There's more than one way to kill a person. Staring at the empty bowl across the table, the untouched spoon an exclamation point beside it, Hannah knows this. She is just as certain of it as she is that the sun will come up in the morning and go down at night. Experience and repetition has taught her the truth.
To her right, young Janey stares into the evening meal and grumbles like she always does.
"Ah c'mon, Mom. Leftover stew again?"
"It's Monday night," Hannah says.
After a weekend of meals, it always comes down to this. Monday night is leftover night. Sometimes it's as simple as re-heating the uneaten Sunday tuna fish casserole or the remaining slices of Saturday night movie pizza; other times, like tonight, she can actually take what's left—the browned-up beef that served as nacho meat and the salvaged roast beef, potatoes and carrots—add some water and broth, maybe another can of mixed vegetables, and a few spices to create something new. Not particularly appetizing, of course; but the food was still palatable. Besides, if they didn't eat it up by Monday, the weekend food would eventually find its way into the trash or disposal, and that was a poor use of money. Especially in this economy. Waste not, want not, as her mother would often say. Mother had always been fond of her sayings. Like a rolling stone gathers no moss. Or you made your bed, now lie in it.
Janey spoons a mouthful of stew and grimaces as if it were a dose of cough syrup. Eventually she takes the food. Her face relaxes as she realizes it's not as bad as the mind can imagine, and then spoons another mouthful while reaching for a sleeve of crackers. A smirk pulls at the corner of Hannah's lips.
"Where's dad?" Janey asks.
The smirk disappears as Hannah stares across the table at the empty bowl, the empty chair. She can feel the tears welling up in her eyes, so she looks away.
"He's working late again," she answers.
It wasn't always this way. Dan used to come home on time. He used to laugh and tell how his day went, how the people and the office were driving him crazy. Now, however, almost every night is a repeat of Leftover Monday, and the only time they really see him is on the weekends, which, with the evening movies and the Saturday and Sunday afternoon sports, isn't really seeing him at all.
"Eat up," Hannah tells Janey. "It's a school night. After you do the dishes, you still need to take a bath."
Janey grumbles about that, too. Life is just not fair. Hannah slowly nods her head, closes her eyes. Janey's understanding of fair and unfair is limited. To a little ten-year-old, doing dishes and folding laundry and making one's own bed is unfair. Enduring an episode of Downton Abbey, while they could be watching The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, is also unfair. And if that isn't enough, being forced to take a bath every night, washing her hair and cleaning behind the ears, is asking way too much. But she doesn't know yet that unfairness comes in many different forms. For instance, it can be an unborn baby boy or an unplanned procedure that places a period on the future. It can come in the silence and things unspoken, trailing behind in the wake of laughter. It can be the unknown fragrance that lingers in the fabric of a marriage on the rocks, and in the bitter hint of resentment that loneliness leaves behind.
There's no point in sharing these things with Janey, though, so Hannah doesn't. It's important enough to keep the illusions alive. Maybe they will come true.
Hannah watches as Janey finishes her bowl and takes it to the sink. Her little girl then walks down the hallway toward the bathroom. It isn't the order Hannah had intended—she remembers that it was supposed to be dishes first, then the bath—but she lets it go. She will do the dishes tonight. With all of life's unfairness, real or potential, maybe in this one thing she can show the grace her daughter deserves.
Hearing the bathroom door click, Hannah glances one more time at the empty bowl. She will leave it on the table like she has before, and knows she'll find there in the morning just as clean as it is now. It's not how things are supposed to be, at least not how she thought they would turn out. It's just the way it is.
She grabs a spoonful of her own Monday night meal, and starts in.