The Reunion and the Flood, Part 1
“Marcie, would you shut the damn blinds? The AC can’t keep up in here.”
Marcie began going around the room obediently, twisting shut the sets of venetian blinds that circled the open space of the first floor. “I can’t believe on a beautiful day like this you wanna stay inside and sit in the dark,” Marcie grumbled at her mother. “Look, the kids have the right idea. They’re out on the trampoline. Gettin’ more exercise than some.”
Mary was pretty sure that jab was directed back at her aunt and Marcie’s mother, Arlene — who did seem to sag a bit much, even for a woman creeping up on sixty — but she did notice Claire freeze and jerk her eyes away from her phone to shoot a discreet glare at Marcie.
“Is she really going to close the blinds with those four fighting over the trampoline?” Claire muttered, only within earshot of her sister.
“Looks like,” replied Mary.
“Isn’t that a little unsafe?”
Mary leaned over Claire’s chair. “Didn’t think you one to care,” she said.
Claire hunched further over her phone and fidgeted again over her purse, cradled between her and the armrest. “It’s just common sense,” she said.
Mary looked over Claire. Her frame only took up about half the space of the musty armchair she was seated in, a relic more suited for their more heavyset cousins and aging great-aunts and uncles. Her whole body was tensed up, knees locked together and elbows pinned to her side, looking very much like no part of her wanted anything to do with that chair, or that house, or that family.
And on that point, Mary really couldn’t blame her. Twice a year they were swindled into family reunions, and in the middle of July it was time to get together with their mother’s relations. The bunch of them were almost universally loathsome. For the past few years, as Mary worked her way through high school and a year of college, getting a little older and wiser, she had entertained the idea that her opinion of them was perhaps shaped by the differences in social class and education between her and her more distant relations. But more recently, she had entertained the idea that they were just terrible people.
For her newer opinions, she cited not the various illicit or immoral things that they did on a routine basis, but rather the fact that none of them could say anything to each other without it somehow being an insult or jab at someone. It was never, “Could you shut the blinds, dear?” It would have to be “Shut the damn blinds,” of course. Arlene couldn’t congratulate Claire on the research grant she had won for her lab without asking when she was going to get to work on some kids, because Marcie already had two and was working on the third. And for Mary, when she had gotten a place in her school’s star robotics team in high school, there was no end to the questions about how she could possibly keep up with the boys, because didn’t that sound like a lot of math?
But Mary had something of a cool head. When she filed away this information, it was filed under evidence, and afterwards she didn’t trouble herself too much over her family. For Claire, such careful quarantining was impossible. The reunion wasn’t even half over and already Claire was seething. She was using her phone as an outlet, texting her new fiancé every minute or so. But that could only help so much.
Mary pulled away as Claire got up abruptly with her purse and phone. The crowd in that part of the living room was getting a bit much, so Mary backed half into the kitchen while Claire pushed her way over to the dining room window. Mary sighed and wondered if Claire might have the honors of being the one to cause a scene at that year’s get-together.
Mary turned to see her mother, Brenda, at her side. “So what?”
Brenda gave her a little prod. “You know what. Is she going to announce her engagement or not?”
Mary sighed and looked back over at Claire fidgeting by the window. “I don’t know. It’s not like I asked her.”
“Well, why not?”
“Because unlike you, I know she doesn’t want to be pestered about it every few seconds.”
Her mother huffed. “I wish y’all would just listen to me.”
“Mom, chill out. Claire’s marital status is not everyone’s business. So she can announce the engagement whenever she damn well feels. Alright?”
“Don’t you think her family ought to know?”
“These people? Not really, no. It’s just more gossip to them anyhow.”
Her mother shook her head and threw her hands up. “Ugh!” She walked away, angling towards another one of her aging cousins.
Mary rolled her eyes and looked towards the dining room window where Claire stood. Beyond the closed blinds, Mary could hear the laughs and shouts of her cousins’ children running up and down the yard. The trees that swung quietly in the breeze outside left a mottled pattern of shadow on the blinds, obscuring the warm light that sifted through. Claire put two fingers to the slats and parted them to peer through at the yard.
At that moment, an inexplicable feeling came over Mary as she watched Claire look out the window. The din of the party became distant and the rustling of leaves came close. Claire’s eyes widened and some of the color left her face. That moment stretched overlong, and Mary could have sworn that, beyond the muted voices and the sound of rustling pine needles, she heard the crashing of great waves.
And as sudden as it had come, the feeling passed and the moment ended as Claire let the slats of the blinds slap together. But Claire’s eyes were still fixed on a far distant point. She moved away from the window.
Mary was disturbed by her mother once again turning up at her elbow, having left her with no more than a minute’s peace. “I can’t stand this,” she said. “She’s not going to embarrass me by sulking all day when she’s supposed to be sharing the good news.”
Mary turned and put herself firmly between her mother and the path to her sister. “I swear to god, Mom — ”
“You hush! She’s comin’ over here anyhow.”
And sure enough, Claire seemed to be angling towards them, but something seemed off. She wobbled a bit as she walked as if dazed, muttering a few words’ of apology as she fumbled through packs of relatives. Then, as she approached, she parted Mary and her mother without looking at either of them.
Before she could pass, their mother grabbed a hold of Claire’s shoulder. “Where are you hurryin’ off to now?”
Claire was knocked out of her daze as she spun to look at her mother, but as she looked down at her face, a wave of revulsion swept over her features.
“I’m going to be sick,” she said, and pushed past them. In a second, she was in the bathroom, door slammed shut behind her.