mentally approaches the event with her usual
combination of “Damn,
do I really have to?”
and, “When is the
soonest I can leave without appearing
Staying at home and mercilessly
chipping away at herself seems a much healthier alternative.
She is all too aware of how her family perceives
terms “fruitcake”, “nomad” and
all run through her head in a tizzy. She hates them for
thinking this, even though they are all perfectly applicable
adjectives. And true.
"I haven’t seen Octavia in a year,” she thinks. “And, of course, it’s for something that places her smack in the middle of all the attention.” Her cousin, Octavia (god, she hates her name) is 6 and a half months pregnant (she thinks?), and “the family” is gathered to shower her with gifts, well-wishes and half hearted efforts to convince her of how great she looks, even though she is the size of a late career Delta Burke.
For the first time in months, Amy feels the overwhelming urge for a drink. Not a six ounce glass of wine drink; more like a quart of cheap vodka drink. “No, you have six months sober. If you do this, it won’t just be one quart. It will end up being one quart everyday. For three to six weeks. Then, you’ll end up in some hellish, prison-ish detox center, pumped full of Pheno and Librium and thoroughly convinced that the woman in the bed next to you is actually a 30 year old version of your mother.” She won’t do it. There are some fates that truly are worse than death. Amy decides she will get through this shower for Parasite Presley (why, in the name of Satan and his minions, would she name her child that? Given how much she hates her own?). “It’s two hours, at most, of my life,” she says to herself.
Upon arriving at her Aunt Willie’s (short for Willimenia. Again, with the awful naming habits the family seems to favor) townhome, Amy parks her Cabrio, the one thing she owns outright, by the tennis courts. She takes one last drag off her menthol, and braces herself for entry.
It’s the same cast of characters. The “Rat King”, as she lovingly refers to the family. Her 72 year old Aunt is busy pathologically people pleasing, making sure that everyone’s personal needs are accommodated with force. Her cousin Craig sits quietly with a beer, seemingly in the wake of an asshole tearing courtesy of his wife, Sheryl. A broken man, and understandably so. There’s the customary cloud of loudness and minor chaos. The loudness is what bothers Amy most. Their voices are all 2 octaves louder than is appropriate.
She puts on her family face, and begins to engage in general niceties.
“How are you doing, Amy? We hear you are doing quite well.”
“Sure. Things are starting to feel normal again.” “Normal” is a invaluable keyword to inject in any social interaction with the Rat King.
“So happy to hear. We all pray for you.”
“Screw your prayers,” she thinks. Instead, she replies “Thank you for the sentiment.” For added alienation factor, she expresses that she has been reading quite a bit about Taoism. Then it happens. The collective look of confusion. Amy revels in these looks. Savors them. For a brief moment she feels that nasty, natural high that only “ha, ha” smugness and false superiority can produce. The Rat King is quite adept at the art of manipulation. Let the games begin.
Amy proceeds to help herself to the catered Italian food her Aunt has supplied for the shower. She sequesters herself in the living room. This, of course, is calculated. It’s the quietest and least claustrophobic area of the home. As she eats, she makes polite small talk with Willie. Amy loves her dearly, notwithstanding her furious love of all things Jesus. Willie is a kind woman, and one of the few heads of the Rat King who has been genuinely supportive throughout Amy’s 33 years of self-made debacles and relapses into alcoholism. When she finishes her pasta and salad (probably the best meal she has had in days), she once again engages for battle. This time, it’s for entry to the outside deck, where the rest of the Rat King has complied itself into one, huge defective entity.
Just as she is about to reach her breaking point (Sheryl is talking about the end times again, and she’s just about had it with the questions about her tattoos), the fake blonded, fake tanned lady of the hour arrives. She explains that she was stuck in traffic on 45 on her trek from the hilly Austin area to the dank humidity and aesthetically displeasing lowlands known as the Houston suburbs. Her vapid husband, a part-time realtor/former frat boy is absent (thank Satan).
“Hey baby, baby!”
Strangely, Amy and Octavia’s childhood banter always seems to return seamlessly, even though they have long since gone on defiantly different paths. The bond remains on some primal level. After all, Octavia was the scared little girl who confessed to Amy that she had lost her virginity at the young age of 14, and feared she was pregnant. To receive such intimate information, shared between two teenage girls lying in bed talking life at 2am so many years ago, is an honor that is not lost on Amy. Long residing, but never discussed. That bond.
“You look beautiful, Tav.” Strange that she would be so quick to say this. What’s stranger is that she meant it.
“Thanks, baby. I’m starving.”
“So, eat then, baby baby.”
As Octavia exhaustedly plunks herself next to her, Amy takes a long look at the belly. Involuntarily, as if some unknown force body snatched her for a brief moment, Amy throws her hand on Octavia’s belly. Feeling it, and surprisingly transfixed. She catches herself. “Oh, sorry. Didn’t mean to grope at you.”
“I’ll tell you when she starts dancing,” Octavia replied in that coy East Texas accent that never quite left her, in spite of her best efforts.
do.” Bewildered by the sudden onset of love
for this woman and Parasite Presley, Amy realized that in that
moment, she would have instinctively stepped in front of an oncoming
vehicle for them both. And as the Rat King continued to
constrict, Amy tuned out. She felt clean.