the window you can see a little crowd of smokers on the doorstep. Each wears a
watered-down version of your lovers face and appears startled when you open
starting to think the bell was broken," one of them says.
stammer and point absurdly. "We're just in the middle
youngest smoker pushes a cloud of nicotine through her nose; her hair is a parade
of yellow curls. "Sorry were late." For some reason, you are unable to step
you say, though at this point who else could you be? "Im Andys
Andys sister," the blonde says, interrupting. "This is our mother,
is a bird-like woman, nervous and quick; she steps forward to crush out her cigarette
on the face of the mail slot, where you have recently spelled out your new hyphenated
name in gold sticky letters: Wojak-Livingston. She points behind her, "That over
there is Marion Carroll." You nod at an old man in a brown fedora, who waves a
pipe, wafting a stream of cherry-flavored air. "He needs to use the head."
She begins to enter
the house, a wrinkled paper bag blowing into the hallway; you feel uncertain about
letting her in.
is a brief silence.
head?" Marion Carroll says.
point vaguely toward the back of the house, where all the guests are waiting,
where a ceremony has begun. The sister hauls a long rectangular package inside
the house. You stare at her, trying to decode the genetics of the situation; you
can see your lovers eyes in her eyes.
is a gift," she says. "A wedding gift."
shift your weight and nod, unable to discern the irony.
sister prods you: "Marion would still like to use the facilities."
of course." You smile awkwardly and show the strange skinny man to the bathroom,
politely pointing out the elegant paper towels for drying his hands.
very grateful for the kindness," Marion Carroll says, shaking your hand.
You are at a loss.
"Any time," you say. "Youre welcome."
in the foyer, Andy appears, looking like the handsome groom in his expensive designer
suit. "Whats going on?" He stops in the hallway when he sees the late arrivals.
His sister steps back; his mother rushes forward, a small unpleasant breeze.
you are standing, you can see the minister checking her watch. This is my wedding
day, you remind yourself, as Andy lifts his mother off the ground in an enthusiastic
hug, and starts to apologize before shes even begun to complain. "We waited
as long as we could, Ma. The minister has another ceremony to get to."
Andy, what a wonderful house! Just like you described."
Carroll flushes the toilet and reappears. Andy looks at him and then at you, mouthing,
"This is who
drove us here," Rusty explains.
about Bo and Ginny? I thought they were coming."
run through a file of family names, the ones youve heard about for years
now, trying to pinpoint first Marion Carroll, then Bo, then Ginny. Ginny is the
missing sister, you remember, the one in the middle, the one Andy loves best.
Bo is her missing husband, the favored brother-in-law.
where are Bo and Ginny?" you ask, vaguely proud of the recall.
answer comes from the hallway: "They couldnt make it."
Andy says, inducing his sister out of the shadows. "Look at you!"
stare at the large blonde woman intently, wondering what it is youre supposed
series of hushed phone calls from the bedroom, Andys mother and sister emerge
refreshed, wearing tailored navy silk and pink brocade dresses. You pace in the
hallway when they throw open the door. The sister is glum, but more presentable
than expected. Her hair is styled into a soft cascade, her prominent face made
up in the latest natural colors. She watches you blankly. "Arent we late
usher them down the stairs toward the living room, where the situation has been
explained. "What about you?" Rusty says to Marion Carroll, who is waiting at the
foot of the stairs. He has made a go at the coffee urn in the foyer where the
receiving line will be.
he says, placing his cup on the fresh white tablecloth, a circular stain faintly
appearing underneath. "Im in."
guests are sitting quietly, still cheerful despite the interruption. The minister
resumes and asks if Andy would please now read his vows. Your lover takes your
hand and begins to speak in a quiet, serious voice. He says, "I, Andrew Wojak,
commit myself to you, Wilhelm Livingston." On his face he wears an open expression,
as if behind his eyes someone has pulled open a shade in broad daylight. Andy
runs through a list of remarkable promises. For a moment, you forget about the
strange little mother and brooding sister in the back of the room, the man with
the feminine name.
minister blesses you and your lover, your life together. Andy smiles, tilting
his head and softening his expression to kiss you full on the mouth. Everyone
claps, as you walk among your friends, who tug at your arms and deliver kisses,
transforming you into the bride your mother always feared you'd become.
you," you say. "Happiest day of my life."
own mother did not come to the wedding, which makes you all the more attentive
and strained about Rusty, technically now your mother-in-law, who steps into the
aisle at the very end of the folding chairs. You imagine for a moment greeting
her warmly and saying something sweet about the son she created to make your life
complete, but she looks exhausted. You pause as she stumbles slightly forward,
pitching herself lighlty into a privately choreographed dance that somehow involves
her diving clumsily into you arms. You can see it all unfolding gracefully, but
before you can get in position to make the catch, she plunges face first to the
you say, choking slightly on the word.
own German-born mother does not approve of romance. "Married?" she said
over the phone. "What for?" She was born in Hamburg where she met your
father, an American soldier after World War II. She worked downtown in a US Central
Intelligence office translating Russian into other languages. Your father asked
her out on a date because she looked like Joan Fontaine. He took her to the opera.
