Table Manners

By: Ivy Decker

I used to think of your chair as something parallel to mine, as if our places at the dinner table were something that made us stable. When we were talking over our bowls of soup that warmed us from the chilling winter weather the year we moved in together, I couldn’t help but look at you and smile. You had your side of the table, and I had mine, but that warm space in the middle made us feel real, like a sort of prototype family. Behind you, all I ever saw was the plain, yellowish apartment wall that I wasn’t allowed to paint a different color. The wall became the frame I pictured you in anytime I thought about you.

On a Tuesday last January, freezing rain fell outside in slushy clumps, making it difficult to see out the window. I was boiling some plain pasta on the stove when you came home from work. You kicked your wet shoes off in a pile beside mine at the door. “I’m in here,” I remember calling to you, as if you couldn’t see me from the living room. I turned around, tempting fate to burn the simple meal simmering on the burner. You shook the water off your old coat and hung it on your peg by the door. My coat was lying haphazard beside my shoes, drenching the carpet for sure, but you hung it up too. In a few short steps you were beside me in the kitchen, shaking drops of rain from your hair at me as I laughed. We carried our dinner to the table where we sat and smiled.

For a while, I tried eating there alone, picturing you in the wooden chair across from me. I felt better imagining you in your frame than imagining you in someone else’s chair. But one day, I stood behind your chair and saw that from where you sat, I was framed by the window. I worried that was how you saw something that pulled you away.

Last Tuesday, you kicked my shoes aside when you tripped over them at the door. “Why don’t you hang up your coat?” you replied to my timid uttering of “Welcome home.” You thanked me for cooking a hot meal, but you didn’t wait for me to accompany you to the table. The sky was cloudy but clear that day. It didn’t really matter that the chicken was dry, because we ate in near silence, and when I did try to smile at you, you only sighed.

The chair looks different without you in it. I’ve taken to eating dinner in the living room when you’re not home. More and more often, there are nights where I can’t bring myself to sit at the table. I’d rather spill soup on the couch than think about why you’re almost never home. The parallel days are long gone, revealing how ironically parallel we were. Always equal but never intersecting. The yellow-backed frame is too empty.

Ivy Decker is a fourth-year English major and creative writing/professional writing minor at The Ohio State University. She is from New Philadelphia, Ohio. She is the Editor-in-Chief of The Sundial Humor Magazine at Ohio State. Her interests include live music, the first three seasons of SpongeBob SquarePants, and the oxford comma.