I hate her. She stands in the galley kitchen of this tin box home, the one she’s giving me so she can live out middle age with a picket fence and a covered porch with oversized white rockers. I want to tell her I hate her. But, I don’t. Instead, I say what she expects me to say.
It’s not fair, I say.
What’s not? She asks.
This getting married thing you’re doing, it’s not fair. It’s not . . . right.
She turns to me from the bowl of cookie batter she’s mixing (Doug Snive loves snickerdoodles apparently) and gives me a look she used to give our cat when he’d snub the food in his bowl only to get sick from an empty stomach. It’s a look of pity, a look that says this is your own fault.
The nail polish on my toes is chipping, my swollen feet don’t fit in regular shoes anymore and I’ve taken to flip-flops from the local big box. The baby kicks and I rub at the ache and tell myself I’ll do better than she did.
* * *
I dream about my father. About him taking me to the park when I was small, pushing me straight to the clouds on the swings. About him standing up clapping so loud it blots out the cheers of the other parents during my solo in the eighth grade choir concert. I dream about him cheering me on, oblivious to the football game going on behind me as I cheer and rally the crowd on Friday nights. All of them dreams, false hope and unrealized potential.
I don’t remember my father. My mother said he didn’t see the tractor trailer coming. My grandmother used to call him her sweet, sweet boy. I talk to him at night and ask him to fix the things he’s caused. Or at least the things I blame him for.
I used to think my father’s ghost visited me at night. My mother would tuck me in and I’d fall asleep, dead to the world, then he’d come. My eyes would open, slow at first, not wanting to give away that I was awake. I didn’t want to frighten him off. He’d just stand there. Watching. I started to believe he was coming home, for good, that this was the first step in his re-animation.
Step one: Have someone want you around bad enough that Death can’t refuse. Check.
Step two: Fight through the veil between there and here, lurking in shadows, attempting contact. Check.
Step three: Make contact. And that’s where things went wrong. My stomach turned sour from the stench of sweat and aftershave, sore from the hit and hurt of it all.
That’s when I realized my father was buried in a metal box six feet in the Earth and the closest I’d ever get to knowing him was through the photos my mother packed away after she started dating Doug.
* * *
Her stare turns from one of pity to something else as she notices me rubbing my belly. She sits next to me in the ratty Barcalounger that takes up half the living room. She puts her arm around my shoulders and squeezes.
We’ll make Billy do right by you, she says.
I don’t want to marry Billy, I say.
She ignores what I’m saying and continues on about Billy getting a job with the state working on the highway project. She talks about DNA tests and doctors and lawyers. She swears that he’ll make a good father and husband. I just know it, she says.
Denial. It’s a family trait. We wrap our heads around an idea and refuse to believe anything contradictory. My mother is convinced that Billy Morgan and I are going to get married and raise my baby in the same trailer she raised me. I was convinced my father used to visit me at night, waiting for me to speak the magical words that would allow him to move out from the shadows. My mother is certain that Doug Snive is a good man, maybe even better than my father. I’m sure that she shouldn’t marry him, and I’m all too aware that the only thing lurking in shadows are monsters. She knows I’m going to have a little girl, she can feel it in her bones. I know Billy and I aren’t going to have some quaint city hall wedding.
What I don’t know is whose baby this is doing somersaults inside me. You shouldn’t marry him, I say, You don’t want to be a Snive. I start to cry and the words get compressed.
Oh sugar, she says, it’s just a name, nothing more than a trip to the DMV and some paperwork.
I hear the words and they move my hand to where the baby is kicking. I think about all things that are in a name as I sit there letting my mother hold me, tears and mascara running onto her blouse.
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