It was cold, very cold as the children huddled together at the table. There was only one chair and their father had taken that and was already eating. “Sit down!” he demanded mockingly. The children, wrapped in a single blanket, stood shivering and breathing slowly, their collective breath clearly visible.
At the counter, their mother was scooping dry kibble into five separate small bowls and then adding a bit of collected rainwater. Her husband was the only one who got to eat the wet stuff. Each of the children could smell its pungent odor across the table. It was tuna in a savory sauce, his favorite, and it made their little mouths water.
The small bowls were thrust in front of them, a wooden spoon in each one. “Eat!” he yelled and quickly five small hands emerged from the blanket, each grasping a spoon. The water had soaked into the bottom layer of the kibble, but most of it was still dry and it hurt their teeth at first. But they ate it because they knew it was all they would get until they got to the dumpsters.
He watched them with no emotion. He had stopped trying to remember their names. They were just his individual burdens, nothing more. As he finished the last scoop of tuna from the can, he banged it on the table as a signal for his wife to get him another.
She moved as quickly as she could to the cardboard box on the counter and tried to hide its contents from her children as she opened it and grabbed another can from inside and quickly closed the box.
But her oldest boy saw just enough to know that there were two dozen cans in the box on the counter, their bright shiny lids all sitting in neat rows and searing an indelible image in his young mind. His hunger was in charge now as he watched his father pull the tab on the new can and start to dig in. There was just something about the sound of his father pulling back on the tab of the new can that triggered his next action.
With his father totally involved in scooping tuna into his mouth, the young boy moved quickly. Before anyone knew it, he had the top of the tuna can in his hand and against his surprised father’s throat. And then it was over in an instant. Everyone watched as if in slow motion as their father convulsed and then slumped dead in his chair. And they all stood motionless, including their mother, knowing what certainly was next.
The young boy pushed his father’s body from the chair and onto the floor. Unfazed by the blood on the chair and the table, he sat down, grabbed the metal spoon his father always used and quickly consumed what was left in the can of tuna.
Slamming the empty can down on the table, he yelled, “More!” to his mother and glared across the table at his brothers and sisters, their wooden spoons moving slowly and silently from their small bowls to their hungry mouths. He was in charge now and they knew it.