Opal Brown spit-shined the forks for that evening’s supper. She buffed out all the water stains with a crisp linen napkin. Her silverware needed to sparkle; dinner would be special.
Daddy was home. He’d been off living with some hot-butt trollop for three months. It didn’t last. He’d called that morning asking to come by and “see the girls.” Opal had told him to come around six.
He didn’t know she would make his favorites: pork loin, fried okra, and biscuits. She’d wanted to surprise him. She would put out the special dinnerware, not the cracked and discolored dishes they’d been used to. He’d get the plates and bowls with the silver trim finish – nothing but the best for him, see. She’d even do her hair up all fancy; dab on a little perfume. Just the way he liked.
Opal dressed the girls in their matching Sunday best even though it was a Tuesday.
They’d said they wanted to go live with Daddy, their lips poked out, wounded to be left behind. Opal had stroked their cheeks and said, “He’ll come back. He always do.”
She sat the girls one on either side of the table. Daddy sat at one end and Opal sat opposite.
The smell of peppery-lemon zest with an undertone of seared fat dripping in juices enveloped the room. Opal inhaled the aroma, satisfied. Dinner was done.
She donned her favorite oven mitts; the ones Daddy had given her on her birthday with little frosted cakes along the top, and took out the meat. She set the baking pan in the middle of the small table.
“Mmm,” she said. “Don’t that smell good, y’all?”
The girls and their Daddy stared at one another.
Opal pulled out her chair. She turned on her husband and winked. “Aren’t you glad you came back to us? The house just wasn’t the same without you, was it girls?”
She reached out and grasped one of each of her girls’ hands. The girls’ free hands rested inside their father’s open palms.
Opal wriggled in her chair to get comfortable.
“Now. Let’s all say grace.”
She bowed her head and thanked the Lord heavenly father for the meal they were about to receive, for each of her girls, but most of all, for the return of their daddy. Without him, there was no telling what Opal might do.
She ended her prayer with an “Amen”, then went around serving the food. When finished, she took her place back at the head of the table.
“I don’t want to boast you know, but I think this may be the best dinner I done made yet,” Opal said.
She smiled at her family. Their hands remained joined, but unfeeling; their full plates of food untouched; their eyes glazed over and unseeing.
She’d done good.
Opal stabbed up a forkful of moist meat and popped it in her mouth. She grinned.
Daddy was home. Just like she said he’d be. And that’s where they’d all stay.