Dish Towels

Ten days before Christmas, Alex saw her father, standing behind the home goods aisle, slip a stack of embroidered dish towels into his coat pocket. She felt a tinge of shock slowly ooze through her veins and out of her pores. She shivered. She moved closer to her father, rotating her head to look at the bright, celebrity-endorsed linens, among other items. He still stood some distance away, yet she noticed the sinful glisten of sweat.

Barely above a whisper: “Dad?”

Her father didn’t hear. She rumbled and coughed to clear her throat; and he jumped, then saw it was his daughter.

“Alex! Uh, hi. Sorry. Didn’t see you standing there.” The towels bulged within his coat, like a growth or a tumor or a fat belly. They made their presence felt immediately, like hearts under floorboards.

The bright lights of the sterile discount store glared overhead and Alex could see more sweat accumulating. Behind him in the main aisle, a mother and father and children glided by, their shopping cart full of trinkets and toys. The beeps of the numerous cash registers echoed incessantly; their price totals pinging upwards.

“Look, I…well, I don’t know.” He signed.

She remembered her parents’ rebuke of a classmate caught siphoning money from the sophomore class budget. She specifically recalled her father’s vitriol.

“Dad, I don’t get it. I don’t get it. Like, seriously, you like ripped into that kid earlier into the year. And now, look at this.”

He could only agree. “Yeah, look at this.”

A young couple walked by and both Alex and her father could overhear their conversation of big bonuses and vacation homes. Then they moved out of any sort of audible range.

“And my high school? I mean, you guys sent me to one of the nicer ones. It’s nice because I can really find my full potential. I can write. People don’t make fun of me for it there. I’m not the geek anymore. I wear the uniform and it all goes away and people just assume.”

A pause.

He barely gulped the phrase out: “Anything for your education.”


They could only hear the whir of security cameras. Or something that sounded like it. In such stores, a myriad of noises usually clanged and clattered together in a commercial cacophony. And the doors spat out innumerous crowds, like the maw of some beast. She almost felt the building breathe and, consequently, sensed its judgments.

“Let’s head out,” he said.

They left the aisle and approached the registers. Alex imagined that, as they did so, items flew off the shelves and scolded them. The items screeched as her father grabbed the cart he left outside of the home goods section. They protested and hollered as the cashier announced the $34.43 total, and they became indignant when the theft detector made no peep.

Alex and her father left the store and entered the car. The skies above hovered gray and heavy, and within them rumbled angry low thunderous clouds. Then it started to rain. The drops pattered onto the car and slithered down the sides like small rivers. The radio blared. Neither spoke.

A red light. They stopped.

She looked at her father with deep shame. She stared at his clothes - up and down - from his Nike sneakers to his slightly-worn button-down shirt. Did he steal these, too? She even regarded the car with suspicion. If he so easily took those dish towels, she assumed that he either had done this before or had just been lucky. But now, she trusted nothing in her house - her family’s possessions all seemed dubious.

On the radio the music stopped playing. A news broadcast started and it declared: “Reports from our economists state that the recession doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. A lot of families are...” Alex flipped her hair and shut it off.

“I hate the news,” she said.

The light turned green. The car slugged its way through winding suburban streets as it carried them back to their house.

In the driveway, her father said, “Don’t tell your mother.”

Alex climbed out the car without responding to her father. She bolted to their front door and opened it with her own keys. Once inside, she found her family’s file cabinet - she knew it contained the information she needed. She stared at it. She wanted to pull it apart. And, in consequence, it seemed to grumble and growl. The phone shrieked. She answered it.


“Hi, honey.”

A pause.

“When are you coming home?”

“Oh, the usual. I’ll be a little late, though. Why? Is something the matter?”

She considered disclosing everything, but she relented.

“Nothing. No, I’ll see you at home.”

She hung up. Now, she would tend to the file cabinet. She walked over to it and yanked open the draw. Inside, she found notices of ‘layoffs’ and ‘accounts suspended’ and other writings of financial jargon that she didn’t quite grasp. But she knew something terrible when she encountered it.

She felt her father standing behind her. He coughed.

“What are you doing, Alex?”

“What am I doing? What am I doing? Dad, why didn’t you tell me about any of this?”

“You didn’t need to know.”

“But, but you lied! You kept this secret from me! Like, I can’t believe this. Seriously. I’m a member of this family, too. What else have you hidden?”

She could see her father grow angry. His face flushed and his eyes shrunk and he gasped deep breaths.

“Alex, it’s not that simple.”

She looked around the living room where they kept the file cabinet. She saw family photos and furniture and her schoolbooks. Nothing out of the ordinary, yet she regarded it all with gushing suspicion.

Outside, the sky grew darker and, since neither she nor her father had turned on the lights, everything appeared a stagnant gray. She could see the clock on the wall - 4:30 pm. Though late, her mother would be home soon enough. And she would tell her of her father’s transgression.

She whispered, “I don’t know you anymore.”

And that did it.

Her father puffed and grew. His breath entered and exited in loud rasps. His eyes looked wild. His skin needed to darken to green and he’d be like Bruce Banner.

He began to shout.

“Look, Alex! You need to understand! Because you don’t! Did you hear anything on the radio on the way back? Have you paid attention to nothing? Nothing at all? Are you so wrapped up in your own adolescent world that you haven’t noticed?”

She stepped back and turned away. She’d never seen her father like this. Vague notions of crashing stocks floated through her head.

“Listen,” her father hissed, and Alex turned toward him. “Some people have to steal to get by.”

A pause.

She saw her house - imagined or real; she wasn’t sure anymore - begin to vibrate with virility, and she quivered slightly as she felt the sneers and stares of everything inside. Outside, the sun had gone down.

Only nine days until Christmas.