Excerpt from All The Flowers

After finishing the dessert of pumpkin pie they sat at the table in a stupor, from which the father roused them by saying: “We need to get up and move around. Let’s go out and toss the football.”

Reluctantly, the male children got up and went outside, while the female children except for Teri stayed inside and helped their mother clear the table. The boys positioned themselves in the street at varying distances from the father, depending on their age, with the twins out farthest. The father tossed the football gently to the youngest boy, whose name was John, and he increased the speed as the distance lengthened until he was throwing bullet passes. The first hard pass went to Tim, who fumbled it.

“You should have caught that,” the father told him. “I threw it right to you.”

Tim retrieved the ball and testily hurled it back at the father, who easily caught it.

“Is that as hard as you can throw?”

Tim said nothing, but his feelings were obvious in his face.

The father then fired the ball at Teri, who looked as if she would easily catch it but at the last moment dropped it. Andre had a feeling that she had dropped the ball deliberately to avoid showing up her brother.

“You too? What do I have here, two girls?”

Teri fired the ball back at a spot below her father’s abdomen.

“Okay,” the father said to Andre, who was standing next to her. “Your turn.”

“I’d rather not,” Andre said. “I might hurt my fingers.”

“Oh, my god. I have three girls.”

Stung by this remark, Andre said: “Throw it to me.”

The father fired the ball at him as hard as he had at his two oldest children.

Andre caught it, swinging his body to ease the impact.

“All right, all right,” the father said approvingly. “At least I have only two girls.”

Understanding how Tim must be feeling, Andre fired the ball at the father, aiming directly at his head. It surprised the father, who could only block it.>

“You should have caught that,” Teri said. “So what’s that make you?”

The father glowered at her. “I wasn’t ready.”

“You should have been ready.”

“I didn’t think a pianist could throw that hard.”

“Then you misjudged him.”

“I guess I did.”

“So what’re you trying to prove, Dad?”

“I’m not trying to prove anything.”

“You are, and I don’t like it.”

“You don’t have to like it,” the father said. “You just have to do what I tell you.”

“You mean if you tell me to jump off a bridge,” Teri said, “I have to do it?”

“I’d never tell you to do anything like that.”

“Well, what if you told me not to do something?”

“I’ve been telling you that all your life.”

“Have I always obeyed you?”

“Yeah. You have.”

“If you told Tim not to do something, would you expect him to obey you?”

“Yeah. Where are you going with this?”

“Nowhere,” she said. “I was just wondering.”