Spilt Milk

Ashley Narsu

The peeling lacquer over the wood of the kitchen table was a sore sight. The cracks wormed their way around the entire length of it. It was a real wonder it hadn’t collapsed yet, even though the table always had a sparse amount of food on it. Lis sat on the side facing the window, overlooking the busy street outside her house. All the speeding cars that didn’t pause to think about the fact they were driving through a neighborhood, not a highway.

Lis was only six then; her tiny legs didn’t even scrape the floor. She swung them back and forth as she ate her chicken soup. Mom was at the sink washing dishes, her hands dry and red from hand-washing clothes all day, Monday through Saturday. Michele was sleeping down the hall. There was only one bedroom and the two girls shared it while Bobby slept in his crib next to mom on the living room couch.

“Daddy’s gonna be home soon,” Mom said, without taking her eyes off the dishes. Daddy was a mason. He spent his days laying bricks and building houses. He built the house they lived in then. The brick fireplace was a thing of beauty. Lis slept in front of it once, pretending she was Cinderella.

Lis had finished her soup, but her tummy still growled. 

“Lis, could you go to the front door and see if the milkman came yet?” Mom said. Lis jumped up and ran to unlatch the door. She came back with the crate and placed it on the counter next to the kitchen sink. Lis brought her empty soup bowl to the counter and Mom started washing it.

That’s when the car pulled up in the driveway. They could hear through the open window as Daddy trudged up the dirt driveway to the door and fumbled with his keys. By his footfalls, Lis could tell he was tired. He was always exhausted, always overworked, and always had a sore back. He’d make Lis walk on it sometimes. The door didn’t open for another minute or so. Undoubtedly he was finishing up his cigarette. Daddy smoked way too much. Then again, so did Mom. 

He kicked the dirt off his shoes and opened the door. He gave Lis a hug when he walked in the kitchen, enveloping her in his familiar scent of sweat, smoke, and cologne. 

“Head off to your room now, Lis. I want to talk to Mom,” Daddy said, watching Mom at the sink. She hadn’t looked up when he entered, and she was resolutely staring at the dish in her hands. Lis went through the kitchen door but stayed in the hallway, pressing her ear against the door. 

She could hear them talking in hushed tones. Daddy seemed to be irritated about something. They gradually began to raise their voices. Lis didn’t know what they were arguing about, but she could hear the anger in their voices, the small tremor in Mom’s that meant she was on the verge of tears. Lis’ little sister Michele came out of the room at the end of the hall, rubbing her eyes and wearing tiny slippers under her pajamas. She sat down outside the door, looking up quizzically at her sister, who motioned for her to go back inside. She continued to look resolutely puzzled and Lis just shook her head and crept back through the kitchen door where she darted under the kitchen table, out of sight. Sitting with her legs folded against her chest, Lis watched her parents’ feet from under the table. They were yelling at this point.

Lis saw Daddy’s feet move in one quick motion and heard the clink of the milk bottles in the wooden crate. The next thing she heard was a thud and shatter overhead. Petrified, Lis edged back toward the door. She looked up at the underside of the table and froze.

Little droplets of milk were seeping from the cracks of the table. Falling like icicles in mini streams. Lis watched as every drop of milk emerged, clinging to the wood. Then fell. They covered the underside of the table like pearls, a luxury Lis could only fathom.

Mom was weeping now. Daddy started to back away from the table. Even with a view of just his legs, Lis could see the shame, his tentative movements. He said Mom’s name in a hushed voice. Lis saw her feet swivel back around toward the counter and heard the sink turn on again. Daddy let out the longest sigh. The milk kept dripping.