In 2013, OriginalTitle will be presenting her interpretations of contemporary short stories in whatever way such interpretations happen to emerge as a result of the inspiration on Writer’s ClubKL.
This week’s featured short story is “The Ceiling” by Kevin Brockmeier and can be read here at Random House.
We were careful and neat. We felt these were important qualities for people in our unique position to have. Cotillionaires you could call us, in fact, since Mom had taken it upon herself to train us in all of the ways to be properly proper. Each night, she would polish the silver at the head of the table while we waited, its surface spotlessly reflecting her perfection and ours and yet she would rub that cloth against it still, as if she could polish away the imperfections that can’t be seen, the ones that lurk below the surface, impenetrable black matte. We couldn’t stop her. This was partly because we never talked about our predicament in the first place. So we whispered with each breath, reminding ourselves which way to face the knife, in or out, as we took the utensils from her hand and placed them in order beside the plates.
In the midst of asking too many questions and knowing too much, I took one scoop too many of the succotash, heavy on the lima. This is how it all began. From my spoon, a few loose beans catapulted towards the carpet beneath the dining room table and tucked their way underneath. No one breathed a word. It was common knowledge that everyone only got one scoop, but I was hungry, I needed more. Angling my eyes downward so as to not ruin my posture, I could see the tiny mound where the lima beans had gathered. It wasn’t long before my example was followed, everyone wanted more than we were getting. Dad came home later, more silent. Mom talked more, just so it seemed like everyone was still talking. I snuck out the backdoor every night and my sister tried not to follow my example. Our lives became a secret to one another.
The crumbs started to combine, you see. Molehills became mountains made of yeast rolls half-eaten, white meat still clinging to the wishbones and grains of rice pilaf gone rogue from the table building slowly beneath the oriental rug. Chairs and table legs no longer stood on solid ground. My sister’s leaned like a ship in a storm and my father’s, at the head of the table loomed high above, lurched forward so he had to hold on with one hand to steady himself while eating with the other. Mom and I both leaned sideways, each angled towards opposing walls, elbows propped against the table so as to avoid complete horizontalization. The carpet buckled under the pressure of combined crumbs and the floor began to crack. Gluttons we must have seemed if anyone were to have seen us, but we stopped inviting people over after a while because then we would have to talk about how unsteady our nightly dinners had become.
We ate because eating was easier than talking or not talking. Between the sounds of our harried mastication, the creaks increased in volume and frequency. The floor began to shake and still we did not mention it. Somewhere a Richter scale was etching the shakes from beneath our table in zig-zag lines crossing the width of a never-ending page. In the confusion, the table, higher on Dad’s end, listed forward and all the plates began to slide off. We tried to stop them, but to no avail. The floor caved in. The shock of the sinkhole unleashed the contents we had swept under the rug. Out seeped an obsidian muck. Mom was the first to point at it. “There! I knew something was there, but I could never quite reach it.” I, too, had known it and so had we all. A couple weeks later, Dad moved out. We all began to discuss the events that occurred, in pieces at first and then finally in great detail. We watched the shiny black tar formed of our silences, of our wanting, create a new floor, solid and still.
This flash fiction was inspired by the short story of the week. Read OriginalTitle’s interpretation of “The Ceiling,” by Kevin Brockmeier and her soundtrack for your reading at Writer’s Club KL!