When Pat asked me to marry him in the middle of a hot Chicago night, we grabbed
onto each other and giggled like we'd just gotten away with something. I thought
about the usual stuff-the years we would laugh through, cry through-and the children
we would have. But I didn't think about the day I would have to meet his extended
family. The part that wasn't incarcerated.
When the day came I approached
it with dread and determination.
I decided on a conservative beige sleeveless
dress. In the bathroom I carefully curled the ends of my hair under. Pat came
in and banged around looking for some after-shave.
"So it's your
Aunt Jo Anne, and there's Dee-Dee, your cousin, and George, and then David-right?"
"Yup," said Pat, finding the Lagerfeld and loading it on. "Aunt
Jo won't be wearing her teeth. So don't keep looking at her funny."
"Right." I got the mascara out of my make-up bag, shook it, and removed
the wand. "Now, David," I said, brushing black on my lashes. "David
is the one who threatened to kill his brother when he found out he was gay."
"Right," said Pat.
"And Dee-Dee has the glandular condition,
that makes her unable to stop eating and that's why there are locks on the cupboards
and the refrigerator?"
I screwed the wand
back in the mascara bottle, looked in the mirror and practiced my neutral smile.
'Good," I said. "I think I'll be fine."
said Pat, "just remember I'm right there with you. I'll take over and do
the talking if things dry up."
more thing," Pat said as we left the bathroom, "David
"The killer," I said.
"Yeah, well, he has a toupee that
snaps on to a snap that is surgically imbedded in his forehead."
the car I went over the names and relationships in my head.
the toupee," I said, "actually snaps onto his head? Is it just one snap,
"Don't think about it," Pat said, taking an
"No, I think I should be prepared."
it's just the one snap in front," he said.
"Did he have an operation
to put the snap in his head?"
"I don't think you should think
too much about this Brett," he said. "If you think about it too much,
something bad is going to happen. You're going to say something. Or start laughing."
"Pat, look, it's pretty unusual. I need to know what I'm in for."
"Frankly, I think the lock on the refrigerator is much stranger," he
said, turning into a housing complex. All the houses looked like fake tiny log
"No, the snap on the head is worse," I said. "I
think it's worse because it's a choice."
"Maybe he won't even
have the toupee on," said Pat, turning into a driveway.
mean he could just be sitting there with an exposed snap?"
of course not," said Pat, opening his door, "Sometimes he snaps on a
cap instead of the rug."
The inside of Aunt Jo's log cabin bungalow was dark. Hundreds of porcelain pigs
sat on every inch of available shelf or cabinet top. Pigs doing things like skiing,
shooting hoops, and peeing. Pigs from different backgrounds: A Chinese Pig, an
Eskimo Pig, and a Pig doing the Hula.
Aunt Jo materialized in front of
"Beer?" Jo asked, sucking in air through her flapping,
"No thanks," I said, sitting on the edge
of the couch.
"Coke?" she asked, sucking.
I looked at Pat.
The person who was Pat had shrunk and hidden in a corner
of his mind. Representing Pat was a kind of moving wax facsimile of himself. I
had seen this transformation before. Once when I had drunkenly stripped in front
of his co-workers, and invited them to throw damp quarters at my nipples to see
if they would stick. And more recently, when he'd gone to a family reunion of
mine and was forced by my cousins to sing, "Oh, Mandy," into a pool
cue that was being used as a fake microphone.
The wax Pat said, "I'll
have a coke."
Jo ambled off to the kitchen. I looked at a Pencil
Sharpener Pig. Pat stared out the window blankly.
"Oh, here's David,"
I heard from the kitchen.
I looked up and saw David coming toward me.
I fixed my face and looked directly into his eyes.
Don't look at it.
Don't look at it.
"Hi David," I said, standing.
We shook hands. My eyes wanted to travel north but I willed them to lock onto
I sat down again and threw a glance to Pat, who was rocking
ever so slightly at the window.
Don't look at it. Don't look at it.
David sank into the lazy boy opposite me, moved a Dutch Girl Pig on the end table
next to him, and lay down a jackknife.
