Biswell’s older brother, Roddy, picks them up at the airport. On the way back to their mother’s house, he can’t stop fiddling with the Plymouth’s aged heater knobs on the dashboard. “You know what surprised me the most? Each of my kids is an individual.”
“We’re not going to raise a child in our reflection,” Hope says. She’s seven months pregnant. She and Biswell are engaged, and she’s meeting the family for the first time. “That feels just really Catholic.”
“What I mean,” Roddy says, “is that I thought Jill and I would produce a type. But your kid isn’t going to be a mini-you.”
“In my case, that’s a relief,” Biswell says. “Right, Hope?”
“A double blessing,” Hope says. She’s not one to cast a stone without also pelting herself. It’s one of the things Biswell loves about her most. She can really throw herself into a stoning.
“You know what I don’t like about parents these days.” Roddy’s wife Jill is now talking, as if Roddy already told her about the conversation in the car and she’s picked up the baton and is going to charge around the final lap of a conversational relay race. “They think they can do it right. Ha. As if.”
They all roam the kitchen—Roddy, Jill, Biswell and Hope, and Biswell’s mother, June. Dinner is over. It’s just the grazing hours that yawn open before them. And damnit they will graze. Nothing will stop them. They lean on counters—making heavily mayonnaised sandwiches out of leftovers, dipping chips into wet cheeses, pounding brownies. They’ll drink, too, as much as they want. No one can say a word about it. They keep roaming and leaning. The sounds of Roddy and Jill’s children stealing cars and murdering people in video games pour in from the den. The video game is new, a gift from Santa. Their youngest child is only three so she’s tottering around, shoving food into her mouth, pulling on pantlegs.
“You’re not going to get a Nobel in Parenting! That’s for sure!” Roddy says, using his edge of his undershirt to wipe the pale green (and nearly radiant) snot from his daughter’s small bulbous nose.
“I don’t want a Nobel,” Hope says. A lie. She’d love one—in something important.
“For parenting? You should get something like a Purple Heart,” Biswell’s mother says. “They’re for the wounded and dead. That’s what parenting will do to you. Mark my words.” And in that moment, arms-crossed, back rigid, mouth pulled down at the edges (toadishly), she looks both wounded and slightly dead. She stirs coagulating gravy. “I can sum up parenthood in one word,” she says, cutting her eyes quickly at Biswell who’s picking lint balls from the elbows of his sweater. “Humbling.”
Biswell doesn’t look up. He keeps picking as if delinting were more important than his mother’s confession.
And Hope mentally earmarks the swell in her chest. This is a moment when she feels herself falling for Biswell a little deeper. She’ll tell her therapist about it next Tuesday. Is it right to fall more deeply in love because she knows why Biswell is a little fucked up and that his fucked-upped-ness suddenly feels more earned? Is Biswell a hero now because he’s not claimed all the fucked-upped-ness that might be his rightful stake?
“I know what they mean now when they say that when you get married you marry the family, too.”
“I’m sorry,” Biswell says, slumped on the edge of the twin bed, one finger outlining a bicentennial eagle stitched into the quilt. “I’m really sorry about all of them.”
Hope uncaps her deodorant with a suction-pop. “It means that they can push all your buttons just like your own family can but in new ways, ones you don’t have years of defense strategies designed to ward them off.”
“Sometimes I pretend I’m wrapped in cellophane,” Biswell says. “I can see them but I’m just a little removed.”
“Is it hard to breathe?”
“I love you,” Hope says, holding his hand on the airplane. Her sweater sleeves are pushed up and her elbows—freshly rubbed with lotion—shine.
“In spite of them?” Biswell says.
She shakes her head. “Because of them—and to spite them.”
Rumpus original art by Zach Swisher.