Too close

The yelp escaped
from his snout, and his nails
clicked on the tiled floor
as he backed away
in pain.
He stood by people’s feet
in the kitchen,
so close they would take a step
and push down on his paws
as he waited for food
to drop.
He stayed in the kitchen

like I did, most of the time.
I would sit with my back to the oven,
next to the rug in front of the sink,
where Mom would linger for hours,
washing dishes, sliding them into the dishwasher
with a clink, rearranging the cabinets,
sometimes just standing there.
She would fold pieces of turkey and American cheese,
place them on Ritz crackers and
set the plate of snacks on the ledge
in between the kitchen and my playroom.
I ate the crackers by myself
while I created imagination games
and Mom talked

for hours on the phone,
chatting with friends, fellow teachers, her brother or sister,
or my Dad.
The conversations with him
made her voice rise
from its usual sweet sounds into
a growl.
She would pace the kitchen floor,
shut the basement door as she tried
to mask their long screaming battles.
I listened through the vents,
trying to understand
their grown-up arguments.
In the kitchen, as I sat

beneath her, I remember
being stepped on.
Mom used to scold me
for picking my sitting spot directly behind her.
She would back into me,
her heels digging into my fingers and
cracking my knuckles, before it became a nervous habit
of my own.
She wouldn’t notice
my presence.
You have to tell me
you’re there, she said,
her voice slipping away from
its sweetness, edging closer
to the growl.
But I would forget
to remind her.

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