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A Clock in the Oven

(by Alicia Garey)

The orange juice:

In the mornings before school, you’d serve me a cup of orange juice before I walked out the door, and despite my reluctance to drink it, you’d insist. Since I’d just brushed my teeth, the juice left an acidic burn in my freshly cleaned mouth. I was too young to form the right words to explain my misery, which continued each day.

The cream cheese sandwich:

With jelly, on white bread. I couldn’t imagine a more awful combination. When it appeared in my lunchbox, it caused prickly bumps on my arms.

The chicken Parmesan:

I watched as you coated the pieces first in egg, then bread crumbs, with your left hand, your skinny fingers and long, manicured nails lifting and sorting, while your right hand held your cigarette. Those same hands would sew repairs on my jeans or make a pillow out of an old hat. I’d watch you apply your makeup with those hands, and I’d watch you smoke a joint with those hands. And many times, those hands would hold a drink of wine to your lips or bring antidepressant pills for you to swallow. Those hands never hit me, but one time when I was late coming home from school while you were doing the dishes, you slapped the wet sponge to my face, which landed softly against my cheek. I saw the worry on your face and said I was sorry. I wiped my guilty tears with my small elementary school-sized hands wishing for a time I could be grown up, away from your array of emotions.

The liver:

Oh, dear god, why the liver? If it appeared on the menu, I turned it over to my two Siamese cats waiting under my bed where they’d hide.

The creamy chicken:

I don’t remember what the dish was called. It was everyone’s favorite—rich and tasty. The sauce was as thick as the volume of your shouting those days. I had known your rage my whole life, and now our blended family after your second marriage got a taste of it too. The chopped broccoli, bitter as your fury. Crispy bread crumbs on top, a crunch of madness.

The TV dinners:

You’d be off doing something, and I’d sit at a tray table in our living room, eating the greasy chicken and corn kernels in the foil sections. If they entered the brownie area, I’d just eat around it. I’d watch a show, maybe Carol Burnett, laughter in between bites.

The eggs:

On weekends, you would make lox, eggs, and onions