AMY AND THE KITCHEN WALL by Kathryn Merrifield

The kitchen wall, bordered with a stove and refrigerator and counter tops made a sound barrier
between Amy’s attempt to summon one, if any, of her five children to clear the
dining room table.  What it didn’t do was block the noise that seeped through the walls, and under her skin, choking out
her sanity, pinning her between the concrete slabs of a house.
“You’re weird,” Nate yelled.
Someone belched loudly.  It was Ian, second to the youngest.
Amy’s arm hairs stood on end.  A thud came from the dining room table – the thud and a splat.  More spilt milk or whatever.
“Moooom,” Jane yelled.  “Ian spilled milk again.”
Amy scanned the kitchen – eyes to the large pot of shiny spaghetti set on the stove, the sauce, and meatballs in the skillet with the high rims.
“I want dessert,” Ian yelled.
As he did, Amy walked into the kitchen.
“Nate called me weird,” Lizzy said.
The energy around her pulsed, a frenetic force strong enough to pin her
down, in every way.  She imagined herself some kind of adventure hero, walls closing in on her.  Every night something spilt off the table and onto the floor. Over the table.  Whatever it was, the Kirkland brand of vanilla soy milk, water, Gatorade or some experiment that Ian brought to the table – some mix of baking soda and dirt and liquid soap, which it was this time, she was sure before looking.  Her eyes only registered it, too tired she was to take it away, too resigned to the slightest bit of joy she could find through
her son’s experimental play.
Tendrils of pasta crept over the boys’ plates, red with sauce made from the bottle – something
that not one mother not working out of the home – the expression that made the drudgery of motherhood some kind of consolation prize of, “Oh, yeah…  We’ll count the shit work you do as a job,” –
desecrated the table and a room, clean for approximately twenty minutes between finishing the floors and polished table, and their arrival home.  A tabletop with bins and books and half-finished dinners stopped her in her tracks.
Nate, age five and chestnut hair spiked into faux-hawk, picked up his plate and walked toward the
kitchen, the stream of a spilt concoction from the tabletop directly under his feet that hung above it in a chair, a puddle made a few prints facing toward Amy, who wiped the back of her hand across her mouth, and the red bits of tomato sauce that stuck to the outermost creases.
A Lego Star Wars figure, of the moment, was compressed into the crook between his thumb and
index finger that curled around it while the other fingers held onto the plate.
“Nate,” she yelled.  “What are you doing?”
He looked at her, then, to the half circle imprint set into the meatball, the spaghetti swirled
around the slightly concave plate, flecked with tiny broccoli blossoms.  Chips along the edges of the tableware had become part of their design.  She never noticed them anymore, at least not until they broke.
“I’m finished,” he said.
“You’re walking through the water on the floor, dummy.”
“Jane, stop it.”
“Think,” Amy said to Nate.  She regretted it just after she said it.  He was five.  The loss of that perspective – how little he was – made her angry at herself and then the others.
“I want more spaghetti,” Donny barked.  His high, monotone voice rattled her.
“Donny, shut up.  Please shut up,” Amy said as she took the plate from him.
“You said, shut up,” Jane snickered and exchanged a look with Lizzy.
“Stop!” Amy yelled.
“What?” Nate looked around him.
“You’re walking through that stuff all over the floor.  Just stay there,” she said, and took the plate from him and went to the kitchen where she soaked a kitchen towel under water, slow to turn warm.
“Don’t call me an idiot,” Lizzy said.
Amy walked into the dining room, around the wall that closed in on her.  It was a supporting wall to the structure of
their little house with five kids.  She pressed the palm of her hand on her belly as she knelt to the hardwood floor.
“Pick your feet up,” she said.
When he didn’t respond, she repeated it in a tone more severe than the first.
“Okay.  Okay,” he said.
“You pick your feet up.  If I can, you can.  So do it and don’t’ tell me you can’t.  Just do it.”
“You have to step on the towel so you don’t track it all over the house.”  She mopped up the floor and his feet, conflicted by her short-temper and sweetness of five-year-old feet.
Her days catalogued a failure to motherhood wherein she assumed that perfection was a fair standard to meet.
“Mom, more spaghetti,” Donny repeated.
“Go get it yourself,” Amy said, clipped.
