The Mexican restaurant across from my house is short-staffed these days. Their dusty chalk sign directs me to seat myself, and I do, not waiting for the busboy to clear his dishes and crumpled dollars from the near corner table, and ignoring the couples muttering and nudging past me for empty seats near the bar. I eat alone over Thanksgiving, keeping my eyes open and my chin down. My grandfather taught me that when I was twelve, pinching me every time I passed by until I learned to edge around him, skimming my butt against the wet sides of the sink as I went to fetch more rolls. My sister's job during dinner was to bring plastic milk pitchers full of beer from the basement whenever the adults finished off another gallon. The previous year I had mistaken the jugs for apple juice and poured mugs full for my toddler cousins, and was no longer to be trusted. After dinner, we cleared away the dishes while my grandfather told his holiday jokes, which all ended on the same jovial punchline - "those damn darkies." I could see the side of his face reflected in the knife and plate my sister held as she stood over him. He leaned back and looked at her for a moment, then asked for more coffee. Ten years later, and my sister is gone, lost to her studies at a deep-woods Virginia school. My grandfather is dead. Why am I still here, sitting at a dirty table in a busy restaurant, with only other people's dishes to protect me?
return to the study: