Volume 29, Number 4

One Last Time

they sit down to one last meal
as if nothing unusual were afoot
though her brother ribs her—
she doesn't usually show up—
"What, does it take the Apocalypse
to get you to come to Sunday dinner?"

the joke falls flat

she notices how her mother
brought out the best plates
the seldom-seem heavy silverware
the cloth napkins
and she wonders
whether they'll live long enough 
to wrangle over whose turn it is
to wash the dishes

they eat, they wait,
they check their watches
stare at one another
look away
start sentences they don't finish
reach out 
but don't touch

it's the guilt they all feel
why didn't we stop it
when we could
when there was still time

she squares her shoulders
too late, now,
for recriminations

after dinner,
when her brother asks
if she wants to play Monopoly,
she almost snaps back
you know how much I hate—
but he gestures with his head
toward her nieces and nephews
and she nods, instead,
and as she watches 
her brother's youngest child
dutifully counting out the money
she grins
for once she'll be happy
if the game 
feels like it's lasting

—Lisa Timpf