“Walter, put the plates in the sink,” Pam says.
We’ve eaten dinner. Pam and Patsy have just finished getting fancy, splashing color on their cheeks and fussing with each other’s hair. I put the dishes in the sink, wipe the table, and head for my room.
“Nuh uh,” Pam says, while Patsy says, “Where you think you going?” And then they both say, “Wash them damn dishes.” It’s been two weeks of this. This getting bossed around. When I ask why I have to do everything they start telling me that just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I get to watch them do all the housework, which isn’t really fair because I haven’t even started shaving, and anyway, they never clean or anything. When I say so, Pam says, “Boy, you done lost your damn mind, talking to me like that.”
“You sound like mom,” I say. “Who actually did lose her mind.”
“I’m the mom now,” Pam says.
“Yeah,” Patsy says. “Me too.”
Pam slaps Pasty’s shoulder. “I’m both ya’lls mom. And I’m gone need ya’ll to clean up the kitchen. I’m going out.” She starts for the door, but stops at the couch, and then she just stands there, staring at us, her arms crossed, her foot tapping.
Suddenly Patsy’s at my side, literally. She stands next to me, dangles car keys. “How about you wash dishes? Me and Walter gone go out.”
“I just want to go read,” I say.
Patsy flashes me a look. “Boy, I’m trying to help your ass.”
“See,” Pam says. “He can’t appreciate nothing. Let’s go.”
When they start for the door, I tell them schizophrenia is genetic, passed down from mother to daughter or father to son, and since our father is a runaway, not a psych patient, I’ll be fine. I don’t know if any of this is true. I certainly haven’t heard it anywhere. And anyway, our mom didn’t just drink, she sniff powders, too. White, mostly. But I don’t stutter, not even when I tell them drinking makes schizophrenia come sooner.
“Wait,” Patsy says, nodding and biting her lower lip. “I’ve heard that before.”
“He’s fucking with us, dummy,” Pam says. Then she follows my eyes to mom’s collection of empty beer bottles along the window sill. The bottle caps in the ceiling, mom’s other collection, a drunk’s Sistine Chapel. I haven’t seen the white of our downstairs ceiling since I started using Pull-Ups.
Patsy follows me to the sink and runs water while I grab a hand towel. A stranger to housework, she squeezes in too much soap. A foamy mountain rises up from the sink. She dunks her hand in as Pam grabs a soda from the refrigerator. She sits down, sipping.
“You read too damn much,” she says.
Bernard Grant lives in Washington State, where he is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA Program. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Orchard Review, Stirring, and Fiction Southeast, among others. His chapbook Puzzle Pieces, a winner of the 2015 Paper Nautilus Press Debut Series Chapbook Contest, is forthcoming from Paper Nautilus Press. He serves as Associate Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown.