A hush descended over the room.
She had been growing increasingly embarrassed about her father as the meal progressed. The early dinner crowd in full force provided a fair amount of din, but not enough to completely muffle his rather divisive political opinions, which only progressed in offensiveness along with his whiskey intake. Dinner out with the family was never a pleasant prospect for a teenager who was bound to be ignored throughout the meal, but Sam felt this discomfort more acutely than most.
He had been directing his bon mots in his brother’s general direction, and her uncle and had been fairly agreeing with him, but not quite so vigorously. Or loudly. She didn’t know how her mother could stand it, but she appeared to be absorbed in a conversation with her aunt, something about variations on a family recipe for goulash, of all things.
She subconsciously slid a little deeper into her chair with each topic he covered. He barely acknowledged her presence anyway, so if she disappeared under the table he might not notice.
Abortion? Those sluts deserve the consequences of sleeping around.
Taxes? Why should the government take his hard-earned money so some crack whore on welfare could spit out six kids and live on his dime?
Gun control? What the U.S. needed was more guns on the street to show those socialist pricks who was in charge of this country.
Gay rights? Faggots don’t need anymore rights than they already have – they need a good beating.
At the word “faggots,” the sound of silverware dropping on plates clanged around the room in a dissonant chorus. Thirty sets of eyes frowned in their direction. Her mother and aunt didn’t seem to notice, but Sam’s cheeks deepened to roughly the color of pomegranates, and she silently pleaded with the other diners, “Don’t judge me by what he says. You don’t get to pick your father.”
Oblivious to the sudden urge of the entire restaurant to drop their silverware in sync, he plowed along, simultaneously shoving another bite of swordfish in his mouth and enumerating a list of why the gay population in the U.S. of A. needed to have a swift kick to the ass. She found she could no longer keep it in.
“Dad, could you be a little quieter, you’re embarrassing,” she mumbled, almost hoping he wouldn’t hear.
Now it was his turn to drop his silverware. Piercing her with a frigid expression, he said, “Excuse me, young lady? I wasn’t speaking to you. And what have I told you about mouthing off?”
It happened quickly, like it always did: the reach of the arm, the snap of the hand, her head flying backwards, the familiar numbing of the teeth and cheek.
The time she had forgotten to pick up the dog poop in the backyard, and he had tracked it into the house.
The time when she was eight and she had knocked her milk across the dinner table. To this day she still cringed at the phrase “crying over spilt milk.”
The time when he had come home drunk after his weekly baseball game and knocked over her grandmother’s antique candy dish. It hadn’t even broken, and she hadn’t even said anything. When tears started pouring down her face he got angry with her for crying.
A hush descended over the room.
This time, as the tears traveled their familiar path, she found that she hardly noticed she was the object of the gazing thirty sets of eyes. Her vision had sharpened to a focus on one person only.