by Tai Dong Huai

My adoptive parents have a tremendous fight for which I am 100 percent responsible. While I sit in the living room and watch Ned Declassified on Nickelodeon, the fight rages upstairs.

What happened is this: my father, an English teacher at St. Bernard�s High School, has been on strike for the past five weeks. In order to keep from going nuts, he�s become a homemaker. He cleans, he does laundry, he makes the meals. It�s April, but he still grills outdoors. Tonight it�s ground turkey burgers, baked potatoes, and vegetable kabobs. Problem is, I told him days ago. I�m a vegetarian.

My mom, putting in ten hour days at her job as a children�s educational book editor in Manhattan, has come home in no mood for squabbling. When I refuse the ground turkey burger, she gets up from the table and says, �I�ll make her peanut butter and jelly.�

�No,� my dad says. �You�ve made her peanut butter and jelly for the last three nights. She�ll eat what I cook.�

�Mrs. Penski says turkeys live their whole lives penned up,� I say. �I�m not taking on that kind of karma.�

�Sixth grade!� my father yells. �What the hell are they teaching these kids?!� My mother is moving toward the cupboard. �I said, no!� my dad warns.

�I just want to eat in peace,� my mom tells him.

�And I want the respect she�s supposed to show a parent!�   

I look across at my father and point to the turkey burger on my plate. �This is nothing but antibiotics and pesticides held together with steroids.�

�Shut up!� he fires back.

�What is the matter with you?� my mother asks as she finds a jar of Skippy Super Chunk.

�I just don�t like being undermined!� he says.

�What are you talking about?� my mom asks.

�You have been demasculinizing me ever since I�ve been out of work!�

�That�s Super Chunk,� I remind my mother. �I like the smooth.�

My mother returns the Skippy Super Chunk and starts poking around for the Skippy Smooth.

�This is exactly what I�m talking about!� my father says as he springs to his feet. �What Mylee wants, Mylee gets. What I want doesn�t mean jack-shit!�

�Have you been drinking,� my mother asks him.

�No,� he says, �but I�m ready to start after being stuck in this house all day!� And with that he dramatically stomps from the dinette up the stairs.

I look over at my mother and shrug. �Looks like somebody needs to cut down on animal flesh,� I tell her.

�Here,� my mother says as she drops the peanut butter and a loaf of Wonder bread in front of me. �Make yourself a sandwich.�

At this point, I�m smart enough not to point out that I�m missing the jelly.       

Upstairs it�s World War 27.  I take my sandwich into the living room, flop onto the couch, and switch on the TV. Now it�s only a matter of time. The fight, like a tornado, will build and then gradually die down. By tomorrow morning they will both be lacking sleep, but they will have reached a new appreciation for one another. There will be sly kissing, silly teasing, hand-holding. �We talked it out,� one or the other will explain to me, �so don�t get the impression we�re going anywhere.�

It�s just one of the services I provide. Without me, they�d just fall into that boring, dead-eyed zombie state all my friends� parents are in. I make them fight because if they didn�t, they�d have no reason to make up. I think of it as homemade karma. 

In a minute or two I�ll put my dish into the sink, take the Slim Jim from my backpack, and chomp into it. Because let�s face it. A growing girl needs her share of freeze-dried meat.

BIO: Tai Dong Huai's fiction has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, elimae, Pindeldyboz, Thieves Jargon, Wigleaf, Word Riot, BluePrint Review, The Rose & Thorn, rumble, Hobart, and other terrific places. In 2008, her story "Scent" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.