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  • annedouglas8

Consistent Just Not in a Good Way

I’m not surprised by my father’s mood or temperament when he returns from his office. His unwavering demeanor makes it difficult to read what he’s thinking. He’s not known for raising his voice, in good times or bad. His collegiate attire and gentle facial expression suggest an ordinary day. I’m aware my grades arrived in the morning’s mail. I brace myself for a lecture, his specialty, he’s a professor. On the bus ride home from school I prepare a speech and rehearse it out loud for a friend. Nothing overtly clever but some acting on my part. I’m determined to be my most convincing self when I reassure him that not only can I do better, I will do better.

From my bed I stare at my black digital clock and watch as the minutes click by. When it reads six p.m I hear the familiar bang of our front screen door. My father’s home. Maybe I’m wrong, perhaps it’s my brother rushing in from soccer practice. I’m not wrong. My father announces his presence,

“Terry, I’m home.” My mother playfully responds,

“Ah, tonight you’re right on time.” He’s often late although he’s aware dinner is served at six sharp. My mother’s rule. He stands at the bottom of the front hall staircase and calmly beckons us downstairs.

“Carla, Geoffrey, Anne, you’re mother’s getting impatient and dinner is getting cold.” At precisely the same moment our bedroom doors open and we appear in the hallway on the second floor. The staircase is free of carpet and our footsteps announce our arrival. We take our places at our circular kitchen table and my mother asks,

“Are your bedside clocks broken?” It’s ten past six. My sibling and I don’t respond. Her question is rhetorical. My mother’s made my favorite casserole. Perhaps I’m not in trouble after all. My grades may be better than I originally suspected. Our dinner-time conversation suggests it’s just another ordinary day. Clearing the table is a communal effort and once the task is complete I ask,

“May I be excused? I have homework to do.

“Anne, I need a minute with you, meet me in the living room.” He sends my siblings upstairs and I hear them whisper,

“You’re in trouble.” Their dismissal suggests our meeting is private. I stick my tongue out in their direction. This does not stop my sister from lingering unnecessarily in our front hall, gathering her school books and climbing the stairs at a leisurely pace. She’s moving in slow motion as she turns and looks over her shoulder, a smug and satisfying smile directed my way. She received her report card today, no doubt straight A’s. My father’s disposition does not suggest he’s irritated. He’s often quiet, some may perceive him as introverted, I see him as reserved. His expression is unreadable. He would excel at a poker table in Las Vegas. My father settles into the left side of the couch, the New York Times, discarded, rests at his feet. My mother joins us and leans into a pillow at the opposite end and begins to file her nails. There’s enough room for me to fit comfortably between them but I slink into the room and lower myself into an armchair trying to avoid eye contact. My mother sets her nail file down and pats the open space between them.

“Anne, come sit here, between us.” Her invitation is not a choice. I dutifully deposit myself on the couch and my mother stretches her arm around me and gives my shoulder a gentle squeeze, emotional support. My eyes begin to well with tears. My father holds a white, rectangular piece of paper in his left hand. I take note of his posture. Neither tense or agitated. I hear no obvious displeasure in his tone when he looks up from my third quarter grades and announces quite matter of factly,

“Well Anne, at least you’re consistent.” I sigh, relieved by the possibility I’ve done a bit better than I’d anticipated. I exhale and drop my shoulders from my ears. I have yet to discover the pattern I’ve created. My short lived career in my new high school is coming to an abrupt end. My gregarious approach to ninth grade finds me rising well above the ranks of what my brother and sister manage to accomplish. I’m popular and they’re not. In fact I am consistent. Consistently invited to parties, consistently included in the cool crowds, consistently a fashionable dresser and consistently recognized by upperclassman. My father, a man of few words chose wisely when he says I’m “consistent.” It’s meaning clearly lost on me until he deposits my grades into my lap. I’ve disappointed them, again. My third quarter grades read straight D’s. There’s no point arguing. Any pleas on my part will have no impact. My mother reaches into the pocket of her black pants and hands me a tissue. I continue to peer at the paper, willing it’s content to change. My second quarter performance is a bit less depressing, two C’s and two D’s. My first quarter grades are down right commendable, straight C’s. My father’s correct, I am consistent, just not in a good way. Four C’s are followed by two C’s and two D’s and today, straight D’s.

A perfect pattern. My grades slip in perfect increments. At least I’m consistent.


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