Miriam, whom Joey Skizzen thought of as his mother, Nita, began to speak about the family’s past only after she decided that her husband was safely in his grave. His frowns could silence her in midsentence; even his smiles were curved in condescension, though at this time in his absence, her beloved husband’s virtues, once admitted to be many, were written in lemon juice. He had a glare to bubble paint, she said. Her recollection of that look caused hesitations still. She would appear alarmed, was as if she saw something gnatting near her face, and stutter to a stop. Joey was helped to remember how, at suppertime, for only then was the family gathered as a group, the spoon would become still in his father’s soup, his father’s head would rise to face the direction of the offending remark, his normally placid look would stiffen, and fires light in his eyes. His stare seemed unwilling to cease, although it probably was never held beyond the lifetime of a minute. But a minute…a minute is so long. Certainly it continued until his daughter’s or his wife’s uneasy expression sank into the bottom of her bowl, and the guilty head was bowed in an attitude of apology and submission.
When the soup was a clear broth, as it often impecuniously was, Joey could occasionally see his face floating in a brown dream, and he thought of his mother’s real self submerged in a brown dream too, beyond the reach of life. His father sent his spoon to the bottom, and they could hear it scrape as he ladled, faster and faster as the level dropped. He was a noisy eater because he felt noise signified relish and appreciation. Whenever a meal was especially skimpy, Yankel, as he insisted he was, slurped his soup, he sucked his teeth and he exclaimed Aaah! after a set of swallows. When they had bread, he would strenuously rend it just above the surface of the soup so that flecks of crust would fall as snot might on a pond. Then he’d allow the torn piece to follow after, his hands aiming it somewhat like a bomb. His father would watch the hunk slowly tan, gradually sog, and finally sink. Joseph knew he had to finish his bowl, whose basin would have to seem licked, but he hated to put his own implement down there in the dream and see it thrust though his own moist eye or quivery cheek because down there his thin bit of all-purpose tableware suddenly became his father’s wide one, ready to scoop up his nose or chin and inhale him spoon by spoon the way, later, he read that the Titan who was called Saturn had swallowed his children.
–by William H Gass