Separate Checks

Separate Checks

My father was buried at 12:30 p.m.

It was then 4 p.m.

I am my father’s only child. For all intents and purposes, he was my only parent.

Of course, I have a mother. But she’s never been a mother. From her, I have a half-sister. From my half-sister, I have a nephew. A nephew with cerebral palsey.

I’m close to my nephew. I love him. But my father’s funeral wouldn’t have been appropriate for him. He’s in a wheelchair and suffers, sometimes, from terrible fits of ADD.

So my half-sister suggested, “After the burial, I’ll pick him up from adult day care. We’ll meet somewhere, where the two of you can sit and talk.”

I thought that was a great idea.

We met at the chili parlor a few hours after my father was laid to rest.

As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw my mother and her current husband entering the parlor. My sister had driven them to the funeral. Though they’d been divorced over 50 years, my mother still wanted to attend her ex-husband’s funeral.

My sister had driven them to the funeral and taken them home after the burial. But, apparently, they’d taken it upon themselves to join us afterwards.

“Fuck,” I said to myself. “Why are they here?”

I wanted to spend the time focused solely on my nephew.

When I got inside, everyone was already seated. My nephew, in his wheelchair, and my sister sat opposite my mother and her husband.

My sister saw me coming. She rolled her eyes to say, “This isn’t what I wanted.”

It wasn’t what I wanted either.

I took a seat between my sister and nephew, opposite our mother. My crippled nephew consoled me about the loss of my father.

It had been a horrible few days, so I wasn’t in the mood to eat much. I was mainly there to spend some time with my disabled nephew.

So when the waitress came, I ordered something small. My sister and nephew did too.

My mother and her husband ordered full meals.

My mother spent the meal talking about herself, mainly all her ailments and the consequences of having them. I tried carrying on a conversation with my nephew on the side.

Still, she couldn’t keep from butting in to tell my nephew things like how much she likes it when he voice-texts her. She said it makes her happy to receive his random texts. She asked why he hadn’t been doing it as much lately.

My sister replied, “Well, you know, you can text him sometimes too. He shouldn’t be the one to always have to initiate.”

I forced myself to eat.

At the end of the meal, the waitress came.

“Single or separate checks?”

I don’t usually ask for much, but I decided on the day I buried my father I wasn’t going to pay for my own meal.

A pause followed.

Finally, my sister said, “I guess it’ll be separate checks.”

“Yes. Separate checks,” our mother said. “Separate.”

“How many?” the waitress asked.

Another pause.

“Just two,” my sister said. “And his goes on mine.”

“Thanks,” I said.

“Of course,” she said. “What kind of person would I be if I let you pay for your meal on a day like today?”

I looked at my mother. She said nothing. She acknowledged nothing.

Across the table sat her only son who’d buried his father just hours earlier. Across the table sat her son, who she barely knew, experiencing one of the worst days of his life.

Next to her son sat her crippled grandson in a wheelchair. A grandson who’ll never have a job or a wife or children or any independence.

Life, at the moment, wasn’t good for anybody sitting across that table. But she still couldn’t offer to cover the check.

I wanted to murder my mother. I felt shame and disgrace and disgust at our association.

I tried tempering my emotions by explaining to myself, “Maybe they’re broke. Maybe they can’t afford the $20 for her grieving son, her crippled grandson and her daughter who’d taken them to the funeral.”

Then our mother turned to her husband and said, “Tom, don’t let me forget to buy a t-shirt on the way out. I always forget.”

We got up to leave.

Nobody offered up a tip.

“What about the tip?” I asked.

“Sorry, I don’t have any cash,” my sister said.

We looked at my mother and her husband. They pretended not to hear.

“Jesus Christ,” I said, under my breath.

I opened my wallet. There weren’t many small bills. I dug 8 bucks out and threw it on the table. The tip cost twice as much as what I ate.

For many reasons, I left the chili parlor feeling like shit. The latest one was 8 bucks didn’t seem like much of a tip for our whole table.

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