only agreed to go because of Butterfly," your mother says, confiding. Of
course, your father knew nothing about opera and talked through the entire performance,
asking for her hand in marriage over coffee and dessert. "It was the chocolate
cream pie that convinced me."
mothers version is considerably less charming. "I married your father
because we lost the war."
your life, your mother has reminded you that the German people, her people, and
by extension yours, were the victims of terrible luck and bad leadership: they
lost everything, their shirts, their houses, their spirit. When a war is lost,
its the people who pay. "We had no choice," she tells you. "And so we
were punished. Do he understand what this means?" Your mothers story pulses
through your blood: Oma was the only one who ever worked for the war; she
sewed buttons on those terrible brown shirts. Opa hid out at home in protest,
listening to the radio. According to your mothers story, no one -- not one
single person in the family -- was a true member of that terrible party. Only
your uncle, your mother's brother, a mere boy at the time, was forced against
his will to join the Hitler Youth, forced to act as messenger, delivering codes
across enemy lines. He rode his bike, was scared to death.
mere child," your mother says. "We were pacifists."
sitting in the living room with your lover's family gathered around to watch you
open presents, you know its a lie. Someone did those terrible things, someone
let it happen.
you this present," A.J. says.
all the other guests have made toasts, eaten cake, danced to a three-piece orchestra,
and now gone home. Rusty, who nearly split her lip after tripping over the carpet
in the living room, sits shoeless on the sofa. She holds a melting ice pack to
her face, which has been administered by the two lesbian doctors in attendance
at the wedding. Her lip is swollen, a slight purple bruise beginning to form.
A.J. leans forward.
"Ill tell you this, little brother, it was hell getting this thing here."
"Thank you for coming,
Alice-James," Andy says. "I know it was a lot of trouble."
mouth dries up at the sibling interchange.
is only the beginning of what we had," Rusty says, barely audible through the
zip-lock baggie of ice.
dear," Andy says. "Im sorry."
open your mouth, think better of saying the thing you are thinking, then say it
anyway. "What are you sorry for?"
too late: "They barely even got here. Why are you the one whos sorry?"
you say. "Theyre the ones with the car trouble."
corrects you. "Bus actually."
you are on a roll. "Seriously. You offered to fly them in. You tried to reason
with them: they could have come yesterday and been here today. But instead they
chose to drive hours through the mountains in the snow, arriving just in time
to interrupt everything." The house echoes with the sound of your voice. The fire
crackles and hums in the hearth. "Youre the one apologizing?"
"It's been a long day,"
Andy explains, and you are relieved to know there is a reason for your irritation:
"It's been very stressful planning this wedding."
shifts her ice pack and raises her hand, as if you might call on her for a second
opinion. "We voted," she says. "We wouldn't have missed it. Besides, Bo couldnt
stay overnight, and he really wanted to come."
you say, repeating the name of the missing brother-in-law. "Bo isn't here."
look at Rusty, small redheaded bird of a woman.
here, Will," A.J. says, "it's not like Andy's been the ideal brother or son, or
anything. We did what we could. We got here when we could. Its more complicated
than you think."
you say. You are standing in the middle of the room, the fire roaring behind you.
You are speaking in a calm tone. "Well, thanks for the effort."
Let me tell you about effort," A.J. says hotly. "Do you know why Bo wanted
to come so badly to your wedding? How about this? Bo is dying. Did you know that,
Andy? No, of course you didn't. If you had called us, even once, during the last
two years, you might have heard the news. If you had returned one of Ginny's phone
calls, but no, not you. Not since Daddy died. Washed your hands and moved on."
You wince when your
lover shrinks under his sister's forceful gaze, not managing so much as a syllable
in his own defense.
right, Andy. Bo is dying. And we tried to get him here because he loves you, and
wants to see you happy. Ginny, too. Shes been distraught. Shes losing
Bo and hes all she has. Do you have any idea what its like trying
to arrange getting a dying man across state lines?"
alone is hell." She looks at you when she says the word transportation, drawing
out every syllable so it sounds like several small hateful words. Her fierce eyes
travel your face. "So hes going to die without saying goodbye. And don't
you lecture me about effort. Andy is the one who didnt make the effort."
that you might do something you'll later regret, you sit down to think, landing
hard next to Rusty on the sofa, who tucks in her swollen feet to make room.
didn't know about Bo," Andy says quietly. "I didnt know."
watch your lover kneeling on the rug in front of the fire near a pile of presents,
tears welling in his eyes. Something hot prods you in the ribs; you cannot simply
sit back and let it happen.
dont you tell them, Andy?" you say.
leans forward, looking down into the empty "o" his hands are making.
this is not your business. Technically, you should stand up and clear the dessert
plates. What happens now is no longer up to you; other people are at fault. You
are a bystander, and yet there is a small window, an opening, a space for decisions.
Its a difficult position, but perhaps its the war youve been
waiting for all your life, the one that proves you arent the product of
your familys collusion.
them," you say quietly.
A.J. begins to talk in a dont-push-me tone. "Listen, here, Wilhelm..."
point to her left elbow for no reason at all, but it silences her. "You listen.
