Someone Else's Family
I became a stranger for 10 minutes. The sentimental boarder in an active household. No one took much notice of me in the kitchen as I microwaved some leftovers and ate without sitting down. From the aesthetically distasteful display of jello-like cubes on the counter, I gathered that one of the children must have been doing some sort of science experiment. I hoped it wasn’t destined to be eaten. I appreciated the turkey and roast beef sandwich bake I was eating, though inadequately heated. The refrigerator and pantry are usually stocked well here, except on grocery-store morning, and my hostess doesn’t mind if I slip downstairs sometimes to avail myself of a bunch of grapes or a package of gummies (not intended for individual sale). She’s sitting over there at the table with the youngest daughter, patiently listening to her eager chatter, and I hear snatches of conversation which confuse me. Something about ‘bald wigs’ for bald movie characters, in particular. But I don’t absorb much of the context of that snippet, because the piano is in the next room, and the middle daughter is conducting the blended strands of ‘Forrest Gump’ out of the instrument’s wooden heart with nimble fingers. As I muse, she switches to a piece unfamiliar to me, which wafts up to the high white ceilings and continues to obfuscate the threads of house life and disguise my active mental narrative. I’m not sure where the father of the house is at the moment, but his young male progeny is adding to the general conglomeration of sights and sounds by wiggling in his highchair and trying to direct everyone’s attention to his most intriguing person. A few minutes later I rinse out my glass and glimpse him tearing out of the kitchen, pudgy bare feet tapping the tile floor.
I have a family at home and I think they’re something like this one, but I never observe their inner workings very closely, because I guess I’m farsighted. Being a stranger here makes everything stand out with stark detail… admonitions to ‘put the iron away’ and ‘finish the laundry’ and ‘feed the dog’ blend with the wildflowers next to the metal sink and the incessant invisible influence of a few leftover cardboard boxes from a recent move, and the good-natured rolling of someone’s eyes. I watch people a lot at gas stations and airports, and they’d probably be disturbed if they knew I was wondering whether they liked to climb trees or go sailing, or if that half-hopeful expression of anxiety on their face meant that they were waiting for someone special to text them back. But if they’re very much disturbed, they can go home where they’ll be safe from anyone’s pondering. No one watches his family.
Except perhaps the child who plays outside until dark, and then holds the magnifying glass of imagination to her eyes and looks at the fresh lighted windows of her house with a pretend lonesome hunger, followed by a welcome shiver as she smiles and enters with confidence.
Except perhaps the working man who comes home early from a business trip to surprise his wife, and sneaks in the door and around the corner with a boyish excitement.
Except perhaps the teenaged daughter who dons a mental disguise and a pair of reading glasses belonging to a sentimental boarder, and eats lunch quietly at the suddenly-unfamiliar counter.