Family Management

by Lee Crockett Darcy

 

I figure it’s my wife calling when the phone rings, so I don’t look at the caller ID before swatting the speakerphone button. “Hello?” I say, sounding rushed on purpose. The click of keys on the keyboard in front of me probably adds to the illusion, never mind I haven’t looked at anything but news websites in the last hour or so. I have an Excel spreadsheet open though, just in case any of the bosses drop by.

“Hey!” the voice on the other line says. It takes a moment to recognize my baby sister’s overly cheerful voice, considering I haven’t heard it in several months.

“Hey!” I echo, picking up the phone. I don’t need Rhoda in the next office over listening in to the entire conversation.  I should have shut the flimsy cubicle-office door earlier, not that it made much difference. “How are you?”

“Go look at Facebook,” she says without preamble.

“What?”

“Go look at Facebook!” she repeats, laughing. Her laugh sounds like it belongs on a TV sitcom laugh track.

Holding the phone between my ear and my shoulder, I type in the address of the social networking website. The top of the page loads, displaying photos of my sister in a white dress, sitting on a bar lavishly decorated with antique license plates and old fashioned Christmas lights, next to a man I’ve never seen before. Underneath the photos, Facebook proclaims that Jocelyn Rivera has changed her relationship status from single to married with a throbbing red heart beside it.

Small Town by Oliver Ward

Small Town by Oliver Ward

I don’t speak for a moment. When I finally do—an automatic congratulations—I know she will hear the astonishment and disapproval in my voice. But she doesn’t comment on it. Considering her inexplicable, impulsive antics over the years, she’s probably used to it.

“His name is Bill Jackson, and he’s perfect.”

I glance through the posted photos again, scrutinizing his long, dark ponytail and leather jacket, his pale skin seeming paler next to my sister’s dark complexion.

“Well? What do you think?” she demands, interrupting my thoughts, insistent upon praise she has to know she will not get from me.

“Does he know you’ve been married before?” I ask, stupidly saying what comes first to mind. The moment I speak it, I know it’s the wrong thing to say.

“Of course he does!” She sounds angry.

I try again, calming my voice. “How’d you meet him?”

“Bike rally in Corpus Christi.”

It takes me a minute to realize what she means; here in New England, there is still snow on the ground and it’ll be a good two months before anyone rides a motorcycle. I glance at the calendar pinned up to my office wall. I thought that particular festival happened in October.

“You’ve only known him four months!?”

“Oh my God, you sound just like Dad.” I can practically hear her rolling her eyes.

“Have you told him yet? Or Mom?” I notice I am clenching both my hands into fists and make an effort to relax them.

She laughs. “No, I’ll surprise them this weekend for Sunday dinner. I want Bill to try Mom’s birria.”

I close my eyes and pinch the bridge of my nose, trying to convince the sudden pressure to dissipate. I make a mental note to call my parents later to warn them and possibly prevent dual heart attacks. Although considering this was Jocelyn, perhaps they wouldn’t be shocked.

This thought seems to transmit psychically to her over the phone lines. “Don’t you even think about telling them and ruin my surprise. That isnt why I called you.”

“Then why did you call me?”

“Are you mad?” she whines. For a moment, she’s ten years old again.

“How does he feel about Caden?” Caden, the toddling nephew I have never met. I sent him a present at Christmas and have no idea if he got it.

“Oh, he’s fine,” she says, not as quickly as I would have liked. “He’s so good with Caden; carrying him around on his shoulders, playing trucks with him. He’s teaching Caden to play cards.”

“To play cards?! Caden is what, two years old? Jocelyn, who is this guy?

“Caden is three now, thank you very much, as you would know if you ever came home, and they’re playing Go Fish. What did you think? That I’d marry some guy who would then go about teaching my son poker and how to cuss and pour Jack Daniels?”

I don’t say anything. That was exactly what I had thought.

“Anyway.  I called to let you know that we’re thinking about going up to the bike week they have up there in Laconia this summer, and wanted to stop by.”

I smirk as if she were sitting in the chair facing my desk, the same chair where my employees sit when I have to yell at them for some stupid corporate infraction. The “hot seat” they call it, more ironically than I like. “You wanted a free place to stay, you mean?”

She huffs into the phone. “You don’t need to be rude about it, you could just say no.”

“You do realize I’m more than an hour’s drive from Laconia, right? New Hampshire may be smaller than Texas, but—”

“I’d like to see you, is that too much to ask? It’s not like you come home ever. I miss you, you asshole.”

I ignore this. I left Texas to go off into the world and do great things, impossible things. And all I have to show for it is a dead-end middle management job and the crumbling shell of a marriage to a woman who is as sharp and uninviting as the New England winter sky. I can’t explain this to my family, foreigners to this landscape. They only understand the vibrant blue of a Texas summer—verdant green, shimmering heat. How could I go home?

“Jocelyn, please let Mom and Dad know before bringing this guy home with you. If nothing else, make sure Mom will have enough food on the table.”

“As if Mom ever didn’t have enough food for an army. And he’s not “this guy” he’s my husband. You know, for better or for worse and all that? Ever think of trying that out with Miranda? Or are things going better since the last time you two were home?”

As if I would ever discuss my wife with my sister. “I don’t think you have any right to be giving me marriage advice,” I hiss into the phone, mindful of how every word I say is being overheard by the gossipy shits surrounding me who pass as adults.

“Oh as if I’d deign to give you marriage advice, especially considering you’re so happy where you are,” she retorts. “So do you want us to drop by on our way or not? We’d hate to inconvenience you.”

“You are such a spectacular salesman,” I reply. My second line chirps, but I still don’t glance at the caller ID. Doesn’t matter if it is my wife or my boss calling, neither would make this day any better.

“Look, my other line is ringing, I have to go.”

“Sure, whatever.” She hangs up without saying more, and I stare at the receiver with the dial tone spilling out of it.

I shake my head and angrily flick the button to answer the other line. “Hello?” I say, sounding rushed on purpose.

 

 

Lee Crockett Darcy is a self-proclaimed history geek and reading fanatic. She is not related to Davy, but she did marry a charming Mr. Darcy. Lee resides in southwestern New Hampshire.

Oliver Ward attends ConVal High School in Peterborough, New Hampshire and splits his time between school, work, music, and photography. He has lived in New Hampshire nearly all his life, first in New Ipswich and then in Peterborough, where he moved with his family when he was eleven. Oliver says, “When we moved, Dad was soon encouraged to go into town politics. He is now part of most of the town committees, as well as on the Select Board. This has allowed us to meet many people and make downtown Peterborough our home. Peterborough is a beautiful town for the artistically inclined, and I am forever grateful to my parents for bringing me here.”

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