One day when I was five, my father came home unusually early from work. He didn’t say a thing, walked straight past my mother who was in the bedroom, getting ready for work, slumped on the couch beside me as if I wasn’t there, and fixed his eyes on the television screen.
“What are you doing here?” my mother asked, standing at the front of the room with her hands on her hips. It was three weeks before Christmas, and while sucking on a peppermint, my father ignored my mother, twisting and turning a cellophane candy wrapper between his nimble fingers.
“Are you deaf Victorino Gonzalez?” she asked, addressing my father by his full name.
“No,” he said finally, “I’m unemployed; they laid me off this morning.” My mother raised her hands as if she were praising the Lord and spun around, pirouetting on her right heel.
“I knew it, I knew it. If only I listened to Mama. She warned me about you but I didn’t believe her. Someone must have made a mistake; I thought YOU were the man in this house! You have no backbone! You’re weak and afraid, a stupid, lazy no good waste of a life.”
My mother’s tirade was endless. She stormed around the apartment, throwing towels and linens, my father’s underwear and long sleeved shirts, piling a mountain of dirty laundry on the living room floor. She had a new name for my father with each piece of clothing she threw. “Stupido,” she shouted as a pair of over worn boxers landed on the top of the pile, “demonio,” a pillowcase flew into the room, “lazy bum” and an old dishrag topped the heap. As my mother carried on, my father focused on the candy wrapper and handed it to me when he was finished: I miniature baby doll, wearing a perfectly ruffled taffeta skirt. I smiled at him and he winked back. My mother didn’t see a thing. “Now that you’re home why don’t you do something useful, like the laundry?” and with that my mother walked out of the door, her overnight bag and the dinner she packed hit the door as she left.
That night, my father barely moved from the couch except to go to the bathroom or pick up some fast food for our dinner. He didn’t do the laundry either. Instead my father sat on the couch staring at the TV, turning the dial on the cable box between a basketball game and a fight. I amused myself on the couch playing with the candy wrapper doll and the aluminum foil saint my father had made for me months before. The miniatures shook hands and introduced themselves. The saint asked the girl if she had any sins to confess. She swore she didn’t have any.