Agnes watched the girl scoop a spoonful of Cheerios into her mouth and start chewing, slowly.
“Matilda. Please chew with your mouth closed.”
“Okay, mama.” She put another scoop of Cheerios into her mouth.
“Matilda.” Agnes’ voice grew stronger, “Please chew with your mouth closed.”
The small girl closed her mouth and took a few dramatic bites of the cereal behind her lips before swallowing with great production.
“Was that better, mama?”
Agnes nodded and massaged her temples. She looked at the clock. Had she really only been awake an hour? She couldn’t remember what David had said when he’d left the house that morning. Was he working a full day, or a half day? How much longer would she have to parent solo today?
She closed her eyes, but all she could hear was the cereal swooshing around inside her daughter’s mouth. She could hear every smack of her lips, the spoon scraping against the bottom of the bowl, the food being swallowed and the girl emitting a tiny ‘ah’ after each time.
“Matilda.” Agnes was exasperated. Matilda froze, spoon hovering just above the soggy Cheerios in her favorite purple bowl. “Keep your mouth closed when there is food in it. If you can’t eat properly, then breakfast is over.”
The little girl’s eyes shone with tears. Agnes sighed. She wasn’t going to start crying already, was she?
“Matilda. Do not cry. Do you hear me? No crying.”
She nodded her head and sniffed back the sobs that ached in her throat. She went for another spoonful, scraping the metal spoon against the bottom of the bowl.
Agnes clenched her teeth. Matilda looked up and froze again.
“Go to your room,” she muttered through clenched teeth.
“Now.” Matilda’s eyes grew wide at the forcefulness in her mother’s tone. She jumped out of the chair and ran into her room. Agnes heard the bedroom door close, and then she could hear her daughter’s muffled sobs.
The phone rang.
She let the voicemail answer. She needed to get some quiet.
Agnes did her best to ignore the sobs coming from behind Matilda’s bedroom door as she walked down the hallway to the master bedroom. She stuffed earplugs in her ears and drew a steaming hot bath.
As she sunk into the water, she reveled in the silence and prayed that David would be home soon.
For more from Finding Agnes, visit my Fiction page.