I was 11½ and we were visiting my father for the weekend. Having his five kids under the roof of his duplex was not occasion enough for him to join us at the table for dinner. It’ll take Thanksgiving or Christmas for that to happen. He would rather sit in his throne and eat his dinner on a TV tray. His dog, a pedigree Great Dane named PiPi, was asleep at his feet. Today was payday and he splurged by barbequing steak. I got excited until I saw only one T-bone on the grill. He fed us macaroni and cheese and boiled hot dogs. Everyone brought their plate to the sink except him. I approached his throne.
“Are you done, Daddy?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he answered. He stared straight ahead at the television and pulled a drag off his cigarette.
I picked up his plate and noticed the remnants of his T-bone steak. There was still meat on the bone. I licked my lips. I saw steak once, maybe twice a year.
“Do you want anything else?” I asked.
“No,” he replied without looking at me.
My 6-year-old brother, Dale, was still sitting at the table fingering his macaroni. His mumble told me he was somewhere else – again. I nudged his shoulder with my father’s plate and said, “Dale, look!” He looked up at me with his mouth still in a mumble.
“Steak!” I said. His Kool-Aid mustache rose up in a grin.
“C’mon, follow me,” I said.
We began to tear the meat from the bone when my father’s voice stopped us.
“Lisa, give that bone to the dog,” he ordered.
I turned around. My eyes landed on his steak-filled belly that sat satisfied under his blue shirt. The top button of his pants was undone. What is he doing out of his throne, I thought.
“Do you need something, Dad?” I asked. “Do you want some dessert?”
“No,” he said, “I’m gonna fix myself a drink.”
I stood in front of the t-bone and ignored his command. Dale hid half his body behind mine. PiPi waltzed in and sat beside her master. I glared at the dog that I had grown jealous of.
“Where’s that bone?” he asked dropping fresh ice cubes into his glass.
“This bone?” I said, stepping aside.
“Yeah,” he said, “Give it to the dog.” PiPi began to pant in anticipation.
I stood frozen as I watched Johnnie Walker collide like a wave against the ice cubes. Time is running out. He’s going to want to know why I’m not doing what he asked. He sat the bottle down and turned the lid back on. He looked up and his eyes shot through me. What’s the worse that can happen? He’ll choose the dog over me. I’m used to that. Pipi rubbed her head up and down against his pant leg.
“Where’s the bone?” he asked again.
“We want the bone,” I blurted.
“What?” he said baffled.
“We want the bone,” I repeated. My heart was splashing inside my chest.
“Why?” he said confused. I took another deep breath and said, “We don’t get steak and there’s still a lot of meat still on the bone and we want it.” He looked at me in complete disbelief. I took it off the plate, held it up and asked, “Daddy, can we have the bone?”
He pressed the glass to his lips still staring at us. I watched his Adam’s apple jump up and down as the scotch made its way into his throat. PiPi closed her jaw for a quick swallow, looked up at him and then at me. Oh yes, she thinks she’s getting this bone. I scowled at her. If I have to wrestle you for it I will, I thought. You weigh more than I do. You’ve got sharper teeth, but I’m full of rage and I’ll win. I will not lose to you again, dog. The tension was scaring Dale. He squeezed my hand harder and took cover behind me. My Dad’s stare was piercing. The dog was getting impatient and moved toward the bone. I turned it away and lifted it higher. I looked back at my Dad and thought, I already hate you. And if you choose the dog over me again, my hatred will reach a whole new level. He put his drink on the counter, looked and his dog and then at us.
“Sure, you can have it,” he said.
I brought the t-bone to my face and said, “Thanks, Dad.”
He stood there and watched me clean one side of the bone. I handed the rest to my little brother who cleaned the other side. I saw something new in my father’s eyes.
It was shame. The next night, he surprised us all with barbequed hamburgers, but the real shock came when he turned off the television and sat next to me at the dinner table.