Nothing had changed, not in thirty-five years. The linoleum was still the same curling horror, perpetually grubby, crumbs in the corners, coffee stains, grease stains, torn, doctored with masking tape. The counter top was semi-clean, wiped down with a dry cloth, but there were cups in the sink, his cups, four of them, a coffee diary. Someone should have picked up a broom, washed the cups, replaced the light bulb over the sink, maybe spritzed some Febreze on the curtains and chairs. Or was this a Timeless Memory? Leave it as is, a final snapshot for the family album.
The four of them, sitting at the kitchen table, a deck of cards sprawled in the center, a can of Diet Pepsi, bottle of Michelob Light, styrofoam cup of green tea, a glass of watered-down Knob Creek. That told you something about them, the differences, the wet appetites. Only one ashtray, and that was for Brenda, still smoking after all these years. Donny had a vape in his shirt pocket, but he wasn’t brave enough to bring it out, afraid they’d make fun of him. The kid in the family, always hungry for reinforcement, and if he wanted to be a middle-aged hipster, well good for him. Kevin, the don’t-give-a-shit bro, shirt sleeves rolled up, patchy beard, carpenter hands. They all looked up to him growing up: daredevil, knuckle-cruncher, belligerent poet. Looking at him, you’d never know he had a degree in sociology, his skin had that sheen of 10W-30. Brenda, the baby-doll, always too old for her skin, raspy voice and big blue-gray eyes that allotted her three ex-husbands and a paid-for bungalow. Timothy, the eldest, the disappointment, a man of diminishing returns. He ran a car wash on Route 77. He was the guy you called when the change dispenser was busted. He still wore a skinny tie, and subscribed to The Wall Street Journal. A boorish drunk once you pried him loose.
But they were blood.
“It’s a stupid little game,” said Kevin. “We should be doing something else. I just want this to be done.”
“It’s meditative,” said Brenda. She scooped up the cards and arranged them in her hands, not quite a shuffle. “There’s enough to think about. A distraction from the main event.”
“Hell of a thing to call it,” said Timothy. “How many do you think will show up?”
“Four,” said Donny. “At least four.” He fiddled with the vape in his pocket.
“Duh,” said Kevin. “The term is captive audience. We have to be there. I don’t see the point of coming back. To this place.”
“The scene of the crime,” said Brenda, who then surprised them all by giggling. They got that it was a reflex. She hated this place more than the others. Good reason, if the stories were true.
“Filthy little shack,” said Timothy. “We should tear it down and pour salt over the wound. Maybe sell it. Get it upgraded to a slum.”
“That’s harsh,” said Donny. “Brenda, you going to shuffle those cards or what?”
“Poker,” said Kevin. “Texas holdem. Break open your purses, girls. Crazy eights is, like, the lamest. Is this a fucking sleep-over? Put on some Shaun Cassidy and let’s rock out in our jammies.”
“You’re a jerk,” said Timothy.
“I know. But what are you gonna do?”
“I remember… thinking that was a dream. Or a punishment.” Donny took a sip from his styrofoam cup, the tea now cold. “I kept thinking it would get better. I’d wake up and it’d all be different. But even as a kid, I knew that was wrong. No dream. Things got better after high school, but that was a long stretch for a kid to keep hoping, knowing it would be twenty years down the road before, you know, a clean break.”
“It was never clean,” said Brenda. She giggled again. “At least we escaped. Finally. And we made it to today.”
Timothy raised his glass. “To today.”
“Today,” said Donny. “The day we finally get to bury him.” He took out his vape, shrugged, and fired it up.
“Today,” said Brenda, and she passed the cards around the table.