My eyes hurt. I closed them for
a moment. Paused and breathed. Then I opened them and right there, right in front
of my eyes was a black hairy thing affixed to a dent in the center of David's
was amazing in its wrongness. A monument to bad judgment. It didn't look like
hair; it didn't even look like a hat. It looked like something matted and living.
"Did you guys have an OK time getting here?" he asked.
Aunt Jo lumbered in with Cokes, giving a can to Pat and one to me.
at the Coke can. The nice neat swirl of white above the letters C-O-K-E.
I repeated the letters in my head. C-O-K-E.
The wax Pat turned
from the window and said, "It was pretty easy going."
I thought, what kind of person looks in a mirror and thinks
that looks good?
Then I thought, obviously a person who threatens to kill
people. A person who lives in a house with his mother and a thousand porcelain
David flipped out the footrest of the lazy boy, popping his legs
in my direction.
"George and Dee Dee are late," he said.
I took in a long breath and narrowed my eyes at Pat.
The wax Pat moved
to a chair like he was marching that slow, hesitating march soldiers do when they
bury one of their own.
I looked at the Coke can. In the middle of the
word Coke, were the letters O.K.
O-K. O-K. Don't look at it. Don't
look at it.
The doorbell rang. Aunt Jo leaned over to me quickly.
"That'll be George and Dee Dee. Do me a favor and don't offer Dee Dee any
I nodded like we were old friends. Aunt Jo winked and trudged
over to the door.
As I looked up to greet Dee Dee and George, my eyes
grazed the black thing on David's head. I paused there, not meaning to, willing
my eyes to move. But they were paralyzed.
Move eyes. Move eyes. C -O
-K -E. C -O- K- E.
I thought, is the black thing supposed to be hair?
Or is it a hat? Did killer David pick this one out of a bunch of other choices?
Snapping and unsnapping different colors, different textures - curly, bone straight
- till he said, "This is the one. This black fuzz that looks like a smoker's
lung. This is the one I want?" When he unsnaps the thing, does the skin around
the scalp snap pull? You know the way you lose snaps from clothing -- Is his scalp
snap in danger of pulling out of his skin? Is "scalp snap" the correct
"Brett, this is George," I heard Aunt Jo say. Only with
the sucking sound, it sounded like "thorsh".
I had to move my
whole head, because my eyes had lost all movement. I saw a bulky man wearing a
faded t-shirt that read, "I like pussy" above a cartoon kitten. Behind
him loomed a round woman who was wider than she was tall.
Dee Dee," Jo Anne said.
I nodded and smiled. I think. And threw a
"help me" look to Pat.
He had melted into the chair. Only his
head retained its former shape.
"Pat," I said, in a high, small
voice. "I left my cigarettes out in the car." I rose and walked like
a sailor on a choppy sea, making my way to the door.
"Excuse me a
second," I threw over my shoulder to the humans, to wax Pat, and the pigs.
the log cabin, in the fading daylight, I made sharp little barking sounds as I
struggled to regulate my breathing and stifle the scream that was pushing itself
out of my chest. Shaking, I reached in the car for a cigarette, pulled one out
and lit it. I inhaled the smoke, let it out, then hummed a satisfying, sustained
MMMMMMMM. Then I did it again. The repeated smoking and humming calmed me in much
the same way rocking calms psychotics. After awhile, my mind and body rested.
pupils regained some movement and I scanned the other log cabins, wondering about
their inhabitants. I thought about all the things Pat and I had to learn about
each other. When he returned to his natural state. I thought about all the things
I had put him through. Long, boring teas with my uptight college pals. Sweet Honey
in the Rock concerts. Demanding that he read, Getting the Love you Want and
then do the exercises where you mirror back what your partner just said.
When I thought about it, I had put Pat in many more uncomfortable situations than
he had me.
I sighed, dropped my cigarette to the ground and stepped on
it. I turned to face the log cabin, pulled in a breath and held it. Yes, being
married would be a series of compromises. Little things I would do for him and
little things he would do for me.
I walked toward the doormat that said,
"Leave your shit-kickers here". I paused with my hand on the door handle
and thought, so this is it - these are the little things we do for each other.
I turned the handle and froze. I froze because deep in my heart I knew that NOTHING
I COULD EVER PUT PAT THROUGH-- NOTHING WOULD EVER COME CLOSE TO THE SNAP. NOTHING.
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