Sunday brunch was once an event anticipated by Mr. Drew’s family. With no obligation to pack everyone into the minivan for church, brunch became the worshipping place surrounded by a communion of pancakes, crispy bacon, assorted fruit, eggs-made-to-order, orange juice, and coffee. Now, family tradition formed into ankle braces of obligation, as Mr. Drew saw it. At 11:30 every Sunday, the dining room table shackled him at the head, Mrs. Drew to his left, McKenzie and Abigail on his right, and his mother across from him.
The oak table was a wedding gift from Mrs. Drew’s parents as a representation of the fruitful, happy marriage to come. Mr. Drew glanced at Mrs. Drew as he munched on a piece of crispy bacon. Mrs. Drew kept up her appearance like most people communicated with God. Her bottle-blonde hair framed her round, “natural make-up” look with large curls held together better than Mr. Drew’s belt. Mrs. Drew dressed as if she expected an old fling to walk through the door and she, having “gained just under ten pounds after two kids,” was the merchandise that slipped through their greasy fingers.
Mrs. Drew’s plate was filled with pieces of fruit and some untouched boiled eggs. Mr. Drew’s contained a healthy stack of pancakes and a couple remaining slices of bacon. Pancakes were his absolute favorite food since he was a boy. Buttermilk, no special toppings or adding’s, besides maple syrup—the classic Drew family recipe couldn’t be beat. He could eat them every breakfast, but his cholesterol dictated he lead a lie for a life. The bacon pieces didn’t help either, but the crunchiness and saltiness balanced out the sweet, gooeyness of the pancakes. He stabbed a stack of three pieces and shoved it into his mouth. The sticky sweet syrup dribbled down his chin into the greying stubble he wasn’t bothered to shave that morning.
Across from him, sitting in a slumped way which formed a blob of frowning rolls and wrinkles was his dear ancient mother. With the personality of an old sport injury, she cast a constant temper tantrum onto the household. He watched her pick at the pancakes as she gnawed on a bit of strawberries with her gums; her discarded dentures sat in a wet heap in the middle of the table. The picture of sophistication! She looked at him with tiny, squinted eyes through her large tortoise-shelled spectacles. He ducked to the haven of pancakes and bacon. No matter what way he cooked the pancakes his mother always laid criticism on them. At forty-five, one would think a parent’s harsh words wouldn’t affect them. Pure bull. It got worse with age. Salted wounds whipped over and over never heal right. Just as pains didn’t leave the body alone, neither did the fear of a switch or the call of a full name.
“Arthur Andrew Drew, what did I tell you about whiskin’ the batter? Can’t get it right to save your sorry life, that’s for damn sure.” His mother snorted and spat onto the corner of her plate a chunk of pancake with the life sucked out of it. “Batter bits stick to my gums.”
Mr. Drew watched in a disgusted trance as his mother stuck a knobbed finger into her mouth. The right side of her face screwed into flabby lines of concentration as she flicked spit and food bits over the table and his daughters. Was this the fate the years ahead held for him? He’d be damned if he didn’t eat a bullet first. Inheritance was the sole reason his mother sat across from him instead of in Happy Homes Residence Homes, or whatever fancy name they called those horrific places.
He glanced at his oldest daughter, McKenzie, sitting closest to his mother and well within spit-firing range. She preferred Kenzie, but to him, he always saw the little pig-tailed, pink tutu, gap-toothed princess screaming anytime anyone called her anything other than “Princess McKenzie.” She inherited her mother’s blonde hair and ideals for beauty uptake—though the generation gap defined beauty in a very different way. McKenzie’s fashion consisted of straight and long hair, a pierced nose, fake eyelashes like butterfly wings, belly shirts, and black leggings tighter than Mr. Drew’s budget. He couldn’t be bothered with how she dressed as long as she kept clean. Her straight-A’s, volleyball captaincy, presidency of the school’s newspaper, and part-time job kept her far too busy from the curses of society. Mr. Drew never felt the need to snoop through his oldest daughter’s phone for contact with those hormone-driven little shits. He was proud to say she inherited his brain for seeing what those shaggy-haired, baggy pants were about and spent her time preparing for college.
“Dad, can you pass the syrup?”