“Okay.  Okay.”
“Don’t walk through the stuff on the floor,” Amy yelled around the wall.
“Okay, you’re done,” Amy said.  “Sorry for yelling.”
“Can I have dessert?”  Nate asked.
“No.  Sit down.   You have to eat more dinner.”
“I don’t like it,” Nate pleaded.
Amy got up and went into the kitchen again, slid around the kitchen wall, her body going rigid
and a flare going off inside her.  Guilt muffled it into a state of self-control, looked around to the fake, black
granite kitchen counters, the railroad, narrowness of it that made more than one person in that kitchen crowded and a episode of exacting impatience.
Amy took the black bottom of the rotisserie chicken in her hand and beat it against the inside of
the trash can so that the bones and the gelatinous caramel-colored fat dribbled
into the white, tall bag lining.
The cat appeared at her feet and bit her ankles, and Nate whined from the kitchen above some
muttering of instructions.  She set the black, plastic base to the chicken container in the sink, it’s contents on the porcelain plate on the stovetop with two All Clad pots – one filled with spaghetti and another with marinara sauce.
One of Them screamed from the kitchen, “Stop it!” while Amy took a glass from the cabinet
then ice cubes from the tray, fractured so that not one stayed intact in the rectangular pit.  She remembered that the secret to forming a perfect ice cube was the slow melt of an icicle.  Slow and impossible to replicate with just a top freezer.  The only way for an ice
cube to become perfectly clear and without fissures to insult its clarity, is for it to form slowly in a mold inside a small cooler of water that must harden around the molds.
Fragments from the tray fell onto the floor, but instead of sweeping them up, she opened the
cabinet below her and took hold of the wine bottleneck.  The click of aluminum attachments was as
forgiving as the screw top swiveled around the small hole.  The bottle of red wine was larger than the
standard but not quite a gallon, and it was a sensible buy at the local BevMax where she could spend very little and walk away with something reasonably good and large enough that she would not have to fit another store visit into her grocery store schedule visits.
She looked at the pots on the stove, then yelled into the kitchen, where the voices from the other
side and the wall between her and her children, muffled her voice.  The only way they could hear her was to
yell.  It made her always seem angry.  That and her incapacity to hide tired stress.
Dishtowel in hand, she walked around the wall, opened the refrigerator and removed the leftover
quarter vanilla iced birthday cake that was Ian’s, and cut five slices remaining from it.
“Bring your plates to the kitchen.  Dessert.”  She compensated.
Each piece sloped to the side by means of fork and cake server and was served to get it finished and done with before it was too dry for anyone to eat.  The management of the fridge was unending, inventory and purchase.  A cycle that every piece of her wanted to savor with gratitude though she could give it only patience.  What was left of it.
She scraped the same type of concave plate with the side of her fork, scraping bits of dried buttercream icing onto it, and into her mouth.
The Five each moaned and she exchanged compromised food with a slice of cake.
“Take it to the table,” she told each of them.
The girls never ate enough and Amy realized she was hungry, too late for any restriction to her
diet.  She ate off one plate, then another, pushing with a knife some of the last into the garbage.
When the television came on, she yelled for them to turn it off and bring in their
dessert plates.  Then she ate what was left of the right angle of icing once stuck to the outside of a slice, filling her tummy beyond what was comfortable despite the baby’s kick, and felt the
spaghetti and pasta and butter and sugar swirl into sickness.
“You guys can watch TV if you want,” she said, as she passed them walking both from the
kitchen and upstairs, where she locked herself in the bathroom to the right of the two children’s bedrooms, flushed the toilet of urine and toilet paper and wiped the seat of its yellow droplets, leaned over the bowl, waiting for the swish to stop and the water to barely calm before she shoved the index and
middle finger of her right hand, her teeth grazing the raw flesh above her knuckle.
Pushing hard into her throat, she gagged twice before the volume released of her stomach and
intestines hurled into a tunnel of loose red and white flecks, the mush covering her hand so that one stitch of satisfaction came to her not long before she was done and empty.  All but for the pushing inside her, phantom she was sure, because the little person before was still too small to be awake and want anything.
It made it easier to get rid of what she didn’t need.  Her heart may have ached, but empty was a start.
It began something, even though she was so afraid.