Dont think you can come in here, into Andys home, in to my home, and
take that tone. Youre not the boss, here, Alice-James." Her name feels
funny in your mouth.
gets to her feet about to take a stand, but the heat of the moment carries you
toward her with a few quick footsteps.
don't have to take this kind of abuse," A.J. says
are close enough now to see the eye make-up she's applied unevenly on her left
lid. "Abuse? Childhood abuse? Oh, now were talking!"
glares, but does not back down.
Rusty leans forward to sip her coffee, careful of the swollen lip she rests on
the rim of your good china. "Whats he talking about?"
not do this," Andy says softly. There's a slight hint of terror in his voice,
and you are suddenly sorry that you are the one pressing forward. Stop now,
you tell yourself, though you are not the cause of this tension.
on earth is he talking about, A.J.?" Rusty prods.
You feel something
dislodge in the very back of your throat, warm saliva moving forward. This is
the catalyst for the chemical reactions that make sounds into words and words
into meaning. (Either that or you are about to vomit.) Everything flashes in a
jumble before your eyes.
it easy, big fella," says Marion Carroll, who is standing in the doorway, drinking
what must be his tenth cup of coffee.
stands up, trying to walk over to a chair, as if he has lost his way. "Will, please."
not nothing." The room is too hot. You are straining forward, pacing in front
of the fire, trying to decide.
pleads. "Let's not do this today."
walk toward the bathroom to wash your face, to calm down. Marion Carroll flinches
in the doorway, as if you might rush him and tackle. You are not the violent type,
despite your height and bulk.
run water from the bathroom sink, splash your face with the cold, and stand thinking.
You look at yourself in the mirror, red and distorted. Your tired eyes, your sharp
cheekbones. This is not the face of your youth anymore. It is an important moment;
all of them are, you realize. You are angry, but clear-thinking. Everything
the cabinet and choose your weapons.
you return, Rusty sees you first, tensing her jaw. A.J. stands solitary by the
sofa, ready for anything, to step forward, if necessary, to take her turn at bat.
At your approach, your lover freezes, except for his head, which he shakes vigorously
back and forth. You glance away and aim for the sofa with the mother on it.
tell you what," you say, calmly. "I think its time you know."
glances nervously at the amber-colored bottles in your fists.
room has gone dead silent. You can hear your lover swallow. "Not this way,"
Andy says gently, as if suddenly you are the problem.
hold one of the bottles in the air above your head: the hand -- your hand -- swings
forward letting the pills drop into your lovers mother's lap. "AZT,"
you say, calmly. You choose another and fling it at the sister. "DDI."
Before you know it, you are flinging all of the little plastic bottles into their
laps, vials of poison that are keeping both you and your lover alive. "Crixivan!
Bactrim!" You are shouting now. "You could have asked! You could have
taken an interest!"
bottles roll in every direction, bouncing off the sofa, spinning toward the curtains.
The soft thud of plastic is in your ears as they bounce against the wall, rattle
under the Bedemeyer, settle in a loose constellation where the old wood floor
slants in the corner. Everyone watches them come to a rolling stop.
Carroll touches one gently with his toe. "Theyve made quite a few scientific
advances," he says quietly.
For a minute,
no one speaks and then your lovers sister cranks herself up into a full-blown
shout: "Who do you think you are?" You cannot hear exactly what she's saying
because there is a dull roar in your ears, which turns out to be the sound of
your own voice yelling back at her: "Selfish people. You ruined his childhood.
Youre at fault. Do you hear me?"
Andy rises to his feet. "Thats enough!"
drop the remaining pills. Several lids pop open up, sending bright colored pills
like confetti everywhere. Stavudine, didanosine, indinavir, testosterone,
the list rattles on in your head.
crazy," A.J. says. She looks at her brother. "Hes crazy."
not crazy," you say. "Im tired."
truth, you decide, is the better heritage, even if it leads to certain misconceptions
about your sanity. Even if it is a borrowed truth, not yours exactly, but your
lovers. His familys truth. Still you are relieved to know that complicity
is no longer your only inheritance. You smile, but it comes out a terrible snarl.
Your lover's family looks afraid.
gets to her feet. To your surprise, she limps over to you. "No one tells me anything."
She sits down on the brick edge of the fireplace.
should pay closer attention," you say.
consider your own mother, how after the war the British came and lived in her
house for 11 years. Was that a fitting punishment for looking the other way? Rusty
and A.J. are quiet now, the room filled with loose pills. They are all watching
Marion Carroll pour another cup of coffee, when the doorbell rings.
one moves. It rings again.
Carroll takes a step forward, but Rusty suddenly recovers: "Dont you dare."
front door swings open. "Ginny," says A.J. without getting up, her voice a mix
of surprise and fear. "What did you do with Bo?"
the foyer, stands Ginny, Andys missing sister, teeth clattering, hands raw
and ungloved. She is blue-lipped with a lacey covering of snow down her black
hair -- singularly beautiful -- a frozen bundle of expectation.
cross the room to meet her, as if an invisible thread were connecting your future
it over?" Ginny says, barely able to speak. "Did I miss it?"
lifts a blanket from the sofa and rushes forward to cover her.