Frank Barley loved his family. He waved to the mailman now and then and voted when it suited him. He made no bones about his distrust of blacks and an unrelenting bitterness toward Mexicans. To Frank, a man fights his way to the top. No freebies. No sips at the government tap. You get your hands dirty tilling the soil. You harvest your good fortunes, and at the end of a life, you take stock of what you have and where you’ve come from. If you make it with a little savings and some pride left over, you’ve done alright.

The one elusive edict in Frank’s life was the disappointment he felt from his family. His wife Martha hadn’t smiled in twelve years. At the supper table each evening, only scowls. When Frank would lay on top of her, the strokes and panting, she wore a palatable mask of sorrow on her face.

On long Sunday car rides through the forgotten streets of Los Angeles, she could only muster distant stares at the random lives being lived around her.

On an occasional cribbage night, Martha rolled her dice, chewed her bottom lip, and waited for the goddamn game to come to an end.

Frank’s oldest son Roger hadn’t hugged his father in 20 years. Not even a handshake at

Christmas. A nod on rare occasions, but beyond that, he felt nothing but chagrin towards his father.

The Barley daughter Mel couldn’t stand to look her father in the eyes. She hadn’t since before her sweet sixteen.

And their youngest rued the day that he was born, Frank Barley Jr.

Frank Sr. couldn’t fathom how it all started. He slept on it each night and woke to it each day.

What had he done to so upset his family so? When he asked politely, they still passed him the peas. When he needed a match for his pipe, they would strike it. When his feet got cold in the winter, without needing to ask, Martha or Frank, Jr. would bring him his slippers. What then? Why so much bitterness? All this disappointment.

He couldn’t recall exactly when, but Frank decided to simply refuse acknowledging that any problem existed. Often still, in the evenings, with Martha reading Better Homes and Gardens and many millions of miles away, Frank would desire to only move his lips enough, enough to mutter the words, any words, to ask why? But he couldn’t and the time passed, and eventually it bogged down his curiosity. So, as the years passed, Frank detached and embraced this incurable sadness and returned in kind to his family the estrangement that he received from them.

One awfully cold evening as Frank watched the news, he heard a crude popping noise coming from underneath his fat leather chair. An impressively perfect pop interspersed in concert with the intermittent suction of air. Martha stood unmindfully nearby at the stove miserably stirring a pot of mulligatawny soup.

The sound seemed to originate at the heart of the chair, then from one side to the other. Frank lifted the foot rest with the yank of a large wooden handle. The foot rest sprung up and Frank fell backward in the chair. Martha continued stirring. The local news anchor was being saccharine. The popping became a buzzing, muffled and whimpering.

“She’s making that goddamned soup again. It tastes ten times worse than it smells,” Frank commiserated under his breath. Then, barely audible voices crept out beneath the chair, causing Frank to stir and squirm around, searching for answers underneath. “Wait! There it is!?” He froze. He could hear it now, clearly. The voices were speaking to one another: a woman’s voice, a boy’s voice, and a second boy along with a young girl. They were laughing together. They were saying witty and clever things. Frank sat listening, slack-jawed, his face furrowed and bent. His forehead drooped and enveloped his eyelids. He turned on a small lamp next to his chair and pulled the wooden handle once again. His feet guided the foot rest back into the chair. The voices stopped.

A splinter of light from the kitchen reflected off the television. Arm and Hammer baking soda, then a bird and a mouse: the new pitchmen. Martha stooped over an open oven queerly poking at a small, overcooked ham sitting pitifully on the rack.

A stark humming filled the room, causing Frank’s chair to vibrate quite violently. He leapt up, falling onto his knees on the thick orange carpet. His head pressed urgently into the bottom of the chair. Silence. He listened, holding his breath. Not a sound. As in other moments of stress, Frank began to gnaw at the inside of his cheeks like a cow chewing cud. He lumbered back up and into his chair and pulled the lever. Then again. Rambunctious laughter exploded from underneath the chair. The sound leapt up shockingly, jolting him back up from his chair, knocking over the lamp in the process. Twisted crudely and choked in its cord, it bounced aimlessly across the room. Frank again fell to his knees. The foot rest opened itself up without a yank of the lever. With his head pressed flat to the carpet, his eyes darting and gawking frantically, underneath.

In oblivion, a few feet away, Martha stood in the doorway, her back turned to Frank.

The television had frozen, snowy, on Chicken of the Sea. The lamp flickered and sizzled out. Frank watched, frozen, aghast, his head resting oddly to one side, sunken into the carpet, as a mini-version of his family walked gloriously out from under the chair. No larger than chess pieces. Martha and Roger, Mel and Frank, Jr. They were exuberant. Mel was choking back tears of joy. Flush with good color, Martha embraced her children with an enormously grateful smile. The four smiled together through choked tears.

Frank’s head never left the carpet. It remained half-buried in the orange fuzz. His eyes rolled back in his head. In shock. In death.

As the mourners filed their way up the steps of the Edelweiss Presbyterian Church, Martha and the kids stood gratefully waiting to greet them. The Barleys smiled graciously and shook every hand, thanking the throng for their generosity and their love.

Roger had command of his audience. What an impressive young man, many mourners would later observe. Martha managed to look radiant even in black. Mel, as always, was a stunner. Flipping her hair around coyly, a constant duel with an early morning Santa Ana. Enduring a deluge of Avon, Frank, Jr., nearly cocksure, showcased a radiant smile, taking old hands into his and basked in their empathy.

They were a loving family, the Barleys. Strong. Faithful. Unbreakable. Frank Barley would die never knowing why he didn’t have their love, nor why, for a time, little versions of his family lived under his favorite leather chair.