Mr. Drew swallowed a mouthful of coffee. He set down his cup and reached with his left hand for the syrup bottle. He passed it over to his youngest daughter sitting closest to him on his right. She avoided his eyes and mumbled “Thanks.” He watched her pour the syrup onto her scrambled eggs. Where did he go wrong?
Sure, after McKenzie he wanted a son—what father didn’t want a son to raise? Before the gender of the baby could be determined, Mrs. Drew leveled him with a catch-all: if he expected her to shove out another child, he had to get a vasectomy. Abigail was born a few months later. She came during a snowstorm creating a blizzard of tantrums and health complications. Sixteen years later she was still piling-up problems from diabetes to “depression” (he diagnosed it as “being a teenager”); flurries of bad grades, skipping school, and expulsions; the occasional power outage of sneaking out followed by snowed-in groundings dusted with screaming matches at whatever victim was closest. Mr. Drew could never understand how two people two years apart in the same household with the same parents could be so different. She looked like the female version of him which had she been a boy, he would have pated himself on the back. Instead her looks made him question his, but those moments passed since there was no point in clinging to looks like Mrs. Drew.
Abigail stabbed her syrup-soaked scrambled eggs eating small bites. Mr. Drew suppressed a gag. This child was the strangest creature. He kept a weathered eye on her horizon for turmoil. Her phone was checked at regular intervals, grades were reported, and her car had a GPS tracker through an app on his phone. And somehow, through all the surveillance and his policing, she still found it in her to fail a drug test at her part-time job. Not even a random drug test either! Doesn’t she realize how pathetic it sounds to say she was fired from McDonalds? When people at work asked about his children, he responded with something about McKenzie. Most people thought he had one daughter as the pictures in his office suggested.
Thinking about work caused a brick of unease to settle in Mr. Drew’s stomach. Out of mechanical movement he shoveled pancakes into his mouth. One by one, Mrs. Drew, McKenzie, and Abigail unchained themselves from the oak table and moved into the kitchen adjacent to the dining room. The conversation flew over his head. They dropped the dirty plates into the sink with loud clangs and left to their own lives. His mother shuffled her way out complaining and grumbling about some new-old pain.
A fly buzzed around the table. It landed in the syrup on Mr. Drew’s plate, got stuck, and squirmed trying for freedom. Mr. Drew squished it under his fork.
Sunday brunch was a dreaded event. Mrs. Drew’s entire day schedule had to be arranged around 11:30 and the following pain-staking, god-forsaken thirty minutes. Nothing was gained from it—except appearances, which Mrs. Drew was all too happy to keep, but the outside world wasn’t witness to the Drew Sunday Brunch Special so, what was the point?
The point, Mrs. Drew reflected with a glance at Mr. Drew to her right, was to keep that sorry excuse for a man happy. The one thing he’d asked for, over and over in the eighteen-year marriage (Mrs. Drew shuddered at the word) was to keep the tradition going. She knew it was all an excuse so he could make his disgusting pancakes and slobber over them. As she ate a slice of grapefruit, she eyed the man she’d said “I do” to. The years didn’t sit well on him: a bald bullseye with a straw frock speckled with grey on top a mushroom-shaped head, a face shrouded in a past-handsomeness, and all on top of a rotund body dumpy enough to make a bag of trash jealous. She was glad he didn’t have enough vanity for a comb-over. Every marriage had its limits: that was hers. Mrs. Drew swallowed as bitterness filled her. She couldn’t believe once she yearned for this tub of lard. Once upon a time the gates to the princess were guarded with words of Scripture more secure than the gates to Heaven. Within, the princess craved any adventure—even the adventure offered by a khaki-colored personality of a man. As she suffered through the birth of their first daughter, she realized all the pomp about love and sanctity of vows was a load of bull. Money. That’s all there was to marriage. Mrs. Drew didn’t have to work a day in her life—Mr. Drew was the sole provider for the Drew family and she was more than happy to leave it that way. She played the role of “mom” well and cared for his disgusting mother, and he brought home the sole delights in her life.
Mrs. Drew smiled into her hand. Not the sole happiness, but—as Mrs. Drew glanced up her eyes met the gaze of the youngest Drew, Abigail, sitting across from her. Abigail’s brown eyes were glazed as if she hadn’t woken up yet. Mrs. Drew looked away as Mr. Drew’s mother opened her mouth.
