It was an ordinary, nothing special dish with waves of rolling milk glass edges and glossy whatnot sitting on an antique coffee table, waiting for someone to send it flying to the hardwood floor.
My brother and I had pushed Mom to her limits that day. She was beyond yelling and had retreated into a silent sanctuary of her own. She resigned control and left us to face Dad’s anger.
Ken had never really been a child. At ten, he was taller than Mom and too beefy to be intimidated by anyone except Dad. My brother, who always caused the trouble at our house, was now doing something permissible. So how was it that I came to be in the living room, tossing a basketball that Mom had ordered put outside? Had Ken been playing so near to the table, nothing would have happened. But I was an uncoordinated nine-year-old the size of a yardstick. After a second toss, the ball slipped from my hands, landed on the table, and rolled toward that unfulfilled candy dish. My efforts to save it only served to tip it over the edge. Small glass fragments went careening across the floor like tiny skaters on ice.
I ran upstairs, seeking refuge behind the yellow comforter that hung over Mom’s bed. The room smelled of stinky hair tonic and Old Spice, the smell of my Dad. Ken’s weathered high tops squeaked around the stairway landing, and I thought I was safe when he walked by the bedroom without stopping. “Mom!” He stood in the hallway, where the sound carried beautifully around the angled stairs and to the first floor. “She’s under your bed!”
I was frantic! It wasn’t just the broken vase. The vase was old, and knowing our financial situation, probably cheaply bought. It had been empty since the first day I saw it, but it was one of the few decorative items my mother owned.
I had already exceeded any chance of forgiveness for the day. I lay there with a nauseous feeling that comes from having said hateful words that cannot be taken back, or taunting the withered, hunched-over lady at church. Again, I’d committed an unpardonable sin. How could there be so many of them?
I scampered from room to room, from closet to closet, for most of the afternoon. Each time Ken would watch from the corner of the stairs and inform everyone within the sound of his nearly bass voice about my whereabouts.
By late afternoon, I was sitting on my bed, with the door slightly ajar. There was nothing left but to endure my portion. It was then I realized the anticipation of punishment was far worse than the actual event. A pick-up truck roared in the driveway. Dad was home! And Ken had planted himself on the sofa near the doorway.
Given the long interval of silence, I knew that Mom and Dad were conferring. Then came the slow, steady stride of greasy work boots. He didn’t come all the way to my room at the back of the hallway. Instead, turning into Ken’s room, I heard the whine of my brother’s four-poster bed and knew Dad was looking out the window to the west. “Deb.” He always called to us in such a calm voice. “Deb, come over here.”
He never turned to look as I walked around the edge of the bed. “Come here. I want to show you something.” Holding out strong arms for me to sit on his lap, he lifted me to see over the fan in the window and whispered, “Have you ever seen a rainbow as big and beautiful as that one?”
Whether the fan was blocking my view or because I was trembling inside is uncertain, but I don’t remember the rainbow. The subject of the dish didn’t come up while my dad and I sat and talked about what was beyond the window. Nor was my offense ever mentioned again. Maybe my parents refused to award my brother the pleasure of my punishment. Perhaps it was just Dad’s way of saying, “You’re more important to us than a shiny bowl.”
It wasn’t until after all the kids had grown and moved away from home that Mom and Dad freely spoke the words, “I love you.” But there was never any doubt in my mind.