Donald sat at the end of the family’s kitchen table that faced his wife, Elizabeth, as she cooked. She moved from cutting vegetables at her worn out counter to stirring broth and meatballs in her dented pot on her old stove. He did not watch her; he was looking at his hardened hands. He used his thumb to scrape off his fingernails the semi-gloss he used at work that day. He frowned when he saw paint he had not completely washed off his skin.
“Did you have a bad day, Papa Bear?” asked Elizabeth. Her nickname for him made sense to anyone who knew Donald.
“No,” replied Donald. “I just can never get the paint off my hands all the way.” He showed her his hands. He was able to tell by the way she was stirring his dinner that something was wrong. “How was your day, Honey Badger?” Donald and Elizabeth did not know what honey badgers were.
“It was alright,” answered Elizabeth, “until I found a pair of pants in Linda’s drawer. When I was putting away the laundry…”
“A pair of what?” asked Donald.
“Pants,” answered Elizabeth.
“Women’s pants or men’s pants?” asked Donald.
“All pants are for men,” answered Elizabeth.
“I mean, were they the kind of pants sold to women?” asked Donald.
“Women who aren’t saved,” said Elizabeth.
“You know what I mean,” said Donald.
“Well, yes,” answered Elizabeth. “They look small, but they stretch. They must look painted on – showing everyone her behind. Can you believe she has been wearing pants behind our backs?”
“Have you talked to Linda about it?” asked Donald.
“She knows Deuteronomy chapter 22 verse 5 as well as you and I,” answered Elizabeth.
“Well, is she actually wearing them?” asked Donald.
“Not now, she’s not,” answered Elizabeth.
“I don’t mean now,” said Donald, “but does she put them on at school or when she goes out with friends?”
“I bet you it’s that Barbara,” said Elizabeth. “Did you know she’s Catholic? Only goes to church on Sundays for an hour. They let their children do whatever they want. Catholics. Just confess and you get a clean slate on which you can go right back out and write filth like it’s the bathroom wall at the bus station. ‘For a good time, call Barbara 555-244-2888’. That’s what her slate says.”
“We knew she was going to meet all kinds of people in high school,” said Donald.
“We should have put her in private school,” said Elizabeth.
“You know we can’t afford that,” said Donald.
“And they worship idols! Catholics,” said Elizabeth. “Imagine: praying to a statue you bought from some sinner at a flea market.”
“Why don’t we just call Linda in here and talk to her?” asked Donald.
“Oh, I just want to spank her right now,” said Elizabeth. “Just make her wear those tight jeans and spank her bottom!”
“Now that just sounded a little weird, Honey Badger,” said Donald. “Why don’t you calm yourself and let’s talk to her?”
“I’m always calm,” said Elizabeth. “Always at peace. You know that. LINDA! LIN-DAH!” Donald and Elizabeth heard a door squeak on its hinges as it opened. A moment later, their teenage daughter appeared at the entrance to the kitchen. She wore a modest long sleeved shirt and a long matching skirt, but she was barefooted. She was a sophomore in high school, but looked like a little girl to Donald and Elizabeth.
“Yes, Mom?” answered Linda. “Hi, Dad.”
“Have a seat, Linda,” said Donald.
“Dad, I’m in the middle of my pre-calculus homework,” said Linda. “I’m going to forget something I just figured out.”
“Listen to you father,” said Elizabeth. “We need to talk.” Linda pulled the seat closest to her away from the table and plopped herself down in it. She sat slouching with her arms crossed in front of her chest.
Donald began to say, “In a letter to Timothy, Paul said…”
“I found a pair of pants in your drawer!” interrupted Elizabeth. “Why have you been wearing pants?”
“Mom,” Linda began to protest.
Donald began to say, “The bible tells us…”
“To dress modestly,” interrupted Linda. “Those pants are Barbara’s, Mom.”
“I knew it!” exclaimed Elizabeth.
“I spilled my school lunch all over her,” said Linda. “I felt really bad about it. It looked like she peed herself. I lent her my spare skirt and promised I would wash them for her.”
“Oh,” said Elizabeth.
“Anything else?” asked Linda.
“We’re sorry we jumped to conclusions,” said Donald.
“Can I go finish my homework with Barbara?” asked Linda. “I can take her evil pants back to her. They reek of the Devil.”
“Don’t be smart,” said Elizabeth. Linda’s mentioning the Devil gave Elizabeth goosebumps. “Be back by eight.”
“Thanks, Mom,” said Linda. Elizabeth watched her daughter rush out of the room. Donald looked disapprovingly at his nails. The meatball soup boiled over. He sighed.
“Let me serve you your dinner so I can go pray for forgiveness,” said Elizabeth. Her voice broke at the end of her sentence.
“I don’t think you did anything wrong,” said Donald. “You’re just making sure Linda gets into Heaven.”
“I said by my reaction that I don’t trust her,” said Elizabeth. She tried to swallow a lump in her throat. Donald did not want her emotions to escalate to crying. He did not want to be hungry while he consoled his wife.
“Why don’t you go on ahead, Honey Badger,” said Donald. “I’ll serve myself. It’s OK.” Elizabeth hesitated and then nodded her head in agreement. Donald watched her walk out of the kitchen with her apron on. He sighed with relief. He found some sour cream in the refrigerator he was not supposed to eat because of his health, and he took from the bread box a baguette also forbidden to him. “Take your time, Honey Badger!”
As Donald soaked up the last of his soup with his baguette, Linda arrived safely at Barbara’s house. She returned the jeans she had borrowed and worn twice that week at school. Barbara lent her a pair of shorts Barbara’s mother only allowed her to wear over her swimsuit at the beach.
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