Another Kitchen Sink
A Short Story by Doug Dean
Written using the suggestion "Victim"
Originally featured on 11-30-2010
As part of our series "The Roles of a Lifetime"

Herman is fifteen and on the kitchen phone[1] with his father. They are discussing whether Herman will leave his current residence with his mother and younger brother, change teams as you could put it, and that is how it is beginning to feel, and go to live with his father.

“I have some questions,” said Herman, in a tone that is tried to be both hushed and confident at once.

“Oh, yeah. Well I don’t know if I can answer them, but go ahead,” said his father.

Herman both cradled the phone between his shoulder and ear and held the end of it with his hand. He rubbed the fingers of his other hand against its heel.

“So where would we live?” asked Herman. “Would it be around here?”

Fluorescent bulbs buzzed over the kitchen sink.

“I’d look for a place for us around here. It probably wouldn’t be in Hombrook, because of the how expensive it is. But somewhere around there, I think,” replied his father. “But…things are gonna work out, Herm. If we do this thing, things will work out.”

Herman tangled the phone cord around his hand.

“I believe you,” said Herman. “I just ask so that I can picture it. This is big decision for me.”

“Is it?”

Herman’s father sounded surprised. Herman furrowed his brow. Herman heard his father exhale.

“Cause Herm, if you’re not one-hundred percent on this thing, I’m not confident that we can do it. I’m going to have to get a lawyer and fight your mother for custody and the number one thing that will come up is whether or not you’re sure you want to live with me,” said Herman’s father.

Herman took a silent deep breath.

“I understand,” said Herman.

“Okay, good,” said his father. “So are you sure about this, Herm?”

Herman heard his mother’s footsteps from upstairs on the kitchen ceiling. The bulbs buzzed. He looked around the kitchen.

“And what about school? Will I be able to stay at Lempilliard?” asked Herman.

His father exhaled again on the other end.

“Herm, I believe that Lempilliard is the best school on the island, and it’s having a really good effect on you, I think. So I’m committed to keeping you going there and staying on the island while you finish school.”

Herman nodded.

“Will we still be on the island? Cause I still want to be able to see Mom and Greg, even if I’m not living here.”

“Well, Herm. I can’t say for sure. I don’t know that your mother and Greg will be able to stay in the house, if you do this.”

Herman’s eyes widened. His father continued.

“I’m ready to go to bat for you on this, Herm. I’m willing to go full steam with a lawyer and everything. But if we do this, it’s going to change some things. Your mother won’t be getting child support from me, because I’ll have you, and she’ll have Greg, so she won’t get child support anymore. She probably won’t be able to afford to live in Hombrook without that. So they might not be there either. It’s so expensive to live there, you know?”

Herman nodded, and then added, “Yeah, I know.”

“Yeah, so this will totally change things. She might even have to pay me child support after this. I can’t imagine she’s prepared for something like that. But wherever we end up, it’s going to be good. Way better than the way things are now, with your mother fighting with you all the time.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Herman.

“Know what, Herm?”

“That they’d have to leave the house,” said Herman. Herman put his palm to his forehead and gradually ran it to back of his head.

“It’s not definite, Herm. But I can’t imagine how they wouldn’t.”

“And where would they go?” asked Herman, grimacing.

He heard another exhalation.

“I don’t know. Maybe they’ll have to move in with your grandmother, or your mother will have to figure something out. But it might be good for her, living on her own income.”

Herman held the phone tightly to his ear and looked down at the cracked linoleum.

“Yeah, maybe,” said Herman. “What about Greg? Could he come to stay with us too?”

Herman looked at the white cabinets, littered with food stains, while he waited for an answer.

“I don’t think I could get you both, and I don’t know if Greg would want to come. Your mother has a different relationship with him, you know. She treats him a lot nicer than you. I doubt that he’d come,” said Herman’s father.

“So I may not see him at all if I do this?” asked Herman.

“Of course you’ll see him. He’s your brother. He’s my son. But I can’t say when or how just yet. But the real question you have to ask yourself, Herm, is what’s good for you, what do you want?”

Herman paced within the three feet the phone cord allotted.

“Are you going to get a different job?” asked Herman.

The fluorescent lights buzzed for a minute.

“Maybe, Herm. I make good money traveling with the show, so I can’t say for sure I won’t do that, but I will commit to being here during the school year.”

Herman shook his head.

“What about the summers? Will you go on the road for the summers?” asked Herman.

“Maybe. We’ll have to see.”

“Where will I live during the summers?” asked Herman.

“Again, Herman, I can’t answer for sure. I mean you might go and stay with your aunt and uncle in Schenectady for the summers. Or…I’m not sure. But the thing to focus on is whether you’re sure you want to live with me. You do, right?”

A drop of water hit the strainer with a hollow thud.

 

***

 

Herman walked slowly up the stairs. His mother came into the hallway.

“You finish talking with your father?” she asked.

He nodded. Then he went up to Greg’s door and pushed it open.

“Hey Greg,” said Herman. “You wanna do something?”



[1] This conversation took place in the mid-nineties.

Read More By Doug Dean

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