A PAIR OF SOCKS
Maddie pokes around in the refrigerator with one hand and, with the other, scratches the back of her leg at the hem of her nightgown. She has mismatched socks—one yellow with a white ribbon, one red with Christmas trees. I pat my pockets for my phone, but I’m in pajamas. The phone is upstairs, charging. Too bad, it would have made a cute picture—not that she’d ever let me share it.
“I’m starving,” she says. “I didn’t like that spaghetti squash.”
As I move through the kitchen to the stovetop light, I compose a status update about the sadness of a father’s rejected spaghetti squash. The shame, the disappointment, the squashiness. I switch on the light.
Maddie turns and sets a plastic tub on the counter then catches the refrigerator door before it closes. She takes out one of the green wine bottles we use to chill water. I frame an imaginary photo of the island’s tile countertop with the blurred green spout of the bottle in the foreground and the Tupperware and a stack of junk mail in crisp focus. Beyond them, the haze of the kitchen bleeds into shadows around the dining room table.
“Puberty sucks,” Maddie says, and she places a cast iron pan on the stove. The burner clicks and blossoms into yellow flame. She looks at me. “What?”
I take a brown banana from the fruit basket and peel it. Then I point at her feet. She drops her gaze and smiles—another perfect pic, forever lost. She drizzles olive oil into the pan.
“You look worried,” she says. “Or mad. Are you mad?”
I bite the top of the banana. It’s soft, too full of flavor. I sift the flesh through my teeth, swallow, and make a mental note to search for an article on the chemistry involved in the changing flavor of a ripening banana.
Maddie pries open the plastic tub and pours the chicken curry into the pan. I eat another bite of banana. She opens the cupboard and takes down two glass tumblers, which she fills with water. She sets one in front of me. I slide it back from the edge of the counter. She shakes her head.
“Couldn’t sleep,” she says. “My tummy was growling.”
She gives my cheek a quick peck and turns away to stir the curry. She smells like shampoo. The scents of coriander, cumin, olive oil, and turmeric rise from the pan.
“I’m OK,” she says. “Nothing really happened.”
I take a third bite of banana, and it’s too much. I spit the bite into the sink and run cold water to help the garbage disposal. As it grinds away, Maddie sighs behind me. It’s odd, the way her sigh cuts through the din. I try to take stock of her Facebook posts from recent days, searching for clues. She’s had volleyball, the SAT and Zac Efron on her mind, as far as I can recall. She scrapes chicken curry from the pan onto a plate.
“Want some?” she asks. I wave her off, and she scoops out the last of the curry. “If you’re going to grill me about it, don’t bother.”
I stand there and try to figure out what “it” could be, what grilling I should be doing, what questions won’t shut her down.
She gets out yogurt and spoons it onto her curry then plucks a sprig of cilantro from the windowsill planter, tears the leaves, and sprinkles pieces on her yogurt. Then she stirs it all up.
I go to the utility drawer and take out the quarter-inch Allen wrench, while Maddie stands at the island and eats. I flip all six dining room chairs onto the table. They’ve grown loose and wobbly.
When I finish, they’re sturdy, and Maddie is done with her curry. She puts her plate in the dishwasher then rinses the pan and positions it on the drying rack. She puts the plastic tub back in the refrigerator then takes a deep breath and turns to me.
“He didn’t touch me, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
I put the wrench in the drawer and wipe my beard on my sleeve.
“OK,” she says, “fine. He tried something. But I wouldn’t let him. Can we just not have him over to the house anymore?”
I hold out my arms for a hug, but she says goodnight and walks upstairs.
So I pour scotch into a glass. The clock says it’s past one. I get a clean towel from the drawer and wipe the sink dry. Maddie comes back down and sits on the bottom step. She watches me put away the olive oil, the saltshaker, and the yogurt. I set the water bottle in the sink and the spatula in the dishwasher. Then I switch off the stovetop lamp. Moonlight seeps through the windows. I sit by Maddie on the bottom step and put an arm around her. She wipes her face on my shirt.
“Don’t say anything,” she says. “I mean, nothing happened. He just made me uncomfortable. I stood up for myself. You’d be proud.”
I go to the laundry room and come back with the other red sock with Christmas trees. I kneel, lift her foot, remove her yellow sock, and slide the red one over her foot and around her ankle. When I’m done, she raps her knuckles on my sternum and relaxes again. I sit beside her, and she leans into my chest. After a while her breath slows. A column of moonlight angles down from the stairwell window. The silver light cuts across Maddie’s legs. Her knees shine like dinner plates, and her feet fade into the shadows.
Eric Bosse is the author of Magnificent Mistakes, a story collection published by Ravenna Press. His work has appeared in The Sun, Zoetrope, Wigleaf, The Collagist, Frigg, Fiddleblack, World Literature Today, and Matter Press. He teaches writing at the University of Oklahoma.