by Katherine Hunter

At the food court on the military base, my father is last to the table. A tray with a turkey club and a towering fountain soda. When he reaches for it, somehow it topples and spills across the table.

“God damn it! I’m getting so clumsy!” Even in his exasperation, his cussing hardly carries. My hands have been fast enough to salvage a quarter of the cup.

“It’s okay, Dad. It’s okay.” I am soothing him and forestalling my mother’s irritation, her readiness to condemn and scold. Her mouth purses as I dump every napkin at the table on the spill. My father has left the table to get more napkins. I gather the soaked ones and the hard-to-see ice cubes that do their best to evade capture. His thready voice. His gnarled but delicate hands that so recently extracted a splinter from my index finger. Such patience and care, all my life. How many of my messes did he clean up?

I walk around to my mother’s side of the table and apologize to the soldiers seated behind her, warn them about the liquid on the floor. Clean-shaven, young, courteous. They have not been inconvenienced at all. This is what I need my mother to hear as she examines her purse for evidence of the spill, for a legitimate grievance. I take my father’s cup to the dispensers and refill it all the way to the top.

My mother leans across the table. “You didn’t have to curse in here.”