Bobby slammed the door to his bedroom just as Nick was coming out of the bathroom. Nick looked at the door. He waited until he heard movement. Then he heard the television come on, and soon Bobby was laughing at whatever was playing. Nick thought about opening the door and saying something about the television. He didn't like how much television Bobby was watching. He was too old for cartoons. Nick didn't understand Bobby's attraction to all of the old sitcoms that played on the cable channels. Plus, wasn't it a school night?
"He's watching TV again," Nick said, coming into the kitchen.
Amanda was putting the dirty dishes into the dishwasher. She had the kitchen sink running in order to wash off the bigger plates. But the water was just running. Nick looked at the faucet and then he shut the water off. "Hey."
"He's watching TV again."
"What would you like me to do, Nick?" Amanda asked.
"I don't know," Nick said. He sat down at the kitchen table as Amanda continued putting dishes and silverware into the dishwasher. He grabbed the glass of wine sitting there and had a drink. "Do you have any cigarettes?"
"You're going to have to go out for them," Amanda said. She opened a cabinet underneath the sink and took out the dishwashing liquid. It came in a green and gold container, the colors of the sports team at Bobby's school.
"How much TV does he watch?" Nick asked.
"A little after school. Then he does some homework and watches the shows at night."
"He's a C student."
"He has a few B's and A's too," Amanda added.
"Bobby got a C in math," Nick said.
"Well, we were both bad at math."
Amanda poured the dishwashing liquid into the dishwasher. She closed the compartment and then slammed the door. Nick cringed. The dishwasher had cost a lot. It had cost their tax return money and then some. Nick had thought about buying a home stereo system complete with a Blu-Ray DVD player, and maybe some sports stuff for Bobby with that tax return. But then the goddamned dishwasher broke. Amanda said that he had overstuffed the machine and that's why it happened. Nick had yet to touch the new machine.
"It's the TV," Nick said. He finished off the wine. "We shouldn't have bought him that TV for Christmas."
"It was inexpensive," Amanda said. She took the wine bottle from the counter and refilled Nick's glass. She didn't get herself one. "It's not even a flat-screen."
"Aren't you having any?" Nick asked, after having a bit of wine.
"I had two glasses already. I need to be sharp."
"The book club is coming over," Amanda said.
"Oh Christ, when?"
"I don't have my watch on."
There was a noise upstairs, a hard pound on the floor and then movement back and forth. There were always hard pounds on the floor. Nick couldn't figure out what they were. Cries for attention? Teen angst manifesting itself? Bobby simply trying to walk across the room? It disgusted Nick to think that his kid made that much noise just moving. He looked up at the ceiling. He heard the TV turn up and then came the sound of a large weight landing, of Bobby falling back on his bed. It shook the light fixture in the kitchen. "How much did he eat tonight?" Nick asked.
"You were there," Amanda said.
"Was it two plates?"
"Leave him alone, Nick," Amanda said. "I think he had a bad day."
"Kids don't have bad days," Nick said. "Kids go to school."
"Well, don't you sound like your father?"
"My mother overfed me when I was a kid. I got fat," Nick said. He stopped talking for a moment. They listened to the sound of the new dishwasher as it cleaned up their mess. "She fed me two or three portions. It took me until the age of seventeen to lose it. I didn't even date until I was in college. I didn't have sex until I turned almost twenty."
"Bobby likes a girl in his science class," Amanda said.
"What does it matter if he keeps eating this way?"
"Her name is Katherine. Katie."
"He eats and he watches too much TV," Nick said. "Or he plays those games."
"You bought him that game system," Amanda said. "Remember I said wait a year or so."
"My father took my TV away. He took it away and told me I could have it back when my math grade improved."
"No. But I didn't care. I decided to lose weight. I went out and jogged, and I lifted weights with my friend, Mitchell."
"How's Mitchell's divorce going?" Amanda asked.
