THE LAST SPLINTER
MY PARENTS SPLIT UP over a splinter. You’ve heard the expression “the last straw”? I guess this was the last splinter. The conversation went something like this:
Mom and Dad's fight: 1/20/1983
MOM (yelling): What in God's name are you doing?
DAD: Shh. You'll wake up Benny.
MOM: No, I won't. He's sound asleep.
[ME: Wrong. I was wide awake and listening from my room like I always did when my mom and dad fought. It was the soundtrack of my childhood.]
DAD: Let me just unload the truck.
MOM: I told you to clean up your crap, and now you're bringing home more crap?
DAD: I had to move my inventory. It wasn't safe in the store.
[ME: I should explain. Dad had a store on Highway 44 called Calvin's Collectibles. Dad said he collected treasures. Mom called it junk.]
MOM: So you're bringing all your junk here?
DAD: I have to protect my inventory.
MOM: Nobody wants your crap, Calvin.
DAD: My collectibles are valuable, Nola.
MOM: Oh, really? Tell me one thing you've ever owned that's valuable.
DAD: I'll tell you three things. My collection of vintage board games. My Tandy computer. And my splinter from the Holy Cross.
[ME: Ah, the mysterious splinter from the Holy Cross. I'd heard about it forever, but never seen it. Whenever I asked to see it, Dad said it wasn't a toy.]
MOM: For the love of God, don't tell me you still have the splinter of wood your grandmother gave you when you were six years old.
DAD: Think how much it's worth now.
MOM: It's worth nothing. Squat. Zero! It's a splinter, probably from your crazy granny's rocking chair.
DAD: Grammy—not granny—Grammy Summer told me it came from the Holy Crucifix.
MOM (yelling again): And you believed her? Are you nuts, Calvin? Are you absolutely nuts? Because you'd have to be nuts to think you own a splinter from the crucifix of Jesus Christ. You're doing this to drive me crazy.
MOM: That! Right there! That look on your face. You're smirking.
DAD: I'm not smirking.
MOM: You're smirking!
[ME: He was probably smirking. Dad smirked a lot.]
DAD: I'm thinking.
[ME: I guess he could've been thinking and smirking.]
MOM: Uh-huh. I'm thinking, too. I'm thinking when are you going to stop collecting and start selling?
DAD: When the time's right, I'll sell things through my computer.
MOM: What? How?
DAD: I've told you, Nola. It's coming. A giant computer network that'll link everyone in the whole wide world. Once we're all connected by computers, I'll be able to sell my collection, piece by piece, right here from the living room. I'll make money twenty-four hours a day.
MOM: Then sell something already, will you? Start with a board game. Fire up your computer and see if anyone's buying Candy Land tonight.
DAD: The superstructure's not ready yet. We have to wait.
MOM: Like I haven't been waiting since nineteen-stinkin'-seventy for you to get a real job? Do you know how many motel rooms I've cleaned since then?
DAD: Wait and watch.
MOM: Wait and watch, wait and watch, wait and watch. No, Calvin. Stop waiting and watch this. Where are the trash bags? If you're bringing more junk into this house, then I'm throwing some of your junk out.
DAD: Don't you dare.
MOM: I have to! I can't even walk through this house anymore without tripping over your piles of quote-unquote collectibles.
[ME: This was true. Our house was jam-packed with Dad's stuff, except for my bedroom. I kept my door closed.]
DAD: I'll start cleaning tomorrow. Let me just unload the truck now. It's late.
MOM: Are you serious?
MOM: You'll really start cleaning tomorrow?
MOM: You'll throw away some of your stuff?
MOM: Prove it.
MOM: Let me throw away one thing now. It can be something small. Tiny, even. How about that stupid splinter? I'm going to throw it away.
DAD: No. Don't. You can't.
MOM: Then you throw it away. Go find it. I want to see it again.
[ME: It's not a toy, Mom.]
DAD: It's not a toy, Nola.
MOM: I know. It's a sliver of wood. You showed it to me the night we met.
DAD: Mardi Gras. New Orleans. February 10, 1970.
MOM: You and your crazy splinter. It's worthless, Calvin. Throw it away.
DAD: When pigs fly.
MOM: What's that supposed to mean?
[ME: I was wondering the same thing.]
DAD: It means I'll throw away a priceless splinter from the Holy Cross on the day pigs fly.
MOM: Which means never.
DAD: I didn't say that.
MOM: You didn't have to. It's written all over your face. You're never going to get rid of anything, are you?
DAD: Never's a long time.
MOM: I'll give you one more chance. Go get your stupid splinter and throw it away.
[ME: Silence. Just the sound of Mom's furious voice hanging in the air.]
[ME: Nothing. No response from Dad. This was serious.]
MOM: Calvin, I'm asking you to choose between me and a worthless splinter.
[ME: By this point I was standing next to my door, waiting for Dad's answer.]
MOM: Fine. You've made your choice. And wow, look at that. You've managed to throw something away. Our marriage.
DAD: What about Benny?
[ME: Yeah, what about me? Don't throw me away.]
MOM: I'll come back for him when I get settled.
[ME: I could hear things rustling in the living room. Keys jingling.]
DAD: What should I tell him when he wakes up in the morning?
MOM: Tell Benny I love him and I'll be back for him soon. Oh, and tell him I signed him up for piano lessons. The first lesson is tomorrow after school. Four o'clock. Mrs. Crumple's house.
Copyright © 2012 by Kate Klise