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Family Dinner by Justin Follin Smith | Word Riot
Flash Fiction

July 29, 2017      

Family Dinner by Justin Follin Smith

It starts with a marriage. Not your parents, of course. You weren’t born when that happened. This is the second marriage. The one your parents have after they divorce. This is your father’s marriage. You don’t know if he loves her because he doesn’t do love. One time after your parents got divorced you asked him if he still loved your mom. He said it was complicated. This is your almost-stepmother. You refrain from calling her your actual stepmother as long as you possibly can because you don’t want it to be true. She’s tall, medium build, with gray hair that she does a lot to maintain. She is overly enthusiastic and talks to you like you’re twelve. Your hate is immediate. These are the reasons: your dad dated her for five years and never told you; you go into the wedding having met her twice: your cousins tell her they love her and she says it back. You also have more personal reasons: you went to a Lady Gaga concert with her once and she not so subtly tried to hook you up with her niece even though you were about to be family and you had a girlfriend. She feigns interest in sports, baseball in particular because you play it, and she drinks white wine. This last reason is not so important to you, but one time you had a glass of white wine on a particularly lonely night at 1 a.m. and it hurt your stomach so badly that you couldn’t sleep, so you see it as another reason to hate her. You give your mother a grim look as you walk outside to your dad’s car where your almost-stepmother is waiting. She thought it would be fun to pick you and your sisters up. It’s not. One of your sisters starts crying on the car ride down to the beach where the wedding will take place. Your dad thinks it’s because she’s happy for them. He’s wrong. You get to the beach and vow never to go to this particular beach again because you now hate it. Your almost-stepmother thinks she’s being progressive by having a lesbian priest preside. This isn’t your thought. You heard your almost-stepmother telling this to her friend your first night there. Your almost-stepmother’s mother tells you to call her grandma. You vomit in the bushes. Your dad thinks it’s because you’re nervous. He’s wrong. The whole weekend you are texting a girl you used to be really good friends with before you asked her on a date and she said no. Now you think the friendship is starting to return. You ask her out again. She stops responding. You put on your suit for the ceremony. It’s rented and smells like cigarettes. You silently fume that your dad is a successful banker but can’t buy you a suit. You remember that your almost-stepmother is an elementary school teacher. You think. Your dad puts rings into your hand and closes your fingers around them. You ask him why. He laughs. The hotel room you share with your sisters is connected to your dad’s and almost-stepmother’s. You lay there at night simultaneously trying and not trying to hear if they’re having sex. You zone out during the ceremony. Your dad gives your shoulder a gentle nudge to remind you to give him the rings. You look away so you don’t have to see them kiss. You try to sneak beer at the reception but fail. Your uncle catches you and gives you five seconds to drink as much of it as you can. You vomit in the bushes. He laughs. You listen to the song “Gorgeous” by Kanye West on the ride home. Raekwon talks about his black balls. Your now-official-stepmother laughs and calls herself a cool stepmother. You turn off the music and feign sleep. Your now-official-stepmother makes dinner your first night back. She calls it the first official family dinner. She makes soup. You watch from a distance as she puts everything in. First lentils. Then her fingernails, locks of her hair, skin shavings. She asks if you want to help. You say nothing. She adds fingers, toes, hands, feet, knees. She says it’s ready. She wants to do high’s and low’s before you eat. You laugh. You try the soup. It’s pretty good.


About the author:

Justin Follin Smith lives in Los Angeles, California. This is his first publication.

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