Nick waved her off and had more wine. "You really already had two glasses of this?"
"I'm going to have more when everyone arrives."
"What are you reading?"
Nick laughed. "What kind of wine is this?"
"It's French," Amanda said. "It goes down smooth, doesn't it? It never gives you a headache. You know how red wine gives me a headache."
"Yeah, yeah," Nick said. "Sulfates."
"Anyway," Amanda said, sitting down across from him, "I think Bobby had a bad day."
"What's the matter?"
"I don't know. I got home and he was just sitting in the living room. He was just sitting there on the couch."
Nick nodded. "The TV wasn't on?"
"Yeah, it was on." Amanda took his wine glass and had a small drink. "It goes down smooth, doesn't it?"
"See, he needs to stop watching television." Nick had some wine then he gave the glass back to Amanda. "When I was a kid I had a paper route. He should get a paper route. That would take the weight off of him."
"They don't let kids deliver papers anymore," Amanda said. She finished the wine.
"Did you lose weight delivering papers?"
"He'll never meet a girl looking like that," Nick said. He got up from the table and went over to the mantle. The mantle separated the kitchen from the dining room, and it was made of black-painted wood. "Are you sure there's no cigarettes?"
"There might be one at the bottom of my purse," Amanda said. Nick went over to the dining room table and opened her purse. He dug around and found a wilted smoke at the bottom of the bag. "Am I right or am I right?"
"There's only one."
"Let's share it."
Nick came back into the kitchen. He took a pack of matches off of the windowsill and lit the smoke, as Amanda watched him. The dishwasher whirled and rumbled. From upstairs there came another thump, and then something that sounded like a bowling ball smacked off of the floor. Again, Nick turned his head up toward the ceiling and then sat back down across from Amanda. He handed her the cigarette.
"What's with all of the noise?"
"He's a teenaged boy," Amanda said. "Teenaged boys are loud."
"He sounds like a goddamned elephant," Nick said. Then he felt bad for saying it.
Amanda gave him a look. "I have to get ready," she said.
"But you don't know when they are coming over," Nick said. "Where's your watch?"
"It's upstairs," Amanda said.
"I'll get it." Nick got up from his chair.
"Wait. Something happened to Bobby today."
"What happened? What?"
"I don't know," Amanda said. "But he was just sitting there when I came in. I think it might be the kids at school."
Nick shook his head. "You shouldn't feed him so much. What does Bobby need with two plates of spaghetti? And all of that bread?"
"I thought you didn't know what he ate."
"He said he was hungry," Amanda said. "I don't think he eats at school because of the kids."
Suddenly Nick got angry. He thought he didn't know why but he did. He pictured his son starving himself at school, and then coming home to raid the refrigerator, to attack the food cabinets. All that junk: the pastries, the cheese-flavored crackers and the cheese that came in a can; all of those bags of potato chips. All those bastard kids in his class. It never changed. Once when Nick was in high school and the teacher had to leave the room for a small emergency, this kid named Jamie Jackson got up in front of the class and started playing Duck, Duck, Goose, the child's game. It seemed odd the classroom playing that game. Kids rolled their eyes and threw paper at Jamie. But he kept it up, moving from kid to kid and shouting, "Duck!" When Jackson got to Nick he put his thick hand on Nick's head. He kept it there for an eternity. Then he pressed down hard and shouted, "Cow!" The whole class laughed. Nick had never wanted to kill a man until that happened. But what could he do? Jackson played wide receiver on the team.
"We need to take his TV away," Nick said. "We'll take it away until he gets that math grade up."
Amanda had a deep pull on the cigarette. "You do it. I'm not doing that to Bobby."
"Fine. I'll do it now." Nick made for the stairs.
"Here," Amanda said. "Bobby left his notebook downstairs." She handed it to him.
"Yeah. He was writing in it before dinner. I don't know."
Nick held the notebook in his hands. He looked at it. It was red and on the cover Bobby had written "Private" in thick, black marker. "I'll see about this notebook."
