Off The Wall
Paradise lost in gene pool
November 15, 1999
The day Mike came home from the Army with his pregnant bride, everyone in the family started counting on their fingers.
“How humiliating,” Cousin Clara clucks.
I assume she was referring to the fact that no one in the family can subtract six months of pregnancy from four months of marriage in their head.
It’s just another sign that I’m wading in a very shallow gene pool.
“Beware the sins of the mother,” Clara says as she sprinkles cayenne pepper on top of the deviled eggs. When it comes to the Bible, Clara prefers improvisation to interpretation.
The whole family turns out for Mike’s homecoming. Cars are parked all the way out to the barn, and a steady stream of women bearing Tupperware bowls march toward Grandma’s house like the Kings of Orient R.
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When Mike’s car turns into the driveway, someone yells, “He’s here!” and we all rush out to the front porch.
“Everyone,” Mike announces proudly as he swings the passenger door open, “this is Ava.”
Now, a lot of women who are six months along might think twice about wearing short shorts and an off-the-shoulder midriff top.
“Good Lord, look at her belly button,” Clara declares, as if she herself, having been born of a virgin birth, does not have one.
Everyone freezes like fruit cocktail congealed in green Jell-O. Finally, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, Mom rushes down the steps to Ava’s side.
“Ava,” Mom says, taking Ava’s hands, “what lovely … uh …”
In our tribe you always greet a stranger with a compliment.
In this instance, Mom seems at a loss.
Ava’s peroxide blond hair has snow-blinded her.
From behind rhinestone cat-eye sunglasses, Ava slowly surveys the family.
When she gets to Clara, there is a definite pause. Clara blinks like a rat caught with cheese on her breath. Then, regrouping, she hunkers down for battle.
Grandma, sensing fur is about to fly, declares a cease-fire. “Dinner,” she announces.
While the rest of the women clear the dishes, Ava makes herself at home in the living room with the men.
Stretching out beside her on the couch, Mike lays his head in her lap. As she combs his hair with her fingers, he stares adoringly up at her.
Clara fumes. Nothing tests her religion like a public display of happiness.
“Marriage is no bed of roses,” Clara hisses as she furiously scrapes plates.
Reaching up, Mike gently touches Ava’s lips as if he needs to make sure he isn’t dreaming.
“… Dirty dishes, dirty diapers, babies that never stop crying …,” Clara fires at them.
Stretching up, Mike kisses Ava the way they do in the movies. Grandma’s gardenia wallpaper curls at the edges, and the men loosen their collars.
“… Wearing secondhand clothes to make ends meet …,” Clara spews. Suddenly, Ava stiffens like a board. “Not now,” she mumbles, pushing Mike’s head off her lap.
And Clara smiles at the paradise lost. (Copyright 1999 P.W. Wall. Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate.)