“Arthur Andrew Drew, what did I tell you about whiskin’ the batter? Can’t get it right to save your sorry life, that’s for damn sure.” A wet, sucking sound followed. Mrs. Drew grabbed her orange juice to not be witness to the display. “Batter bits stick to my gums.”
Grandma Drew was an unhappy tumor on the Drew family. Everyone treated her with a delicate, wide girth as if she were an infectious disease. The two women spent most of the day together cooped up in the three-story suburban home. The elder spent all day drooling in front of the TV with an insurance-covered nurse poking her nose in now-and-then. Mrs. Drew had much more important things to do than wipe the wrinkled backside of a snobby old hag. Considering she smelled as if she wore a full diaper every day, the nurse didn’t like her either.
“Dad, can you pass the syrup?” asked Abigail. As Mr. Drew passed the bottle over, Mrs. Drew glanced at her oldest daughter.
A seed of satisfaction settled in her stomach as she appraised Kenzie. Beautiful, no doubt, but also a good head on her shoulders and talent to boot. She was the pride of Mr. Drew’s eyes.
Mrs. Drew smirked as she stood from the dining room table. She carried her plate into the kitchen where every inch of counter space was covered in Mr. Drew’s mess from making brunch. Kenzie followed behind her.
“What’re your plans for the day, Kenzie?” asked Mrs. Drew as she levelled Kenzie with a smile.
Kenzie kept her eyes on her plate as she placed it in the sink. “I’ve got a project for my AP history class to finish.”
“Don’t forget to take a break now and then. No need to work yourself to exhaustion.”
Kenzie nodded as Abigail entered the kitchen. Abigail looked between Kenzie and Mrs. Drew in question. Mrs. Drew left the kitchen, passed the family dog asleep outside of the kitchen doorway, and moved upstairs to her bedroom separate from Mr. Drew. Her phone lit up as she entered the bedroom. Messages and missed calls from Daniel. She would make an excuse when she got to the appointment. Mrs. Drew smiled at her reflection and fixed her curls. She looked fantastic for forty—and these natural good looks with no work done! As she grabbed her Michael Kors purse, she imagined placing Kenzie’s positive test where Mr. Drew would see it. She didn’t want to miss his reaction though. She laughed and left the room.
Kenzie ate her pancakes in small bites. She didn’t want to worsen the nausea, but she had to eat. Her dad’s pride were the pancakes he made every Sunday. He made enough for everyone to eat at least two. Kenzie never liked pancakes, but she ate them without complaint. Around her, the sound of silverware on plates chinked and clanged as if it were a secret conversation.
“Arthur Andrew Drew, what did I tell you about whiskin’ the batter? Can’t get it right to save your sorry life, that’s for damn sure. Batter bits stick to my gums.”
Kenzie forced her mind to escape to the last Instagram post she made instead of the spit and food as it rained down on her and her plate. Kenzie’s grandma made any situation worse. It was always about some new ache or pain or another cry for attention. Couldn’t she understand no one wanted her there and the best way to get by was to keep your head down? She liked attention though, Kenzie knew. It was similar to the “likes” on her posts online—Kenzie liked the attention too, at least when she controlled what was seen.
“Dad, can you pass the syrup?” asked Abigail.
Their dad passed the syrup bottle with a frown on his face. Kenzie turned to Abigail, but turned away when she saw Abigail pour the syrup onto her scrambled eggs. Their dad looked as sick as she felt. It didn’t surprise her. Abigail had a habit of making their dad suffer. Kenzie didn’t bother trying the “big sister” role—Abigail didn’t want it and neither did she. They were complete opposites in looks and personalities. Abigail was the type of person who questioned everything and argued for the sake of arguing. A true internet troll brought to life. If Kenzie could’ve blocked her in real life as she had on all social media platforms, she would have done it a long time ago.
Kenzie looked at her dad as he chewed. She could remember a time when he had more hair than worry lines. He never cared about his appearance, but for the last week he looked like a robot wearing a fat-skin suit. Being fired broke something in him. She didn’t understand why it bothered him so much. He needed to look for another job. She’d seen him, dressed for work as usual, sitting in his car across the street from his work building. She’d thought he followed her to the clinic, but he didn’t even turn his head. Just stared at the unassuming grey building.
