Having just spilled scalding hot coffee on his leg, Andy stands there, Riviera mug in-hand, dancing about like a cute, partially melted elf.
So, like any caring boyfriend, I jump to action.
Get a towel.
And blot the Restoration Hardware sheets, to foil the in-setting coffee.
“Seriously? Focus on me!”
“That’s what you expect? After how much these cost?”
Plus, skin grows back.
I mean, really.
Any strong relationship hinges on the partners’ abilities to determine when it’s best to just take the bullet–literally, if necessary–to protect some ridiculously expensive, beloved possession.
At least that’s what I learned when I was growing up.
Regardless of the accident, either Laura or I was sworn to secrecy until the guilty parental unit could appropriately cover their tracks–usually with one or both of us running interference in the interim. Had we only realized the potential for blackmail, perhaps we’d have capitalized on the opportunities a bit more.
“Oh, you don’t want Mom to find out about you smashing the Fairmont door, huh?”
“Yes, dear son, I’ll do anything!”
“Well, you’re in luck! It’ll only cost you a MASK car and the G.I. Joe helicopter set. And maybe my sporadic ten dollar monthly allowance could actually be monthly.”
“Of course, of course. I’ll get them immediately! And consider your allowance raised!”
*Doe eyes activate, scraped knee transforms into an arterial wound. Run to Mom.*
“MOM! I need your help. I hurt myself!” *Fake tears. Fake, lucrative tears.*
Instead, I’d stupidly nod, completely forgetting about the groundings I’d endured for breaking things in the house.
Usually, though, the guilty party could only stall for so long.
After all, doe eyes can’t quite explain why the van is being parked at an odd angle, facing away from the house. Or why the kitschy rabbit bowl looks like it got a harecut from the scalp up.
Still, the occasional case slipped under the radar unnoticed. Like The Case of the Defaced Table.
Every room needs an anchor piece. And a dining room table grounds more than the dining experience–it’s there to bring the family together.
Like the stairs Laura and I wanted in our new-old home, the table I’d imagined was something of a dream: a dramatic, claw-footed monstrosity large enough for two people to sit at either end and never know that one of them had farted.
I’d envisioned butlers scurrying down one side with foie gras, up the other with rosemary mashed potatoes.
Actually, Sebastian, tonight I’ll have the trifle, I’d practiced saying, experimenting with a dismissive hand wave to the imaginary platter of pickled quail eggs he’d likely offer up.
Visions of grand galas danced around in my head as Laura and I waited for our parents to cart their treasure home from the auction.
And soon, my dream was writ tangible: Long and darkly-stained with Chippendale accents, the table didn’t disappoint–it was an imposing piece that almost demanded a constant barrage of five-course dinners.
Set up in all its glory, the table’s two inch clearance on either end didn’t grant us a lot of room to overindulge at dinner. So one of the table leaves was removed, being relegated to an upstairs walk-in closet until it was needed for holiday gatherings.
In the meantime, I waited for Sebastian. But I soon realized his place was taken by my parrot-sibling Scooby, who’d oversee the entire room from his window-side perch, and toss food unfit for his consumption to the dog, usually before narrowing his beady eyes and turning a feathery cold shoulder to us all.
Still, we really could’ve used a scapegoat like Sebastian to assume the blame for the incident.
Especially with kids in the picture, a dining room table never really serves as just a place to eat. It’s a landing strip for everything–bookbags, magazines, general teenage angst.
And one day, it got the brunt of some tear-inducing math homework.
Once she’d finished figuring out what X really equaled out to be, Laura lifted up her paper to see the equation–hashed out in its entirety–inscribed into the table top. It seemed the imposing table had an Achilles’ heel after all: a soft, supple, easily defiled shell.
Like she did when sensing an imminent teenage fight, Mom materialized. Saw the table. And wept.
Only after she realized multiple Old English treatments weren’t doing a thing, she formulated another plan.
“Alright. Laura, help me pull the table apart so we can take out the leaf. Matthew, go upstairs and get the other one.”
We each assumed our roles, and before we knew it, the blighted leaf was removed and replaced by its mint-condition doppelganger.
“Now, get a blanket, and we’ll roll this one up and put it in the van. If your father asks where the other leaf is, just say we put it up in the attic.”
Days later, the jacked-up leaf was taken somewhere only Mom knew about, and didn’t reappear until a few weeks later.
Even before we surreptitiously put it back into the table, I could tell something was off. And so could Mom.
“It. Looks. Purple!”
She was right. It seemed the stain the woodworkers used to match the existing stain was only a few shades lighter than mauve.
For fear that another trip would result in an even worse treatment, Mom swore us to secrecy.
And reminded us every Thanksgiving thereafter to “Take care of the table.”
Wink wink. Nudge nudge.
So, every year, we did everything possible to veil the blemished leaf. And to ensure Dad’s wine glass was always full.
But one Thanksgiving, our plan got even more complicated.
As had become customary, Mom and I started pulling the table apart as Laura ran up to get the purplish leaf. But the table had been locked in place for so long, it wasn’t cooperating. So I figured exerting a little pressure wouldn’t hurt.
But after one hard tug, a disgusting crrrrrrrreakkkkch rang out and the table lurched.
From the other end of the table, Mom’s palor trended toward deathly white.
I crouched and looked underneath.
“Oooh, uh. Er. Sorry?”
“I don’t want to know. Just deal with it.”
Laura reappeared with the other leaf, and we situated everything as we had years prior. After we finished and Mom left the room, I pulled Laura aside.
“Hey, don’t worry about the leaf. I just broke the whole goddamned pedestal off one end. Don’t tell Dad.”
More winks. More nudges. Family togetherness.
Soon enough, The Case joined others: the cases of The Decimated Bison Skull, The Ear-less Easter Rabbit Bowl, The Shattered Mother’s Day Column, and The Obliterated Faberge Egg.
Only after a few details from these formerly anonymously-authored stories seeped into conversation, usually in a wine-fueled context and prefaced with “You remember that time…” did we start realizing that we tried to trick each other fairly routinely.
And I realized that maybe, just maybe, my maternal grandmother was right about one thing.
“Well, Matt. The family may not have the money to back it up in the traditional sense of the word, but you’re all eccentric.”
I’d rolled my eyes over the phone, nodding and wrapping a curl around my finger.
Because I’d long thought that we’d had a fairly traditional childhood.
But after asking friends if they’d had similar experiences with such subterfuge, and receiving quizzical looks in response, I realized that maybe we were a little odd.