When the phone rings, Laura jumps off the couch. She always answers on the first ring while I wait at least three rings to allow callers a chance to change their minds.
“Aunt Doris, it’s so good to hear you.” The decibel level of Laura’s voice increases when she speaks with her family in New Jersey. As far as I can tell, they aren’t hard of hearing. They just think they are.
I whisper a list of ailments I know her aunt will complain of: “Athlete’s foot, impetigo, acid reflux.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Laura says. “Are you still retaining water?”
I roll my eyes. She sticks out her tongue.
I pull myself off the sofa. “Tell her I said hello,” I say, and leave quickly before Laura can hand me the phone to say a quick hello. I head for the spare bedroom we converted into an escape room as soon as our daughter married.
I sit back on the black leather recliner, and pick up a magazine, but I can still hear the conversation.
“Oh, that’s wonderful. Fifty years. I can’t believe it!”
This is followed by a succession of “mmms,” “uh-huhs” and finally, “Of course we’ll be there.”
It had been a quiet Sunday afternoon. Just before the phone rang, we were planning a cruise to celebrate our thirty-eighth wedding anniversary. Although it was going to be expensive, I had resigned myself to the fantasy that we could afford it if we cut back on smaller trips. “We already said we’d go to Michigan to visit our daughter and her family in April, but that’s it,” I said. “They’ll have to come here this summer.”
“We’ll see,” Laura said.
“No, we won’t see.”
“What about my dad? We have to go to Miami to visit him later this year. You know how hard it is for him to travel.”
“We just saw him a couple months ago.”
I try returning to the magazine, but my annoyance increases with Laura’s enthusiasm. “Pop will be so happy to see everyone. I can’t wait.”
By the time she says good-bye, I’m seething.
“Guess what? It’s my aunt and uncle’s fiftieth anniversary in June,” Laura says as she enters the room. “They’re having a party.”
“We’ll send a gift.”
I don’t look up, but I know she’s wetting her top lip. She always does this when gathering her words carefully.
In a frighteningly calm tone, she says, “Aunt Doris is inviting the whole family. There aren’t that many left, you know.”
That’s a solid blow, but I know there’s another one coming.
“Pop already said he’d be there. If an eighty-five year-old man living on twelve hundred dollars a month social security can fly from Miami to New Jersey, do you want me to say we can’t?”
Laura turns and walks away. At least she doesn’t hit a man when he’s down.
I remain in my chair, trying to convince myself it’s really the money that bothers me.
I decide not to speak first. Instead, I think about the last family reunion. The women smelled of hair spray and perfume and the men, bald and pot bellied, complained about taxes and the Mets. I spent most of the evening drinking sweet punch, eating tiny turkey sandwiches and nodding in agreement.
A little later, Laura enters the room carrying two cups of hot coffee. She hands one to me.
“We just finished talking about how we can’t spend any more money on trips.”
She sits down on the chair opposite me and sips her drink. “This isn’t about money. We’ll see Pop there. It’ll save us a trip to Miami. If the kids join us in Jersey, it’ll save two trips.” She reaches for my hand.
“Stop that. I’m trying to stay mad at you.” After a while I say, “You could have asked me, you know.”
“Is that it? I didn’t ask you?”
“Maybe. I don’t know. It’s a lot of things.”
“I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings by not asking, but it’s my family. Our family. We can stay with my cousin Diane.”
“Oh great. That’ll be fun.”
“If you don’t want to go, you don’t have to.”
“Then you explain to everyone why you’re not there.”
I wait a few seconds.
“I know what’s coming,” I tell her.
“I say, ‘I don’t want to go.’ You say, ‘Good. I don’t want you to go if you don’t want to.’ ‘Okay, then I won’t go,’ I’ll say. ‘You’ll like it, in spite of yourself,’ you’ll say. ‘No, I won’t,’ I’ll say. ‘Then don’t go,’ you’ll say. And we’ll do this until you find a cheap flight to Newark and by that time I’ll be exhausted from all the fighting and I’ll admit I really don’t have a good reason not to go, so you’ll buy two tickets and we’ll go.”
“Are you finished?” she asks.
“In more ways than one.”
“Then tell me why you don’t want to go. Seriously.”
I take a deep breath. The words escape without conscious thought. “Because I don’t like your family.”
I expect an outburst of tears. Instead, Laura remains calm. “I don’t either,” she says. “What’s that got to do with it?”
Soon, she’s on the computer reserving two seats on a flight to Newark
Wayne Scheer has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. He’s published stories, poems and essays, in print and online, including Revealing Moments, a collection of flash stories, published by Thumbscrews Press, (http://issuu.com/pearnoir/docs/revealing_moments.) Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at email@example.com.
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