Home > A Head Full of Ghosts(11)

A Head Full of Ghosts(11)
Paul Tremblay

Marjorie grunted a laugh and twisted her fork, entangling it deep in her red spaghetti.

“This isn’t technically a dinner table, Dad. It’s just a kitchen table,” I said, proud to have found a loophole in this grace thing. I was good at finding loopholes.

Mom said, “Why are you bringing this up now?”

Dad held up his surrender hands and stammered through a nonexplanation. “No reason. Just thought it would be nice, you know? Just a nice family thing to do at dinner.”

Mom said, “It’s fine,” in that way of hers that meant it wasn’t fine. “But starting a new dinner tradition is a big deal. It’s something we can all discuss later.”

I said, “Yeah, we can have a family meeting about grace.” Big family decisions and to-do’s were supposed to be discussed during family meetings. Generally, we only seemed to have family meetings to share bad news, like when Grampy died and our dog Maxine had to be put to sleep. Or we had meetings to try to enact a new set of chores for Marjorie and me. Democracy was a pretense in those new-chores family meetings, where Marjorie and I would get the honor of choosing from a list of options that never included anything we really wanted to do, like sit on the couch, watch TV, read books, make up stories. The meetings never quite worked out the way any of us wanted them to.

Dad said, “That’s a fantastic idea, Miss Merry.” He loudly sucked in one long piece of spaghetti for my entertainment.

“I think it’s a bad idea.” Marjorie managed to hide most of her face behind her untied hair and her oversized sleeves.

“You always say my ideas are bad!” I said, looking to pick a fight. I patted my leg to make sure I still had Marjorie’s confession letter in my front jeans pocket. I hadn’t been able to analyze it with my cardboard laptop yet, but no matter. I had written proof that she’d been sneaking into my room and stealing things. I would surely use it if she continued being mean to me.

Mom said, “Relax, Merry, she’s not talking about you.”

“So, what’s a bad idea, Marjorie? Please, explain,” Dad said. We knew he was angry because he was obviously trying to act not angry.

“All of it.”

Mom and Dad shared a look across the table. Marjorie had managed to get my parents on the same team again.

“Did you have practice today?”

“Nice change of subject, Dad.”

“What? I’m just asking.”

“I had an appointment.”

“Oh. Right. Sorry.” Dad’s not-anger deflated instantly, and he shrank in his chair. “How did that go?”

I had no idea at the time what they were talking about, which made me very nervous.

“Just awesome.” Marjorie didn’t change her posture or position, but her voice lessened and drifted far away, like she was on the verge of sleep. But then she turned to me and said, “Dad wants us to say grace so that we’ll all go to heaven someday.”

I patted her letter again and made a mental note to tighten the security in my room. Perhaps I could put baby powder on the floor around the door to track any footprints that weren’t mine.

Dad said, “That’s not fair. Now look, Mom’s right, we can talk about this later—”

“Rub-a-dub-dub, thanks for the grub,” Marjorie said, then scooped half of her spaghetti into her mouth, comically distending her cheeks with pasta, but no one was laughing. Spaghetti and sauce leaked out of her mouth, down her chin, and onto her plate.

Mom and I said, “Marjorie, don’t be disgusting,” and “Ew, gross,” at the same time.

“Hey, listen, I’ve always tried to respect you guys and not force my beliefs on you, so—”

“By trying to get us to say grace, right?”

“So!—You will respect mine!” Dad’s volume escalated until it was louder than his drumming hands had been earlier. Dad had a bullhorn hidden inside his chest, one that rattled the walls and shook the foundation. He put his head down and harpooned his pasta.

I couldn’t read Mom. Usually she’d get all over Dad for yelling and he’d be quick to apologize to us all. In our group silence Mom sat with her hands folded under her chin, and she watched Marjorie.

“Hey, Dad, I actually talked about heaven today. At my appointment.” Marjorie wiped her face with the back of her hand and then winked at me.

Dad had stopped taking me to church when I was four years old. My only memories were of boredom, wooden benches, and the big hill out behind the church on which we used to go sledding. So heaven was this vague, uneasy, almost cartoonish concept, a confusing cultural mashup of puffy clouds, harps, winged angels, golden sunlight, a giant hand that may or may not belong to a giant man with a flowing white beard named God. It was this exotic place kids at school would sometimes talk about, telling me their dead grandparents or pets were there. I didn’t understand it, what it was, why it was, and I didn’t really want to.

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