“That’s some nasty pre-wedding jitters, Alice.”
“Stop looking in my toilet, Janie.” I yanked off some toilet paper, wiping the nastiness off my chin, and tried communicating with my stomach. Any more pre-wedding nerves about to come spewing out?
“Alice, it’s green.”
“Yes, well, I drank peppermint liqueur last night.”
“It’s toxic green.”
“It was a lot of liqueur.” I glanced up from worshipping the vomit god. Janie had half turned from where she’d been fixing her hair by the bathroom sink, her hands frozen mid-scrunch in her brown curls, her piquant face gray.
“You really don’t want to marry him, do you.”
I pushed myself up and flushed the toilet, the lingering stench of puke accompanying me. Nudging Janie aside, I peered into the bathroom mirror. Uncombed blond hair, straight as straw – nothing new there – and nice eyes, I’d been told. Blue-green, and a pert – what the…? How did bits of puke get all over my face? Tell me, please, how! It’s not a freaking mist. My mouth isn’t a spray bottle. It didn’t come out of any other orifices. And yet – oh, no, please, no. Even my hair was suspiciously wet.
“I need a shower.”
“You need to answer me, Alice.”
I ignored her as I stripped off my pajamas, kicked them into the corner (oops, overshot, right into the cat litter) and turned the water on as hot as I could take it. Janie stalked me, hovering just beyond the frog and lily pad shower curtain, her shadow forbidding and disapproving. Shadow hands planted on shadow hips and unseen feet tap-tapped impatiently.
“Answer me, Alice.”
I groaned. “Of course I want to marry him. He’s drop-dead gorgeous.”
The foot tap-tapped even faster; the arms gesticulated wildly. “And? What else? Is he smart? Good in bed?”
I winced. He was passable. There were stirrings in me now and then. I pasted a bright smile on my face, gushing, “Fantastic in bed.”
“Oh, stuff it, Alice!” growled the chronically dissatisfied shadow, “Go tell your big fat lie to someone who isn’t your best friend and who hasn’t just seen possibly the most grotesque vomit I will ever see. The guy is controlling. He won’t even let your parents come to your wedding, for heaven’s sake!”
“They’ll be at the reception,” I informed the indignant silhouette defensively. “I reserved a table for them in the next section. They’ll see me through gaps in the latticework.”
Exasperated, puppet-show arms flung upward. “Fine! Fine. I’ve done here. You’ve made your bed, girl. Now lie in it.”
Ooh, I wish she hadn’t used those exact words.
Don’t worry, I told myself, the stirrings will get better in time.
A palm-slapping-head moment. Why hadn’t I thought of them? Mom and Dad could’ve sequestered themselves there, I thought as I walked down the red-carpeted aisle on the arm of – what was his name again? One of Brandon’s friends.
Since Brandon couldn’t stand my family, he’d forbidden them to come to our wedding and reception and had assigned a friend of his to escort me down the aisle. That friend’s sweaty palm was currently patting my hand and making moist, slapping noises.
Please stop doing that, I implored him inwardly; it brought to mind the dying fish flopping against the bottom of my father’s boat when he’d taken me fishing once. Slap, smack, slap smack. Tears sprang to my eyes as I thought of that ill-fated aquatic victim.
I didn’t want to think of doomed fish while walking down the aisle at my wedding.
I looked at Brandon.
That was better. My heart started racing. My breath hitched in my throat. My body said I had way too many yards of useless white fabric on it.
Then I was standing beside him, and What’s-His-Name with the doomed-fish-slappers in place of hands faded into the background.
I stared at Brandon, hardly hearing a word of the entire ceremony. My body kept insisting it did not need this much material on.
This was the curse of the never-fully-sated. Always left wanting more.
I started gravitating toward Brandon.
Wedding night, I chanted in my head. Magical, mystical wedding night, come to me.
The church doors slammed open.
“This wedding can’t go on!”
Everyone spun around. A tiny missile of a woman charged through the door, hurtled down the aisle, skidded to a halt just in front of me and Brandon, and jabbed one tiny finger at him.
“You! You have to marry me! I’m pregnant!”
I burst into tears.
Brandon and his clan left with the little pregnant missile while I sniffled on the red-carpeted steps up to the altar. Janie’s ten-minute listing of all his faults had cheered me despite the priest trying to eject me from his premises, mumbling something about the next couple mistaking the tear spots on the floor for somebody’s bladder problem.
