by Legacy Russell
It was a brunch. She arrived with grenades in the form of berries, blinded by retribution. Everything was tucked neatly into a ribboned basket that alluded to the provenance of countrysides or Hampton meadows. The berries were from Key Foods, purchased right before Atlantic-Pacific and the express train to the Path train to somewhere in New Jersey—was it “Newport”?—that emptied on weekends, drained of commuter suits and square-toed leather shoes devoid of gender assignment. The basket she had found in Park Slope and when she had brought it home Anne had said, “Oh, you know these Slope types, constantly gentrifying, constantly shopping at the fuckin’ Co-Op, constantly bringing their own green bags and bitching about how other people use too much paper towel. Then they go to Crate and Barrel and buy something like that, some little atrocity—woven, no less, and God knows by who! You know, some social statement that says, ‘Hi, my name is Summer and I weekend somewhere just delightful—don’t you wish you weekended the way I weekend?’” And while wiping the counter down with another paper towel Anne continued: “Those baskets are a violation of human rights.”
So she brought the violation to brunch. They were hostile berries, low-grade and meant to act as a quiet sanction toward the waffles expecting to be served. She arrived an hour late with an investment in passive-aggression. She rang the doorbell between the wilt of peonies and collapse of ice into the open mouths of chilled glasses perched between Darling’s fingers. “Darling” was The Mother. When she arrived it was an hour late and no one cared and Darling had already had too much to drink. She could tell because Darling’s mouth had gone slack just enough on one side, a perfect little eyelet of drool to gather at the meeting of two lips, lashed together and nearly parallel to two gray eyes, glassy and devoid of smile. But the mouth still smiled. And so she smiled. When she arrived she beamed right into Darling and Darling beamed into her right back with: “Daaaaaaaaaaaaarling—how. Are. You.” Darling spoke with glass between her teeth and so with each word came a shallow echo and between each word came the punctuation of clink, the dropping of alphabet into the hiss of high proof below, the drowning of each syllable into the burn of burgundy.
The house was imitation. In the bathroom little towels were tucked into a mangled origami of cranes perched upon white wicker, beautiful little birdies, waiting silently for visiting guests to shit and wipe their moist hands all over birdy bodies before ridding themselves of the privacy of man-made estuaries all locked up in porcelain. She hated these bathrooms; there were eight of them. Far too many for a household of only three, purchased with the All-State Life Insurance of The Father who had struck it rich by dropping dead and left behind a wife—a Darling—who lacked the composure to properly decorate and so had in a haze sorted through catalogues in the depths of mourning and in traditional fashion phoned in teal velour couches with hosed trimming, Marimekko curtains from Crate and Barrel, gently lined sateen bathmats and pillowcases which bluffed a new-age GROUNDING of one’s energy and DEFRIZZANTE of one’s hair. (In her defense, however, Darling’s hair was rather sheen.)
There was no music playing. There never was, in this box. Instead an insistent hum and buzz and flush of a cocktail being decided, disoriented, and dispensed, the sound of ice being crushed like pockets full of broken glass, the joy and ecstasy of a sliding door leading to the pool, a sort of wistful releasing of bodies into the dappled summer air, an encouragement toward the kicking off of sandals in the grass and the running of toes along the unheated azure, winking and bobbing against the calculated speckle of casual custom tile.
When she had first come home with Darling’s daughter to meet The Family she had been launched into the birthday of The Younger Brother. At this party she was supposed to be enjoying herself but all she could think about was whether or not her lipstick was on straight. There were mirrors everywhere in The Entryway but all the mirrors were conveniently opaqued with artificial patina or too high or too low or too small to disprove her sneaking suspicion of the presence of an aggressive red line across her two front teeth. Beneath the curved curtain of an upper lip she sucked her teeth until they tasted of copper penny and she was sure her gums were bleeding. She wore square patent-leather strappy high heels and a black dress and a black jacket. Two steps after her third glass with Darling and she thought she might either fall down or fall apart. Darling, seemingly sensing this, sat her right down on the couch (Teal, Velour, Hosed Trimming, order #T-like-Tomato-V-like-Victorian-H-like-Happiness-T-like-Tomato-66682, not to be confused with order #T-like-Tomato-V-like-Victorian-H-like Happiness-F-like- Floppy-66682—the fringed variety, noted by Mallory the phone attendant as “Totally cowgirl style, but, like, a couch.”) and pressed her acrylic nails into the forearm of her daughter’s guest and between clenched teeth wonder-clared: “I know you what you are. A lesbian?” Though the nails were in the process of bruising half-moons into the tenderloin of her forearm, she kept her wits about her and focused on a girl across the room in a neon orange jacket. Back in her body, she felt the throbbing of her blood against skin thinned by the pressure of Intergalactic Blue acrylics and she avoided Darling’s gaze for fear of being perceived as queer in the middle of a birthday for The Younger Brother that was not her own.
