the onion and only the onion.
“I really should have rinsed the damn things,” she remarked haughtily.
What she really meant was, “When is my baby coming home?”
Papa was starting to slow down, and she had her suspicions about the plant. The women at the grocery loved to gab, and lately all they seemed to talk about was the plant owner’s shady business. She couldn’t afford to think of such things. She still had a house to run and a daughter to raise.
Had the onion always been this strong?
It seemed that nowadays all Mama had to look forward to were the letters Joseph sent home every month. He was stationed somewhere in Europe. Thankfully he had stayed away from most of the action, for now. Such a sensitive soul. She worried the war would break his spirit. She knew Mac missed him terribly. They all did.
She had to hurry if she wanted to have food on the table within the hour.
The house was awfully quiet now. It seemed like just yesterday they were celebrating Jo’s coming of age and then the next day sent him on his way. He was her designated playmate from birth, her protector, her most trusted confidant.
Slowly, she peeled her eyes from the pile of corpses long enough to catch a glance of Papa slumped in his chair. He was reading the morning paper even though it was nearly supper time. She studied the dark rings under his eyes. He woke up before the sun every morning.
She answered her own question. “No, I won’t bother Papa. He’s too tired to play with me.” She sighed.
Mac turned her attention to the kitchen where Mama’s slim shadow cascaded across the floor. The knife drummed against the cutting board methodically.
Mac just shrugged. “She won’t even notice me until dinner is done. I best leave her be.”
Evening meals seemed to be the only anchor that secured her family through this storm. Mac knew that she would always have this time with them.
“Dinner will be ready soon,” she assured herself as she skinned the last ear of corn