The Middle Floor, by Jeff Vande Zande

In his basement workshop, Father grinds asbestos tiles to powder. He shouts threats up the old dumbwaiter to Mother: “I’ll spread this stuff in the heating ducts in front of the furnace’s blower, you bitch!”

Mother screams down the cold-air return from her attic apartment. She has kerosene-soaked towels. She’ll drop them, she says, in the laundry chute, followed by a burning candle.

Separately, each takes me aside in the kitchen . . . tells me it’s not me that they hate.

How’s the paper route? he asks.

Concentrate on your math homework, she says. Fractions are hard.

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