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"Slung Stack", short story excerpt

Thursday 6/18/20

We kept it light on Saturday mornings. Those were the home-and-hearth times for our family, especially in summer, especially in June, before the free-form days became something you took for granted. My father would say, “I’ve slung a stack,” and there’d be pancakes on the kitchen table, high-piled and dead-centered on an enamel blue plate in the middle, as though he had measured to make it equidistant from each side.


My brother and I sat facing each other. The pancakes had been made as my mom ran on the paths of the headlands that semi-circled the inner harbor. She’d come in sweaty, but the sweat seemed to dry fast, and she’d drink a cup of coffee like it was cold water. You couldn’t smell the sweat from my mom, but when the window was open there was the sea. The ocean smell and the pancake smell met above the plate on the table and I think they knew their comingling made you feel safe, thus dropping any competition they otherwise might have had for aroma du jour.


When my father said that he had slung a stack, I understood that I heard those words as a child. I was ten, I was eleven, I was whatever I was. I understood they were words for children and the amusement of children. I understood that when I was not a child, I’d hear them differently, if my father still said them, which he might have done for old time’s sake. Or when I was married, should I share with my husband what my father used to say because I wanted my husband to say it, too. Not that I’d ask him, but if he did it on his own, that would be nice. I could wait for the time when I shifted to the other side of hearing. The day might be like any other. The day might not be like any other.


On one of those Saturday mornings when my dad slung stacks, I was annoyed at my brother, Tim. He liked to stick a spoon to his nose before our mother sat down to eat with us. She drank her cup of coffee standing near my dad, the cook clad in his Cape Cod apron from a vacation we’d once taken up north, and we always waited for her. Tim made the spoon stick to his nose so that the part you hold went up into the air, and I did not know how he did that, which bothered me. I was irritated that Tim beat gravity.


There was a knock at the door, off of the kitchen. My father seemed to be expecting it. We didn’t know anything about a guest coming over. I had on boxers and one of Tim’s T-shirts because I had not put away my clothes from the laundry so I would raid his closet. My T-shirt said I was the property of the Atlanta Braves. The words made me think about getting passed around a room of athletes. I had learned the word “chattel” at school.


There were panels of glass in that door so that you could see into where we were eating. My dad walked over to the door and let in a man his own age. He looked diffident. He was embarrassed. I could tell he wanted to say “I’m sorry” a dozen times. He thought he was intruding. He had worked up to this visit. The visit did not come easy. I felt exposed in the boxers but he didn’t look at me much. My mom offered him food. They knew him but from a long way away. They’d known him once, briefly.