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Picturesque

MICHELLE REALE

My mother called her brother’s third wedding a “gala affair”. The bride, never before married, had a lopsided face and bandied legs, but I thought she was beautiful anyway. She asked my mother to be a bridesmaid. My mother was flattered. “Surprised, but flattered,” she said. My uncle put his hand on my shoulder, looked at me with kind eyes, the kind that said they finally knew how to obey a woman. I thought they would ask me, too. His fiancé stared at me, her mouth like a tipped see-saw. I looked away.

On the day of the wedding, my mother slipped on the lime green gown and a turban headpiece, with a big diamond-like jewel in the center that I wanted to dig it out with my fingernail and suck on. My father called her “Houdini”. My mother stretched her lips over her equine teeth and said “Har, har, har.” My father held his stomach and laughed.

My mother bought me a long dress with spaghetti straps. All the other girls my age wore short dresses. My brother was the only boy with a suit jacket, which by the end of the night would be lost. My uncle and his bride broke into a rehearsed dance to “Great Balls of Fire,” and my mother winced. “They look like fools,” she hissed, tapping the ash from her cigarette onto the parquet floor. Some clapped, but most just drank and ignored the performance.

My mother’s cousin sidled up to her and soon they gossiped about the couple’s difference in age. They made some predictions. My father had overheard and demanded, “What the fuck do you know?” His face was burgundy colored and his chin glistened. He lunged forward and spilled some of his drink on her gown. The cousin bowed out. My mother’s hands clenched like claws. My brother was dancing alone, like a crazed animal on the dance floor, right there beside the bride and groom, stealing their thunder in his peculiar way. Afterwards he came to the table and drained the water from each of the water glasses, all with the ice cubes melted.

Later the bride argued with the photographer who waited to long to take the family photo. She looked at all of us in disgust, and said we looked like ‘the fucking Donner party” as she stamped her sea-pearled Payless bridal pumps. My father seethed through his thick lips as my mother flung off the turban which left a purplish ridge on her low forehead. My brother , never one to stand around, tore off to the dance floor , fist pumping , eyes closed, going around and around in circles, while everyone gathered around, egging him on.

“Jesus Christ”, the bride growled, shaking her sad tumble of curls, coming undone and inching down her freckled shoulders like snakes. My uncle mopped the top of his shiny head with a monogrammed handkerchief. Still, the sweat poured into his eyes like upside down tears. I felt frozen in my spaghetti strapped dress despite the heat. I started to cry.

“What’s wrong with you?” my mother asked without looking at me. My mouth wouldn’t let me speak. My uncle appeared out of nowhere and kneeled down, taking both of my hands in his, like a man asking forgiveness. I had always been his favorite. He had no children. He asked me to dance, ignoring his new wife momentarily. My father slumped in a chair with his eyes closed and my mother stared at her brother’s wife, silently warning her to keep her distance from us.

On the dance floor my uncle brushed his lips on the top of my head which made me start to cry again. My brother danced like a demon around us, bumping into all of the couples on the dance floor. The dirty looks didn’t make him stop; he was used to them. There was a commotion somewhere near the dance floor. Or maybe it was near the tables. I opened my eyes then closed them again. My uncle pulled me tighter to him. It was still early. We didn’t know it at the time, but we danced to what would be the last song of the evening.





Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her work has been published in Word Riot, JMWW, Eyeshot, Smokelong Quarterly, Blood Orange Review, Pank, Apt , Pequin and others. Her fiction chapbook, Natural Habitat will be published by Burning River in the spring of 2010.