The following short story was originally published in White Wall Review in March, 2019.
On the drive home, Ada feels so sad. She can’t explain why but sits in the backseat with her head resting against the window as light fades from the sky in a beautiful burst of colour. Her husband drives them home, a little drunk but not too bad. They’ve had an argument. She prefers to sit as far away as possible. To make him feel like a chauffeur, she hasn’t removed her sunglasses. It was something to do with a comment she made to his brother; she called him lazy and then her husband made them leave. He did so with great fuss. The show of their departure caused the argument in question, but that it isn’t why Ada is depressed. They always argue.
Everyone agreed, the wedding was beautiful.
“Indeed,” her mother-in-law had said, reaching out and pressing her plastic manicured nails into the back of Ada’s arm during a toast. “It’s rare you ever see any two people so in love. I’m sure I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Ada wonders if she’s jealous—maybe jealousy made her cry outside of the church. They stop at a stop sign for longer than usual as her husband turns on the dome light. Apparently, he has dropped something by his feet, something that has fallen under his chair. He does not ask for her help and she does not offer. Instead she looks at herself in the window. Her reflection confirms that no, she isn’t jealous. She is used to that sort of thing from his mother. Her husband turns the dome light off and starts the car again. Anyway, Ada has never liked that nephew; and his wife seems too young, one dimensional—like someone who will grow unhappy when eventually she realizes she has more to offer than is expected or desired. Her husband gets onto the freeway; the increase in speed feels dangerous. Ada’s nails leave small impressions on the leather armrest. She folds her hands across her lap. The familiar click of the turn signal punctuates his changing lanes. Ada’s reflection is all but gone, replaced with headlights streaming by outside, blurring with the first sputter of rain. Darkness swallows up the landscape. He turns the radio on, too loud for her taste. He likes bad pop music. The cheap stuff. The kind that makes you excitable. He listens to it all the time on headphones, so loud you hear the tinny reverberations if you sit near him on an airplane. Sometimes, she can’t believe how much money he makes. He has the appetites of a child—all of the toys on his office desk, for example. After the first baby, she wanted a quiet house. She had reservations about the chesty anime doll with the button on her back that makes her dress fall down. This is how motherhood made her dull. She doesn’t like her husband either, not anymore. But this isn’t cause for sadness. She closes her eyes. She hasn’t liked him for a long time. His four brothers are all very attractive, always have been. Tall. Athletic. They age well, wear expensive suits, and drink things, usually whisky, without appearing intoxicated or ever leaving to urinate. In other words, the men in her husband’s family are relentless.
During the reception, Ada sat between George’s mother and his brother’s only daughter. Mag loves to tell stories about her grandfather. She did so all evening. The girl is twenty-three but naïve-seeming and beautiful, an Audrey Hepburn sort of twenty-three. On Ada’s other side, the mother-in-law chimed in periodically, validating the girl’s account.
“He came to this country without a penny to his name,” Mag said. “He was like a second father.”
“Not even a penny in his pocket.”
“He became a boxer.”
“Yes, in New York, that’s right.”
“But moved West to become a plumber.”
“He sent all his children to college.”
Ada did not interject what she knew: that her mother-in-law grew up in a wealthy suburb of Philadelphia, scandalized her parents by running off with an immigrant, and later bankrolled any and all costs associated with their children’s education using her own inheritance. Ada touches the armrest again. The faux leather interior has small pockmarks, imitation ostrich skin. The car is leased. It smells like plastic and makes her slightly nauseous. She feels hollow. She never had very elegant feet but the sandals she wears make them look alright. Her second and third toes are joined up until the first knuckle. She used to try to keep them hidden. For the wedding, she painted all of her nails fluorescent pink.
“He was so hairy, wasn’t he?”
“You can tell all his sons because they are hairy too. And the sons of his sons.” Mag was pleased with the specter of her grandfather’s body hair. He died fifteen years ago, shortly after Ada married. Mag has recently graduated from Cambridge and will attend Harvard law school in the fall. Her voice is inflected by a British accent. The cousins make fun of her for it. Cambridge is very expensive for foreigners. Mag would like to work for her father when she graduates, to pay him back for supporting her education. She had fresh, flesh-colored fingernails and ballet flats. Ada warned the girl against getting underpaid, but the DJ interrupted with “Mustang Sally.”
“Classic,” said Mag.
“And he had a very long second toe,” said the mother-in-law, shouting now. “This was very peculiar.”
“Yes, my cousins and brothers all have that too,” Mag shouted too.
“But not you?” Ada had asked. “My daughters have one.” Mag’s mother left her father when she caught him having an affair. Ada never liked that woman, but now regrets going along with her husband’s portrayal of the hysterical bitch. Mag never mentions her mother in public. She was only twelve when they divorced.
“Even your children!” said her mother-in-law.
Ada’s husband turns off the freeway. Their children love his family. You want to belong with them but it’s a matter of belonging to.
“Can you turn the music down?” Ada asks, feet pressed against the floor.
“What?” he leans toward the radio but leaves his hand hovering above the volume knob, smiling at her in the rearview mirror. The windshield wipers are going very fast now. Streaks of rain fall through the car’s headlights; others splat against the windshield. She cannot see any distance.
“Will you please—” Ada sees the stop sign flash by, illuminated for a moment by the headlights, a splash of red on her right and then feels their car slam into something. It must have been another car turning left, it crunches into the other side of the car, denting the passenger seat and trunk — she sees the driver, another woman all made up. They look at one another, expressionless, but still moving. Her husband is shouting. Celine Dion is with them also, supporting the action. Imagine, Ada thinks, if that woman had turned a little more acutely, if they had been going a little slower — the vehicles spin together, skidding on the oil on the road, the conditions are bad with the rain, but unlike her husband’s car, the other sedan was not moving half as fast, so they move together in congress, against the wishes of either driver, neither one of which can extricate themselves.