That afternoon when she arrived late to the brunch and was met with the audacity of a Darling in full swing, she remembered an evening’s carnage on sateen sheets, an initiation into a first night spent under Darling’s roof. She and Darling’s Daughter had been strategically assigned separate rooms on opposite ends of the compound. Darling’s Daughter was in her childhood room that consisted of a twin bed and a series of stuffed animals under whose gaze any full-grown individual with a conscience would, in the nude, begin to feel a bit like Humbert Humbert. Darling placed The Daughter’s guest in the room directly across from her own bedroom, a sparse little box that, had it not been for a bed pushed up against the wall and a small lamp (purchased via Barcelamps.com) in the florid style of Modernismo standing vigil on the local nightstand, could have been mistaken for an oversized utility closet. The location would have been a greater inconvenience to the mutinous rise of horizontal mambo between the two young women had Darling been a light sleeper.
Fortunately Darling’s evening routine was this: after after-dinner digestif Darling would settle herself in front of the sixty-inch to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians, a show that she always pretended just happened to be on and so disdainfully engaged, but in reality she made a concerted effort to meet the timing of and was always secretly rubbed the wrong way if she was derailed en route to her post in The Den. Conveniently just after the credits, she would decide to leave the sixy-inch behind to make her way up the carpeted staircase (carpeted in full to prevent bruising in the event of a nasty spill), enter The Master Bathroom (also carpeted), and swallow an Ambien in the steam of the shower’s running water. Then a refill of whatever remained in the shaker before bed, at which point she was known to lie on her back tripping toward a state of mumbled pontification as her brainwaves sped toward what was sleep, but at first glance often postured as death, until her synapses made the judgment call to flick off the lights entirely and shut up shop for the night.
Across the hall, somewhere around 1:25 in the morning, there was an opening and closing of doors. She made her way across the house on tip-toe and into The Daughter’s childhood room. In the daylight of breakfast and in the presence of The Mother and The Younger Brother, The Daughter blamed the aggressive red highways across the topography of wrinkled bedding and the unmistakable aroma of sweat on the discomforts of her “Aunt Flo”. After it was cleared up that, no, there was not actually an Aunt named “Flo” in the family, the situation was branded by Darling as a “disaster”, as she had just spent $54.99 to have those sateen sheets shipped Priority Express.
It was all of this that buoyed to the surface as the basketed berries were snatched from her hands upon tardy arrival and a shivering cocktail was dizzied and dropped into a prescient tumbler. She took two sips and two steps toward the sliding glass with her purse slipping down and her dress riding up with the stick of the season and became confused with the direction of things; she ejected part of her drink directly onto her legs and then the floor, neatly between her feet. The guests just beyond, in noticing, pretended not to notice, while The Daughter rushed to her side and offered to take her upstairs to get a change of clothes while she put her dress into the dryer.
Upstairs, in the solitude of The Master Bathroom with soggy denim pooling around her ankles and a crisp pair of Darling’s khakis escorted by a brilliantly bleached top waiting on the counter, she raised her eyes to meet her own reflection. Beyond her body, she could hear The Daughter knocking on the door and the gentle whisper inquiring whether or not she needed anything else. Running the water to muffle the fuss of the mirrored cabinet she found inside a small bottle of Ambien next to the Cetaphil Daily Facial Moisturizer SPF 15. She decided she did need something else.
When her cocktail arrived, freshly muddled and minted, its presence was announced through the door with a low whistle and she perforated the divide just enough to grant the item access. Pish-posh, she thought, staring into the drain. I am ready. She slipped two pills beneath her tongue and with a gulp, threw her head back.
Outside in the gaping maws of a New Jersey summer Sunday, she found The Mother in the center of The Living Room, her mouth laced with the expected eyelet. Digging her nails into the tenderloin of Darling’s forearm, she wonder-clared softly into her ear, “I know what you are. ” In that instant, she was sure she felt a heartbeat skip through the particularly prominent vein in the wrist floating above galaxies of Intergalactic acrylic.