The console table is more than a console table, but you don’t know that yet, not when Ma says you can put it in your bedroom, if you want. It’s only gathering dust in the loft.
Pop built the console table for Ma’s eighteenth birthday. That’s the sort of thing he did. Gifted items he made with his bare hands. Plaques and pendants. The figures on Ma and Dad’s wedding cake. Pop even built the coffin he’s buried in. A little present to himself.
‘Be careful with it,’ Ma says, hands on her hips. You decide to sit your television on the freshly polished surface, telling her you will be careful – promise.
And you are. Until you’re not. Because on the day Ma has her cleaning shifts cut in half, you knock a cup of coffee across it.
The brown liquid spreads, oozing underneath the base of the television and staining the wood. A string of ‘Shits’ spill from your worried mouth as you try and mop up the mess, then hide the mess, and possibly lie about the mess. Or at least hide the truth. You want to save Ma any heartache. Yourself any trouble.
She finds the damp towel you shove behind the water tank, and the stain, less than three hours later.
Did you think she wouldn’t?
She found Dad with your Aunt Lisa in the backseat of his car, windows fogged up like that scene in Titanic, though your Dad is no DiCaprio, and Aunt Lisa isn’t Winslet.
She found Pop crumpled at the bottom of his overgrown garden too.
You don’t know what it’s like to find a dead body. You wish Ma didn’t either.
She scolds you for what you’ve done. Your carelessness. Your lack of respect. Doesn’t matter that the console table was hidden away in the loft. It’s the principle of the thing.
You pitch yourself between petulant and punctured, ignoring her requests to ‘Look at the table’ and then ‘Look at me,’ because you think you’re old enough to be beyond this. 14 years old and maybe you don’t give a fuck. It’s only a cup of coffee, isn’t it? It’s only a table. Pop’s dead anyway, so he won’t even know.
Ma says that you’re not keeping your television in your room anymore, and forget carrying coffee beyond the kitchen.
‘Big punishment,’ you say, and regret it pronto, because Ma’s got that lilt to her voice, like she’s going to rupture, and when she picks up the television to remove it, she forgets to unplug the leads.
You don’t tell her. Instead, you watch as she yanks the television and its wiry arms haul her back. There’s enough tug to pull her into the table and instead of holding on she just let’s go. A thin crack clips across the screen and one of the volume buttons pops out to roll under your bed.
There’s a moment of nothing – all quiet like the sun before it begins to burn off a morning haze – but it tears when she kicks out at one of the table legs. She kicks with enough force that it snaps clean off, the same way cheap wood can split if you try and saw it.
Pop told you that. Told you a lot of things, come to think of it.
You grab her by the arm, but she shoves you and arcs back to kick her foot into the table again, and again, and again. Thud, thud, thud.
It creaks and collapses and, in the melee, the skin between her foot and ankle severs. Your chest constricts.
Ma shuffles into your room later that night – a bandage wrapped around her ankle from the trip to A&E – her eyes puffed up from crying. You had to call a taxi to get to the hospital. Spent what was left of your pocket money to make it.
She asks if you’re awake and lingers like you used to when the shadows in the corner of your room were stuff of nightmares and you wanted to get into Ma and Dad’s bed. Ma would often get out to save annoying Dad, and you’d squish together in your old single.
Where is Dad now? Ma has frequently said you can call him, if you want.
You’re not sure you do.
‘Yeah, I’m awake,’ you whisper, and lift up the covers.
She smells of mint toothpaste and antiseptic. You tuck yourself into her, laying your head on her chest.
‘I’m sorry,’ she murmurs.
‘Me too,’ you reply.
Is this where you start to get it? That the console table is more than a table, and maybe it’s not even really about that at all.
‘Ma, you remember when I stayed with Pop? Years ago. When I got that sunburn on my forehead and it all peeled off and Dad said I looked like a tomato?’
She nods, her chin dotting the crown of your head.
‘Pop showed me how to repair broken things, that weekend. He said you just need some strong glue to stick stuff back together. If we get some glue tomorrow, I think it could work on the table.’
‘That all we need?’ Ma asks.
You say you think so, and Ma believes you, or you think she does, because it sounds like something Pop would say.
You don’t need to tell her that isn’t true. Pop said you needed more than that. Clamps to hold the thing together, so the glue would fuse to the wood, and nails depending on the structure. And sometimes, broken things can’t be fixed, sometimes they’re just meant to stay broken and bungled onto a scrap heap or even burnt in a fire. Sometimes it’s a lost cause, best left alone.
But the white lie is enough to stick some of you and Ma back together – enough to slumber until the morning.
Emily likes looking at the stars, but she can’t name them. She has had work published or upcoming with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren Magazine, STORGY Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Coffin Bell, Retreat West, Nymphs, Tiny Molecules and Gone Lawn to name a few. She can be found on Twitter at @emily__harrison