A ruckus from the confessionals stopped the priest mid-reprimand. There was scuffling, cursing, then three breathless figures tumbled out of the confessional closest to the front.
“Wanker!” Dad exclaimed, climbing to his feet and brushing down his pant legs. Mom and Simon followed suit. “Sorry, priest,” Dad amended. “Not you. That adulterer.”
“Alice!” Mom came toward me, arms spread wide.
I did a fair imitation of a missile myself: I launched myself into her embrace.
The tears flowed again.
“Look, Alice, you puked green stuff on your wedding day. Girls who are happy just don’t do that kind of thing. You didn’t want to marry the bloke. Why are you bawling again?”
I’d puked today, too, thinking of the non-wedding. All I wanted was to stare at the ceiling with the occasional tear leaking out, but Janie had bullied me into getting up and dragged me out shopping – we were currently sitting in the food court with half-eaten Chinese cuisine – and I was leaking in public in a very obvious and vociferous way.
My phone rang, sparing me Janie’s Spanish Inquisition.
“Alice,” Mom’s voice crackled over the line. “Are you sitting down?”
“Yes, Mom. Why?”
“Remember I told you your grandmother couldn’t come to the reception because she had a hot Bingo date?”
“Yeah.” The Chicken Kung Pao – though looking nasty moments before – increased vastly in appeal when weighed against hearing details of grandma’s love life.
“Well, I lied,” Mom continued. “Alice, she’s dead.”
“What?” The fork stilled, suspended halfway to my mouth. A Kung Pao chicken piece committed suicide, splattering on the tiled floor of the food court.
“I didn’t want to blacken your wedding day, so I gave her a temporary love life. I didn’t know it was going to be a useless day anyway, or else I wouldn’t have bothered. Really – bingo and a hot date, Alice? I’m surprised you believed me. Anyway, the funeral’s this Wednesday, 9am, Tinkerdam’s Funeral Home.”
“What, Mom, how can you do this to me?” I wailed, but the line went dead. I froze. “Mom? Mom?”
She’d hung up on me!
I called her back.
I pulled the phone away from my ear and gawped at it. Not even my mother wanted to listen to my bawling.
I looked up, expecting Janie to be gone, too, but she only looked at me in a way that made the tears come even harder.
The next morning I puked just thinking of the day before. Grandma dead. She’d been a scary woman but I’d loved her. She could shake me out of my moods with a single prosaic, crude generality on life.
I thought of her a lot that Tuesday. But nothing else. In fact why am I even bothering describing it? Nothing happened. I puked. I cried. And it’s a worthless day anyway. I mean, did anything good ever happen on a Tuesday? That’s naturally excepting those weird people in Prague who do that Tuesday Toast thingey. But what’s the deal with that? Those people are just freaks. Pick a non-loser day next time, folks!
But then again, I feel a bit freakish myself. Maybe one day I’ll try it.
But not this Tuesday. This Tuesday was just puke and tears.
Grandma’s funeral. I woke up thinking about it and felt like puking. Crawling out of bed, I wove across the floor in sleep-induced intoxication, staggered into the bathroom, and stared at myself in the mirror. I did puke then. I nearly decided to stay home, but hey, what better funeral guest than one resembling a corpse in the ultimate show of empathy?
I donned a knee-length black dress, black tights and black medium-high heels. The ensemble made me look frightening; I should have worn it to my wedding, added some black lipstick and heavy black eyeliner; maybe then what’s-his-face would’ve thought twice about ditching the Goth for the pregnant missile. A man never knows what secret powers a Goth has. Mwahahahaha!
The funeral looked as funerals do. Pews. Black carpet. A coffin on a raised dais. People in black. People hunched over mourning. People there for the food at the reception. People peeping into the coffin to ogle the dead lady.
“Alice, I’m so sorry.”
“Mom!” I turned to a veiled figure dressed all in black. “You hung up on me!”
“Phone died, dear. I called you back after I switched cells but couldn’t get through.”
Um…yeah, that’s because I went all self-pity on myself and turned my phone off. Her arms went around me and I melted for a moment. She pulled back and her black-gloved hands framed my face.
“Go pay your respects, Alice.”
Did that mean go look inside the coffin?
A gentle nudge toward the dais told me it did.
How was eyeballing poor departed Grandma showing her respect?
And yet I went.
Someone had put garish red lipstick on her. In fond remembrance of the hot bingo date that wasn’t, I thought ghoulishly.
