Publish or Perish
by C. Joos
"Anthony, stop acting like a twit." It was the closest my mother came to swearing.
I peeked from behind the banister. Deflated tulips scattered over the soggy carpet. Jagged spiderwebs across the television screen. My father, crunching broken glass and conjugating cuss words as he paced.
I knew some: fuck, fucking, fucked, fucker. Others were strange, all corners and edges: tenure review, distorted data, retracted publications. Mortgage. What now?
As a member of the peanut gallery, I could help; I knew this scene by heart.
Cue words of comfort: "What were you thinking? How could you do something so-" Her eyes met mine and she sighed. "I'm not doing this in front of our child." She dropped shards of glass into the fold of her apron.
The distance between them disappeared. My father yanked her to her feet. His hand drew back. "And who the hell are you? You can't even hold down a job."
"Twelve years of marriage," my mother said, wrenching free, "and you're going to start hitting me now?" It was time for him to leave, before he did something "regrettable."
Cue a bonfire in the backyard: The car squealed out of the driveway. In the trunk was a canister of gasoline for "just-in-case."
After she fixed herself a scotch, my mother sat down next to me on the porch steps. I curled into her embrace. "He's just cooling his heels," she said. "Don't worry."
In the distance, the alarm at the firehouse began to clang.