‘You washed the shirt. You ironed the shirt. How could you not notice this loose button? It came right off in my hand.”
David, awakened by his father’s angry words, slithered from his room to his safe place under the gate-leg table in the kitchen. He wrapped his arms around his bent knees as the storm of words swirled around him.
“Wear this shirt. I’ll fix that one,” Margaret said.
“You’re damn right, you will,” said William. “Do you think I want the men at work to know what a lazy-good-for-nothing I married?”
David squeezed his knees and wished there had been time to go to the bathroom. His four-year-old bladder throbbed. Through a tiny hole in the tablecloth, he watched his father stomp out of the bedroom crumbling a piece of paper as he walked.
“Since you have so much time on your hands but never seem to get anything done, I have a job for you,” William said as he passed David’s lair and threw the paper under the radiator. “I put a piece of paper under something. I expect that you will clean every inch of the house today. I’d better not find it when I come home.”
William grabbed the metal lunch box with the thermos of coffee, sandwiches, and homemade cookies that Margaret had prepared for him and slammed the door as he left without saying goodbye.
When David could no longer hear his father’s work boots on the gravel, he knew it was safe to come out. Margaret exhaled through a smile as he threw his arms around her thighs and pushed his face into her stomach.
“Are you hungry?” she asked.
“Gotta go,” David said as he ran towards the bathroom.
When David finished, he walked past the oatmeal bubbling on the stove, retrieved the wad, and presented it to his mother. She placed it on a small table next to a dustpan of sweepings. David wondered why she didn’t throw them out but decided that she wanted to show them to his father.
Margaret ran her hand through David’s straight black hair. “You’re so brave. I don’t want you to worry. Mother is fine. Everything is fine. Now, eat your breakfast. We have a busy day.”
David ate and brought the dishes to the kitchen counter. His mother made blueberry muffins, chocolate chip cookies, and three cherry pies. David licked the spatula and helped dry the dishes.
While the baked goods cooled, David followed his mother to the sewing room. She hemmed two dresses for Mrs. Evans, the school teacher. David had watched his mother pin up the hems while Mrs. Evans stood on a chair.
“A modern woman, can’t have her dress down to her ankles,” David had heard Mrs. Evans tell his mother. “It’s 1932 after all.”
David stood next to his mother’s chair, kissed his fingers, and touched each of the five purple spots on his mother’s arm. “Does that make it feel better?” he asked.
“You always make me feel better.”
“Would you tell me a story?”
“What story would you like today?”
“Tell me the one about a good queen.”
“The queen who found a golden treasure chest?”
“Yes, and then she took the little prince far away from the angry king.”
“If you know the whole story, why do you want to hear it again?”
“It makes my heart happy.”
Margaret told the story. Then, while she completed a skirt for the mayor’s wife, David pretended the whir of the treadle sewing machine was the noise his toy car made as he pushed it around the grooves in the rug his mother had braided.
After peanut butter sandwiches and milk, David helped his mother pack the muffins, pies, and most of the cookies into a delivery box. The pink dress, the green dress, and the brown tweed skirt were carefully arranged on hangers. David held his head high and puffed out his chest as he pulled the wagon to help his mother with the deliveries.
“I love the way this skirt flares at the bottom,” said the mayor’s wife. “Could you make a matching jacket? I think it would make a smart outfit.”
“I can get more of the material and I have your measurements. It won’t be a problem,” said Margaret folding the money she received.
At Mrs. Evans’ house, Margaret hung the dresses on the back porch and found an envelope with her name on it under a chair cushion.
“One more stop and we’re done,” Margaret told David as they walked to the coffee shop across from the university.
“Your pastries are selling out. We’d like you to deliver three times a week instead of two,” said Mr. White, the manager.
“I can do that,” said Margaret holding out her hand for the bills he counted into her palm.
At home, David watched his mother hide the money under the pad of her ironing board.
“It won’t be long now David,” said Margaret spreading out the pile of bills to avoid a telltale lump. “Would you like to help with dinner? We’re going to make meatballs.”
“May I have my spaghetti without meatballs?”
“Tonight, you don’t have to eat meatballs. I won’t eat any either. If you’d rather play, I will call you when dinner is ready.”
David got out a storybook and sat in a parlor chair. Margaret opened two jars of sauce that she had canned last year and poured them into a heavy pan. She filled a larger pan with water for the noodles and turned on the stove burners. She shredded the paper wad into a mixing bowl and saturated it with milk. Next she added bread crumbs, onions, seasonings, and the dust from the floor. She plopped the ground beef into the bowl and mixed everything together with both hands. After forming the meatballs, she browned them in a cast iron skillet.
Basil and oregano wafted from the sauce that covered the spaghetti Margaret served her family. She placed the bowl of meatballs in the center of the table. She and David didn’t take any. William didn’t notice.
“These meatballs are very good tonight,” William said as if the morning tirade hadn’t happened. “Did you use a different recipe?”
“I think I might have,” Margaret said, looking him straight in the eye.
Judy Salcewicz has been published in the Kelsey Review, Women’s World Magazine, Horse Network, and Right Hand Pointing. Retiring after four decades of teaching at Notre Dame High School and joining the Lawrence Writer’s Group has helped her reconnect with her passion for writing.