Annie put the casserole in the center of their dining room table. Her husband, Dan, and daughter, Michelle, sat side by side, in oak chairs. Dan was looking at the casserole in distaste. He never liked casserole and especially not her's. The dinner was burnt too brown around the edges, and pieces of tuna were popping through the doughy crust.
Annie dished two heaping spoonfuls on to her daughter's plate. Michelle dug into the meal before her mother's arm was only inches away. After Annie dished her own serving, she sat adjacent to her husband and left him to scoop his own dinner.
"You hate the dinner I made you," Annie accused.
"Jesus Christ, Annie! I'm eating it aren't I?" Dan responded and shoveled a forkful into his mouth. The rest of dinner was eaten in a cold silence. Michelle, for once, didn't ask for a second serving of the tuna casserole.
Later that night when Michelle was tucked under her down comforter, with her stuffed Tigger, she could hear her raging parents. Even the pillow over her ears didn't drown the sounds of hateful voices. Her mother insisted it was a mistake but Dan said there wasn't one. Michelle's first nine years were peaceful, and she knew she was lucky. Not everyone's parents wanted to be together.
Was this happening to her now? What happened?
"I can't be here anymore, Anne. I don't want this. Not for myself and not for Michelle." That was her father, she knew. She squeezed Tigger to her chest and turned away from her bedroom door. She felt dirty eavesdropping, and even more nauseous at the argument.
"So that's it? You're just going to walk away and leave us?" Annie was sobbing now, and Michelle could picture her curling herself into a safe cocoon.
Michelle heard the thump of heavy feet on the stairs. Her father was stomping probably three steps from the top. She held her breath when the footsteps became softer. She squinted when her door opened and prayed her father would think she was sleeping. He did, and walked past.
Dan loaded khakis, tee-shirts, and jeans into a black duffel. He surveyed the room as he zipped his new life into the bag. As he left the room he put his wedding ring on the table beside the door.
Then there was the thumping again, and Michelle cried while Annie begged, "Please, I didn't mean it. We can work this out."
"I really don't want to, Annie. I've waited long enough. She's waiting out front for me."
And when the front door slammed, so did Michelle's nerves and her stomach. And one last time, there was tuna casserole.