Kenzie looked up when her mom stood. With the silent approval to leave the table, Kenzie followed her into the kitchen.
“What’re your plans for the day, Kenzie?” her mom asked. Her mom’s make-up and designer blouse said she wasn’t saying in the house today—what a surprise.
She spouted something about school work. Lying was the one thing Kenzie could rely on—no one, not teachers, coaches, or her own parents questioned her. They knew she’d never step out of the red line of her obligations.
Abigail had followed them into the kitchen. She gave Kenzie a questioning look, but Kenzie shoved passed her. As always, she would figure it out by herself.
The scrambled eggs were salty. Eating them—chewing the rubbery bits—was like eating some soggy chips. Why were they so salty?
“Dad, can you pass the syrup?” Her voice sounded strange. Far away and scratchy. Like an old walkie-talkie in a tunnel.
The syrup was in her hand. It meandered onto the yellowed lumps. The slow cascade of the amber sweetness filled her vision. Once the syrup decorated the egg mounds like a river through hills, Abigail took a bite.
It was awful. She ate more. Slower and slower, buying time until someone else left the table. Food in mouth meant no talking. Small bites, long chewing. Avoid eyes—avoid her dad altogether. Her head hurt. She longed for the sanctity of her room. Her bed was her haven, her pillows her temple, and the pills under her pillow her savior.
Abigail dared a glance as her mom stood. Kenzie stood a second later and the two left the dining room to the kitchen. Moving while aware of Big Brother’s scrutiny, she followed after them.
So engrossed in her movements Abigail missed the conversation. She looked between Kenzie’s ducked head and their mom’s stiff smile—did Kenzie know about Daniel?
Kenzie pushed passed and her mom left the kitchen after giving Abigail a strained smile that didn’t meet her eyes. She placed her plate in the sink wondering why she woke up this morning.
Hell isn’t where you go when you die; it’s where you’re stuck when you’re old, the elder Mrs. Drew thought.
She surveyed the other Drew members with an attitude of a merchant appraising goods. All shit. Not worth a single penny. Each one of them messed up some way.
Her son faced her in his slumped, pathetic form, for instance, got fired from the job he’d had for the last twenty-six years. She knew he didn’t do anything to get fired, but he didn’t do anything about it either. His wife—the gold-digger—was having another affair. The elder Drew didn’t mind the affairs, but did they have to always come to this house just to go at it like animals? The TV speakers didn’t turn up enough.
Her granddaughters sat at her left like two kids with their heads down after a beating. She rolled her eyes. Just as screwed as their parents. One pregnant, the other a druggie. It was a miracle there wasn’t a reality show about them yet.
A gooey piece of powder stuck her gums together—batter chunks. “Arthur Andrew Drew, what did I tell you about whiskin’ the batter? Can’t get it right to save your sorry life, that’s for damn sure.” She’d swear on a bible her son wanted to kill her. She stuck her finger in her mouth to pick. “Batter bits stick to my gums.” She knew in his heart of hearts, he cared for his inheritance and she was just a means to an end.
She complained of aches as she left the table for effect. She felt fine—better than fine since the Sunday paper had the race results in it. Who was she to care if she gambled away all the money to her name? None of them deserved a penny from her. Between the way they lived and the way they treated her, it was comforting for her to imagine them all in the dirt. Pity she was to go first.
Indeed Hell is here, she thought as she read the race results, and it ain’t cheap.
His eyes were heavy. He couldn’t see very far in front of him. He didn’t think he could stand even if the doorbell rang.
His people, his beautiful family, they were in the room he couldn’t go. The room with the food and amazing smells. He couldn’t smell anymore, but he remembered. As always, when they gathered together in that room, he laid just outside on guard and at the ready.
He couldn’t open his eyes. He was so tired. He wanted to see them one more time. He needed to see them. He wanted to stay for more walks, more belly-rubs and ear scratches, and for more fetch and treats. It’d been a long time since they’d played fetch. That was when the girls were tiny enough to ride on his back.
He wanted to stay.
The amount of food wasted by these disgusting pigs of fat and flesh—did they not understand the boon of wonderful delights they had at their grubby fingertips?
He dived into the sweet, tantalizing syrup to claim his own, his food, his—
Kris Summerson is a recent graduate and a freelance editor. She is working on her first young adult fantasy novel.
© 2020, Kris Summerson