Roy is struggling to stay awake in the chair when he is stirred awake by a familiar sound. A heavy oven door opens, its metal hinge sends a deep wave through the room. An unseen pan, (bearing meatloaf) scrapes against the rack as it is pushed into the center of the chamber. It is always an unpleasant sound, be it Pyrex or porcelain. Roy moves ever so slightly in his chair to try to ease himself back to consciousness.
He hears the sound of running water come from the master bedroom. Heather is running the sink, presumably washing her hands.
The pipes give a quiver as the spigot is closed.
A moment passes and the door opens; Heather enters the room.
“Hey.” she says in Roy’s general direction.
Roy and Heather have never been unfriendly toward each other, but there is a feeling of intense distance between the two of them. From time to time, she tries to give him the moniker “Dad” but it always comes out forced and inaccurate, like someone failing to roll an ‘R’. Today she didn’t try any pet-names.
She walks through the side of the center room toward the kitchen to check on her mother-in-law, a move of social subservience. Another day she might have asked whether the older woman needed her help with anything in the kitchen, but today she was feeling unwell, so she had a pass to be silent.
She draws herself a cup of lukewarm coffee and sits down at the table. Six chairs were pushed under the rectangle and in the center was a napkin holder accompanied by salt and pepper shakers.
The women refrain from chatter as Heather sips her coffee with purpose. Roy soon falls back into unconsciousness.
When Roy next wakes, it is Charlotte who he first realizes. She chuckles, she is held aloft, seated snugly in a plastic chair on the floor. She is pushing colored toys back and forth, staring intently at each. Her mother has placed her facing toward her seat at the kitchen table. She leafs through a magazine.
Roy tries to keep quiet as he stirs to life. He can’t see or hear Shirley, but the news still babbles in the background; she very well could be sitting on a chair in the kitchen watching it.
He looks at the baby. Her head is dusted with fine, pale hair. Her shirt is pale yellow, cut off at the shoulders, where her plump arm emerges. Every so often an idle hand is thrust out to the side, fingers clenched in a fist.
The oven clicks.
Roy shifts in an attempt to unfurl a pain.
“What time is it?” He throws the question to the room.
Heather looks toward him but her mouth is still closed in serious neutrality when the corner speaker answers the question.
“The time is 4:34 PM.”
Roy is surprised to hear the synthesized voice. He looks back toward the origin, as if contemplating an expression of gratitude. But it seems silly.
Heather’s voice rings out clearly: “Jake should be home soon. I’m sure he’s on the road now.”
Roy says nothing. He looks around the room. It has the irritating abundance of shadows common in the early fall. He dares not touch a light, who knows which of them is strung up in some invisible network. If he tries to touch a switch, he wonders, it’ll send some secret notification to Jake’s phone. (Unwarranted light usage! Shall we turn it off, sir?)
The room is held in awkward silence. He decides to attempt communion with the little girl in the yellow shirt. He realizes it’s been weeks since he’d seen her.
Roy walks over toward the girl, approaching delicately, trying not to cause any alarm. The twofold glass door is on his right, messily covered with a gossamer fabric. He feels Heather’s gaze upon him.
Getting down on the floor is no easy task for Roy anymore. He must take it carefully and slowly to avoid seizing muscles that won’t relax for hours. Or he’d have to take some pills to wash the pain away – but those always gave him chemical burps.
He slowly lowers one knee to touch the ground, trying to push as little weight on it as possible. His strong leg stays on a squat. Charlotte is absorbed in her toys and barely notices him. She is pushing a set of beads strung on a plastic tube – back and forth, back and forth.
“Hey, little one.”