Someone else had tucked an old black-and-white picture of her, her husband and her children under the fingers clasped over her stomach.
Tears welled up. I’d lost my grandma and my man in the same week.
“Oh, stop being such a baby, Alice.”
I leapt straight up in the air and twisted to see who’d spoken.
“You heard me.”
It couldn’t be.
My head whipped back to Grandma. Her eyes were open and that garish scarlet-lipsticked mouth was curled into her customary ‘You suck’ sneer.
I pressed a hand to my heart. “You’re not dead!”
“What do you think I’m lying in a coffin for, girl? For kicks? Of course I’m dead!”
“Keep your mouth shut or people are going to think you’re talking to a corpse.”
“You just said you are a corpse.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to like it,” that lipsticked mouth griped.
“I think I’m going mad,” I talked over her. “Actually I’m sure this isn’t at all unusual. I’ve seen something similar in a movie, where a corpse starts talking–”
“What?” Grandma screeched, scooting backward and sitting up. “Are you calling me a cliché? A cliché talking dead grandma?”
“Is there a point to this torture?” I cut off her tirade.
“Is there a…” She looked about to go off again, but visibly reined herself in. “Yes, in fact there is.” She shoved the picture into my hands. “Tear it up.”
“Rip it to pieces.”
“DO IT, ALICE!” Her red lipsticked mouth yelled right in my face. “DO IT! DO IT! DO IT!”
Nothing says terrifying like your wild-eyed, snarling, blood-red-lipped dead grandma screaming in your face. I started tearing the picture up in something nearing a petrified fit of insanity.
“Alice! Alice, WHAT are you doing?”
My mom dragged me away from the coffin, where my grandma was once again resting at peace with scraps of a torn up family photograph sprinkled all over her.
I still had one shred clutched in my hand, a scrap of photograph showing someone’s eye, really freaky looking. I turned it over: ‘baby M’ was scrawled in ink on the back of it. ‘Baby Marlene’ it had probably read. My mom’s name.
I suddenly felt horribly ashamed. Was I going mad?
No! I wasn’t going to cry again.
Thursday doesn’t even deserve a sentence but it’s getting one anyway, and a few fragments to boot.
Puke. Tears. Self-pity.
About sums it up.
Janie came over Friday morning during my daily puke.
“Alice,” she called from the other side of the bathroom door, “please tell me that’s not still the peppermint liqueur.”
“Same thing it’s been every day this week. I’m sick with grief.” I threw open the door and staggered out.
Janie got her first good look at my face and shook her head. “Grief is an abusive husband, Alice; you need to chuck him.”
I snorted and collapsed on my bed while Janie sat down at my desk and rummaged idly through my things, plucking out the photo scrap from Grandma’s funeral. “Baby M?” she read.
“Yeah, what kind of loser am I when my grandmother rises from her coffin to call me a baby?”
Janie reflected a few moments, then said, “Alice, I don’t think that’s what she was saying.” She stood up abruptly. “Come on.”
An hour later we were back in my bathroom looking at a white plastic stick with two stripes on it.
“I’m pregnant?” I squawked.
Janie nodded, grinning from ear to ear. “Certainly looks like it, hun. And I have something to tell that Brandon of yours.”
“No, Janie, wait!”
She was already gone.
A huge bouquet of flowers arrived from Brandon around midmorning, with an envelope containing a two page letter explaining that, having been engaged to him first and also pregnant, I had a greater claim on him than ‘Poppy’ did and if I’d take him back he’d be the happiest man alive.
I could read between the lines.
Poppy was a hard taskmaster, wasn’t she? I remembered that imperious finger jabbed straight at him. You! You have to marry me!
I imagined that all day long. You! You have to obey! You! You have to grovel! You! You have to crawl!
Of course I was the better of two evils.
Sorry, Brandon. Maybe you’ll get smarter in your next life.
Coolly and methodically, I ripped the letter to pieces – at least it started off cool and methodical. It soon descended into a fury of manic tearing and hurling the shredded bits into the air.
Wow, I thought as the pieces settled around me. That felt good. Awesome, in fact.
I looked at the flowers.
If they had been roses, I wouldn’t have done it, but as it was there were no thorns to stop me, and so I tore the flowers up too, tossing them into the air and laughing as the shredded petals and leaves rained down around me.
I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
My cliché talking dead grandma can vouch for that.
The Week of Tearing Up
Sonya Lano |