Nick pounded up the stairs. He was intent to put a stop to this. He wanted to put a stop to something. He stopped at Bobby's door and listened. There was no sound but the TV set. Nick figured he'd just go in there and unplug the thing. He'd tell Bobby that it was for his own good. It was just until he got the math grade up to a B. Nick would keep the TV in their bedroom until then. Bobby could watch his shows downstairs in the living room, only after he finished his homework.
Nick looked at Bobby's notebook. He looked at the word "Private" written on the cover, and then he opened it. Nick's dad used to come in his room without even knocking. Inside the notebook were little poems and stories. Bad stuff, Nick thought. It rhymed. He wondered why in the hell Bobby was writing stories and poems in a private notebook. He wished that kids still delivered papers in the morning or after school. Delivering papers would take that weight off of Bobby. Nick knew it.
On the inside cover of the notebook Bobby had written his name and Katie's name. He gave Katie his last name. Mrs. Katie Whitman. Mrs. Katherine Whitman. It was written over and over again. Robert and Katherine Whitman. Nick cringed. It seemed like something that a girl would do. He read more. At the bottom of the inside cover Bobby wrote something else. He wrote: Bobby loves Katie but Katie could never love Bobby because Bobby is fat. Nick read it over and over. And then he read it again. Katie could never love Bobby and he knew it.
There came a labored sound from Bobby's bedroom again, and then the sound of footsteps. Nick stiffened in the hallway. He waited but Bobby only turned the TV up and sat back down on the bed. Nick could hear the springs tense up. There was a sitcom playing. It was a television show that Nick recognized from his youth. He had loved that show once. Nick listened. He closed Bobby's notebook and he listened. Nick put his ear to the door, and then he held a hand up to touch the cold wood. Someone on the show spoke loudly, animated. The laugh track reverberated through the door. And then Bobby laughed.
Nick opened the door without knocking
"Hey!" Bobby shouted. He was lying on his bed. He looked beached there, arms crossed over his humongous mound of stomach flesh covered by an ill-fitting Dallas Cowboys t-shirt, his trunk-like legs, clad in dirty, gray sweatpants, spread eagle and hanging over the mattress, and his extra chin resting on his neck. Bobby didn't even fit on his own bed. Nick took in his son and couldn't stop himself from frowning. "What?"
Nick remembered the notebook in his hand. "Here," he said. "Your mother found this."
Bobby's eyes widened. "Where? Where?" he demanded.
"I don't know." Nick held out the notebook. Bobby tried to raise himself to fetch it, but it was taking to long for the both of them. Finally Nick just tossed the notebook. It hit Bobby in his chest and then fell to the floor. "Did you do your math homework yet?"
"After this show," Bobby said. He lay back on his bed. He left the notebook on the floor, like it didn't matter to him. "Anything else?"
Nick stood there for a moment. "About the TV..."
"I said I'll do my math after the show."
Nick left the room. He closed the door and listened for a moment. There was no sound, not even the sound of Bobby picking his notebook up off the floor. Nick waited there for a while longer. He wanted to hear something, anything.
"Is everything all right?" Amanda asked, from the bottom of the steps.
"Yeah," Nick said. He left Bobby's door and came to the top of the stairs. "He said he's going to do his math homework after the show."
"See?" Amanda said. She smiled at Nick, and he tried to smile back. "Now come back down here and help me."
"Sure," Nick said.
He turned back toward Bobby's room. Someone on the TV shouted and then the laugh track blared. Bobby laughed too. He moved on his bed and the springs played a symphony of emotions. Nick held on for one last second. Then he went downstairs to join his wife.
BIO: John Grochalski has been published in numerous print and online journals. He is the author of two books of poetry: The Noose Doesn't Get Any Looser After You Punch Out (Six Gallery Press 2008) and Glass City (Low Ghost 2010). Grochalski currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.