Almost imperceptible witticisms

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Week 2: The Missing Stair
It's best not to want anything from the kitchen when my father is cooking. He slams the cupboard doors and clangs the pots and stomps on the brown linoleum flowers underfoot. He fills up the whole room with a fug of irritability. If you go to the sink, it's bound to be just when he needs water. If you open the fridge, he'll trip over you. Wherever you stand, you'll surely be exactly where he's looking for the cheese grater. He'll growl at you as you scurry away.

To be fair, in our house, there's no consensus on where the cheese grater is kept. It might be on the counter by the cookie jar or it might be in the warming oven or in the upper pantry cupboard or in the lower pantry cupboard or in the cupboard under the lazy susan along with the onions and the molasses and the vinegar. Looking for it is irritating. But my father's mood goes beyond that. He's cranky whether or not there's cheese in a recipe.

On this particular night, he's frying haddock, with mashed potatoes and yellow beans on the side. My sister Emily comes into the kitchen just as the food is being dished out onto mismatched plates. I don't feel like fish, she says, I'll make something.

Fine, my father grits out as he slaps down a spoon into the smooth potatoes. Fine, don't eat it.

There's a flash of suppressed rage that lingers like the smell of burning electrical wires that you get when your computer's power cord burns. A spark and an acrid scent. Anger is like that, in our house.

My father storms out of the kitchen and down the stairs, just as the rest of us sit down to supper. My sisters and I look at each other across his abandoned mound of mashed potatoes.

I just wanted a sandwich instead of fish, says Emily.

It's okay, says Joanne, he's always cranky when he's hungry.

Call him back, says my mother.

I say nothing, but I think about how it's always been this way. My father igniting in anger for reasons no one can understand or predict. A misplaced can of corned beef, a toy left on the floor where he'll step on it, a daughter who disagrees: sometimes this rolls off him and sometimes it provokes him to snap and roar and sulk. Anger is an uncertain thing to live with, when you never know the triggers.

If you don't eat the fish, you don't appreciate his work. If you don't appreciate his work, you don't love him.

I think about myself and my sisters, how we struggle with workplace anxiety and abusive exes and social phobias and dreary depressions. None of us function quite right.

As a boy his own father beat him with a leather belt. In anger, not just as a stern disciplinarian following the parenting wisdom of that by-gone age. In anger. In turn he never laid a blow on any of his daughters. Instead he taught us how to snare rabbits and hunt for shed snake skins, how to shoot a bow and arrow, how to throw a punch properly, how to count the rings of a tree to tell its age.

He can't teach us how to untangle the mess each generation makes of the next.

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"He can't teach us how to untangle the mess each generation makes of the next."


In a week full of good ending lines, the: He can't teach us how to untangle the mess each generation makes of the next. really sticks out.

Nicely done.

This is an insightful examination of "anger". I really thought this line after the preceding was perfect - Anger is like that, in our house. . The narrator has fantastic perception and it's this gentle voice that makes the piece work so well. Nice job.

Thanks! Anger is on my mind, both how it's expressed and how it's reacted to.

Do you ever felt physically unsafe when he is angry (whether he ever laid a finger on you or not)?

This is very vivid.

Never. But there're definite emotional consequences.


My dad is bipolar and he is often angry for no conceivable reason. I know how difficult this can be.

Bipolar is a tough one. Apparently men are more likely to have irritability as a symptom of depression. Most parents try their best, i hope, but throw mental illness into the mix and sometimes the best is just...not good.

Succinct (which I always admire in writing.) Your information flow, the way you work from the specific to the general, is very strong.

Thank you for the feedback!

fantastic last line.

Yes, this way - he can't untangle it just as though before him that taught him the ways can't. I feel like there's a lot on the shoulders of this generation to figure out how to break the patterns and change things. So very difficult to do when it's in your blood.

Talking about it is a step forward, I hope.

This is very familiar to me.

Wonderful conclusion to this story, and so much great description of the damage caused by living with an angry, temperamental person. Not knowing what will set them off almost makes it worse.

This. It's like you constantly have to tiptoe around it, and then when you're no longer in that situation, it doesn't feel quite right if something isn't about to blow up at any second.

Anger is a scary thing, especially when you can't predict it. Hopefully, your father will get some help so his anger can at least be managed better.

This was, as usual, a very well-written entry. Thank you for sharing.

"He's cranky whether or not there's cheese in a recipe." made me laugh out loud :)

It's interesting to see the POV of the daughters here. My mother and aunts were actually just having a discussion about kids being picky eaters and how parents shouldn't enable them--either you eat what's put in front of you or you go hungry. But once kids are old enough to say 'no thank you, I'll make my own sandwich', there's gotta be some leeway there. So I wonder if that's part of the generational conflict?

He can't teach us how to untangle the mess each generation makes of the next.

Best ending line I've read so far. :)

Like everyone else said, god, that ending line.

I really enjoyed the poignancy of this post. It has a depth I wanted to be explored further, because the use of fictive techniques was well done.

"He can't teach us how to untangle the mess each generation makes of the next" The line said it all. Wonderful!!

As with others, I love the ending. That said, this post hits uncomfortably close to home.

That ending line just gets you!

I really enjoyed this. You've captured the complicated family dynamic super well.

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