July. Atlanta. Well, not Atlanta exactly. A suburb, north and east. DeKalb. In New York, you’d pronounce all the letters, but down here, it’s dee-cab. Our car stops in front of a ranch house. Beige aluminum siding; maroon vinyl shutters. A row of hostas lines each side of the walk leading to door.
His sister, Marjorie, stayed behind in our 13th Street apartment to pet sit our Siamese cat, Dino. So it’s just the two of us, sitting in the car parked in front of his parents’ house. Robert visits at least once a year, but this is my first since Robert and I got married. Marjorie always finds some reason not to make the trip. This time it’s the cat; last time, she’d made plans with a friend; and the time before that, she had PMS.
I want Robert to read my mind: “Can’t we just do a U-ey and head back to New York?” He turns off the car, pulls the keys out of the ignition, and opens the driver’s-side door. A thick, wet, hot vapor wafts in, throwing my head back against the headrest.
I grab his arm, “Come on; put the keys back in.” He’s out of the car by then, definitely not reading the text I’m composing with rapid-firing jolts of acetylcholine. I just sit there, as if bolted to the seat. I despise them already; truthfully, I despised them before we left New York. I never met them before; they didn’t bother to come north when Robert and I got married. But I’ve heard stories.
A knock on the window. I look into a face, powdery from a dusting minutes before. Pearl pink lips moving, smiling, moving again, probably letting me know it’s hot. Grey hair done up yesterday at the beauty shop in the mall, tight curls sprayed so they don’t move when she does or flatten out from the humidity. Bent at the waist, her pink and red flowery house dress falls away to show her cleavage propped up by what looks like a white Playtex Cross-Your-Heart bra, size triple L or something like that. She tries the door handle, but the door’s locked, so she straightens up and starts waving me out of the car with both hands. Her hands just a-going, and then her mouth starts moving, and her head bobs from side to side. I watch her for too long carrying on like that. And then I finally pop the lock, open the door, and step out. She rushes me, arms stretched to either side. Boom; I’m in a tight hold. Head clamped against her neck; breathing talc and lilac cologne. I want to gag. I really do, but I swallow 10 or 20 times before blurting, “Hi, you must be Robert’s mother; I’ve heard so much about you” without blinking or inhaling or unclenching my jaw.