Stepdad says, Call me Dad, but I already learned how to ride a bike. Stepdad kisses Mom hello. Stepdad kisses Mom goodbye. Stepdad has a big wet mustache. Stepdad says Mom’s biscuits break teeth but chucks five between his big red lips.
Stepdad watches a hundred channels. Stepdad doesn’t hear us talking or his dog barking. He doesn’t see his dog biting. Fat flows from Stepdad’s chair onto the dog hair carpet.
Stepdad has a story to tell so we must sit and watch the Stepdad mouth open and close while he tells it. It isn’t easy to cook the Stepdad meal and keep our eyes on the wet Stepdad lips, but Stepdad insists. At dinner, Stepdad scrunches up his nose and pushes away the plate.
Mom rolls her eyes at the Stepdad antics, but she likes a Stepdad to boss around. Stepdad stands in the corner with the mop and the broom and waits for instructions. Vacuum harder, Mom tells him. Stepdad folds laundry and washes dishes. He is a good little dishwasher. Mom lets Stepdad pick the movie and tell her where to store the towels.
Mom is sick in a hospital bed. Stepdad shovels ice chips into Mom’s mouth until Mom’s cheeks bulge like a Mom squirrel. Stepdad eats Mom’s pudding. The Stepdad voice booms and no one sleeps. Stepdad says, What bills should I pay? When does the trash go out? Mom takes off her oxygen mask. Go home. You bother me. Stepdad says, Then I’ll look bad.
Stepdad unplugs IV lines and climbs into Mom’s bed. He turns Mom’s skin white where he squeezes. Mom is a Stepdad heating pad. Stepdad says, You’re getting better. When the nurse wheels Mom away, Stepdad rides with her down the hall.
Now Stepdad lives alone in Mom’s house. Stepdad vacuums and washes dishes. He watches a hundred channels and waxes the mustache above the Stepdad lips. Sometimes the Stepdad dog bites his arm. Stepdad says he likes the way teeth feel on skin. This is how he knows he is alive. When I make him dinner, he scrunches up his nose but eats.
Minette Cummingss Comments
Family dynamics push their way into the sickroom, as they do everywhere else, at a time when people are at their worst: needy and forlorn. Some of my personal experiences of hospital bedside vigils turned into this playful thought experiment.