“You can sing the dictionary, but you can’t fold a towel for your life.”

“Ay, you know how she is. Always trying to impress.”

Dad sunk into the teal sofa, Jack Daniels perched in condescension. I approached him, folder in hand. My chest throbbing like baby pigeons in cold. The red pen with which he’d make his corrections, uncapped and prepared. The debate tournament was three days away.

Resolved: Society maintains an obligation to the individual.

“The hell is this?” His eyes barely opened, his lips pressed firmly. Fingers glided along the rim. Pinched the tiny cork coaster, buffer between alcohol’s crudeness and the reassurance of handcrafted coffee tables.

“You agree with this?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think. I could be arguing for or against it. They usually decide with a coin toss.”

“So… why am I reading this?”

“I figured since you worked really hard writing a paper for the Vietnam War… maybe you could help me build a case that disagrees with the prompt.”

“Let’s see.”

Vibrations in Mom’s voice shook harder, the lapse in her speech stretched on. Family friends had taken me to see another Harry Potter movie. Afterwards, I spotted some cinematic liberties.

“Even Vincent couldn’t understand those high level words. Why? She’s fourteen.”

“She hides the fact that in our house, she’s stupid.”

“Dad?” The pen remained in my pocket. Crow’s feet darkened, in wood-burned detail.

“You insult your mother, you insult me. Don’t whine when you lose this Saturday.”

My case for “The Negative” hit the wall, predictably crumpled. My earnestness, however, laid flat as ever.

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