Prompt Images

Cassie Hunt strolled through her mother’s front door, straining plastic grocery bags off both hands. She flicked on the overhead lights. Marion, alone with a glass of wine at the kitchen island, illuminated only by pendant lights and the glow from two phone screens.

“Traffic was crazy.” Bags chaotically found the granite, as her coat found the back of the other island tall chair. “I’m making us stir-fry.”

“Honey, I could have ordered something. You didn’t have to…” Marion stopped, noticing the Ziploc marinating something in the sink. “Do you cook for yourself a lot at school?”

“Probably more than you Mom, jeez. This is a very sad bachelor fridge.” She began putting things away. “The Shiraz goes better with this.” Cassie reached for mom’s fancy black-levered corkscrew and the unopened red, eyeing her mother’s full glass. “Are you fully committed to the Pinot?”

“Cas, honey, remind me again what you do with a degree from—” she paused on it,  “Haverford?”

Cassie wouldn’t take the bait.

Her older sister Lauren, the Wharton-ite, happily accepted the burden of fulfilling her mother’s expectations for the both of them. Cassie’s elite, albeit aimless liberal arts spirit journey would always provoke subtle mockery. A small price for spiritual freedom, she thought.

“Dad would have been 51 tomorrow.”

“I know. I remembered it yesterday.” Marion paused, now staring directly at her daughter. “I’m trying to…well, I’m…I’m trying to…”

“Alexa, play ‘42nd Street.’” Cassie shouted it across the room. “Mom, seriously, I know you’re dating again, and that’s great. But I’m not just gonna pivot past Dad. I get it that you have to, but….”

Marion reflexively clinked her glass. “To Jon.”

“Dad took me to see this, like 10 years ago. We sang all the songs in the car on the way back from New York.” Cassie returned to the stove, humming to the music ♬ “Cause I on-ly have eyes… forr-youu” ♬ Joyful music improved the mood in the room.

Marion took a long sip, watching and admiring the skillfulness of her daughter’s work: dicing scallions, slicing meat cubes, minced garlic sizzling in hot oil, the sounds and smells blowing away anything DoorDash could provide. “I missed too many of those.” Her eyes returned to her phone. “I just wasn’t into that stuff like you and your father were.”

“Neither was Lauren.”

“You two were always closer.” She looked up at Cassie with an expression that fell short of regret. Cassie smiled at the realization that she alone had shared the truly finest parts of her father. Savoring the first taste of dinner along with the musical memories, she tuned out her mother’s bullet-point defense of Ken’s many talents and their snooty plans. Fluid kitchen movement incorporated the random nod or ‘yup’ Marion needed to keep droning on. Cassie, all of 21 years, felt a growing emotional superiority over the corporate lawyer absentee mother to whom she never felt close.

She tilted the wok and slid the meat and vegetables over plates like a chef. Marion made her way to the kitchen table, one phone in hand, a familiar consumption rhythm from days past, for tonight, reestablished.

Cassie stood over dinner proudly, eyes narrowed. “Can I bring you something from the bar?”

Marion couldn’t suppress a smile, reaching back to grab her glass. “Your dad always used to say that to me.” Her total disengagement in the exercise of dinner—outside of underwriting it—was legendary in the Hunt house.

“Alexa, play Hamilton.

Speakers quickly shifted gears to the show’s opening riff, ♬ How-Does-A-Bas-tard-Or-phan Son-Of-A-Whore…♬

“Oh my God, Jonathan would not stop talking about that show when it first came out.”

“Yea, he saw it with the Fergesons, remember? They had the original cast then.” Cassie remembered being offered a coveted fourth ticket just before the deal was done, only to realize it conflicted with a midterm exam.

“Judy and Ron. I haven’t talked to them since right after he passed. Dad always loved Judy so much. They had a lot in common.” Cassie took satisfaction in watching Marion devour her work. “Your dad wasn’t all that smart, but he could be, well, very engaging. When he had a story to tell, you just couldn’t stop him. Those two would always compete for center stage… both born performers. Judy was just louder and more insistent.”

Cassie took another long sip of the Shiraz. “Mrs. Fergeson was always alpha. Mr. Fergeson was a supporting character.”

It was a comment Cassie had not intended to make.

They were starting down an unplanned path.

“Did you ever imagine your father with Judy Fergeson?”

Another step in the wrong direction. Cassie chewed, struggling to contain the contempt she felt with the loosening of her inhibitions.

“You’re getting warmer, mom.”

Cassie regretted the words immediately as they escaped. She then braced for a cross-examination that didn’t come immediately. Marion put down her fork, stared hard into her youngest, and considered her next pass very carefully.

“What is it you know that I don’t?”

“Mom, you were always so oblivious.”

“Of what, Cas?”

“Dad and Judy were competitors, you’re right about that.”

“Okay, and…” Marion swung around towards the living room. “Alexa turn that shit OFF.”

The room suddenly quiet, they had reached the point of no return.

Cassie downed the glass and poured another. Truth-telling required liquid courage.

“Mr. Fergeson… Ron… he and dad totally got each other.”

“What exactly does that mean?”

“Couldn’t you see it whenever they came over? After the initial social burst, the two of them always went off quietly somewhere, talking, lingering.”

“What the hell are you saying to me?”

“Before he got sick…maybe a year or so before that, dad and Ron… well, there was something going on there.”

Marion stood up. “Goddamn it, no. How in the hell can you assume something so outrageous?”

Cassie drove right over the last orange cone. “Because he told me, mom. He fucking told me. Okay? There it is.”

She paused to take measure of her mother.

“For months before his diagnosis he struggled with the realization of what he was feeling. We didn’t talk often about it, but I guess he felt I was the only one he could talk to.”

Marion stood, stock still. Absent her deductive skills, she appeared engulfed in processing complex feelings which shockingly she seemed to accept as fact without further evidentiary discovery.

Cassie suddenly felt warm. What possessed her after so much time, to share that bombshell? Would her mother now experience some crazy life epiphany that would change every relationship she had, maybe for the better? Or would she compartmentalize and bury this toxic fact and go on like she never discovered it?

Marion turned and slowly walked up the stairs. Cassie sat at the kitchen table in silence, head buried in her hands. She heard her mother’s door softly click shut.

Devin Householder

Devin is passionate about writing, reading and remaining in emotionally harmful relationships with losing sports teams. He suffers quietly (except on Sundays) with his loving wife and daughter in Rhode Island.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more