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Three Obligations


The mother covered the pot with a lid and brought the bowl of soup out to the dining table. She lightly placed the bowl on the table, careful of any spillage. As soon as the bowl was set on the table, she withdrew her hands and blew at it. The bowl was hot; she should have used her gloves. She walked towards her daughter’s room, knocked on her door twice and walked away. It was time for dinner. The pair sat at the dining table and silently ate their food. Things weren’t like this two months ago. Two months ago, they would be laughing at the table, discussing how their days went. The mother would’ve talked about her coincidental meetings with one of her old friends, and the daughter would’ve shared what happened during her sleepovers at her best friend’s house. But right now, the only thing on their minds was to finish dinner and go back to their own duties. The mother still has to clean up in the kitchen and do the laundry. The silence at the table was piercing. The only sound that was heard was the movements of their utensils. And her daughter’s sniff. The mother looked at her daughter and saw that her eyes and nose were red. Her hair was uncombed, and the necklace she always wore was gone. The mother suspected something upsetting happened to her daughter, but she didn’t want to ask. She thinks that she couldn’t ask. So she simply grabbed one of the drumsticks and placed it on her daughter’s plate, and continued eating. The daughter choked out a “thanks”, and dinner resumed.
Then the door opened. The father was back. He removed his shoes, took off his blazer, folded it nicely and headed to the dining table to greet his family. He waved to his daughter and hugged his wife. The mother moved in closer to his neck and politely smiled. No perfume. Great. She told her husband his dinner was in the kitchen and to take it himself. He nodded his head, with a smile still etched on his face, and went to take his food. Now there were three of them at the table, and the air got even heavier. The father cleared his throat and asked his family how their day was. No replies. He then told them about how his day at the office went. How he saved his project with his brilliant ideas, how his colleagues treated him to lunch, how his boss promised him a promotion.
“Before I forget, here is the money for next month’s grocery.”
The mother took the envelope and casually gave it a whiff. No perfume, good. The father awkwardly chuckled and asked what was that for. The mother replied she liked the smell of money. The daughter slammed her utensils on the table and muttered that she was done with dinner. She made a beeline to her room and flung her door shut. A puzzled look flashed across the father’s face as he turned to his wife, asking her what was wrong.
“Something happened with her boyfriend... I got to go wash the dishes.”
And then the mother left too.
The daughter switched on her laptop, played music at the maximum volume and covered her face with a pillow. Hopefully, they will not be able to hear her screams. The daughter does not know how to face both her parents. She does not know what to do anymore. After seeing the intimate pictures of another girl on her father’s phone whilst taking a photo of her parents celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary. She hates that her mom chose to forgive and forget all the hurt her father did to her. She feels pity for her mom because she knows her mom biggest wish is to have a family.
“I’ll be fine.”
That was the phrase her mom always assured her with, but she could hear crying noises outside her mother’s room the first week they found out about her father’s affair. She couldn’t scream at her father because it would upset her mother. She couldn’t tell her father what they had known because her mother didn’t want to family to break up. She has to be the perfect daughter. She has to take on this role; otherwise, her mother is going to break. She hates her father for tearing the family apart. She hates that she still has to live with him and pretend like everything is fine. She hates that she still has to eat dinner with him every night. She often wonders all night if her future marriage will end up like her parents, all obligations and no love. That is if she can still trust someone. But she doesn’t think that it was possible anymore, not after she just broke up with her loving boyfriend of three years over texts she found. Unsuspecting texts that were meant for his cousin, but whatever. She didn’t care anymore.
The mother was doing the laundry, thinking about what to cook for tomorrow’s dinner. The father laid on the bed, wondering if he should go help his wife; and whether or not he should’ve just run away with his mistress back then. The daughter was texting her friends, regularly asking them if it was possible to stay over at their house.
The mother knows. The daughter knows. The father knows they know. The three of them are all trapped within the choices they had chosen. And they can’t do anything about it because the last time someone didn’t fulfil their obligations, their family turned sour. Upside down. Now they’re just hoping they can save enough of the broken pieces to still piece together a family. The house is haunted. It has a ghost in it. All because someone broke his promise.

© 2021 Alison Lian

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