All Dressed Up
stairs. Emma stayed up on the third step. At ground level
Mom and Emma were the same height, but like this Emma seemed
haughtily taller, long-waisted, supple, thin, such a healthy,
prime-of-life female body poised there, straining to get away,
suffering. Finally, she moved, heading upstairs. “There’s a lot to
pack.”
    “I don’t care
how prickly she is, I’m going to follow her up and talk,” Mom
mumbled to Sarah. To Emma, she called, “Let me help you load the
boxes.”
    “Thanks.”
Emma’s flat, strappy shoes thumped on the old wood and she was
painfully polite. “You know I’m going to pay you and Dad back for
the reception. For everything. The dress. Don’t tell me we don’t
need to think about that yet. I have to. I’d rather talk about it
all at once today than have it drag out.”
    “You don’t –

    “I’ll itemize
everything. I’ll use some of my tennis money.”
    They all had
tennis money. Mom had banked a lump sum for each of them from her
playing days and let it grow their whole lives. Sarah and Emma had
each lost a chunk of theirs to Billy when he was born, but the
money would still be enough to buy a house or start a business.
    As usual,
however, Mom electrified herself at the mention of tennis money.
“You are not using one penny of your tennis money to pay us back
for the wedding. It’s meant for something – ”
    “Something
important,” Emma parroted. “You know, Mom, we are all three of us
going to die before we get to spend that money because nothing ever
counts as important enough for it.”
    “Well, because
– ”
    “One day, I
will need to get rescued by a team of helicopter paramedics from an
upturned sail-boat in the South Atlantic ocean on my solo
round-the-world voyage and you’ll say, ‘Let her row home in the
inflatable dinghy, don’t spend the tennis money on the chopper
crew, it’s for something important.’”
    “Okay, Emma,
this isn’t what I want to talk about.”
    “Here, I’ll
give you the paper doves. They’re the lightest. Sarah, can you take
the box of favors?” She was relentless. She would only talk about
the boxes, the itemized repayment, all of it in that same neat,
sharp, keep-your-distance-and-don’t-say-anything-important voice.
Even the joking about the tennis money held a dangerous edge.
    At the car,
once they were done, Emma hugged both of them and said, “Well.
Thanks. Sorry this hasn’t gone the way we hoped.”
    “Stop talking
like this, Emma,” Mom said.
    “How should I
talk, then?”
    “Let something
out. Express your anger.”
    “All right.”
Emma raised her voice and yelled, “Will you use up those delectable
cans of herring in tomato sauce this summer instead of just
promising to for the seventeenth time? It drives me nuts that we
still have them after so long.”
    “Something
real. God, I want to!”
    “Well, you go
ahead then, Mom, but I don’t.”
    “Okay, get me
a chainsaw,” Mom declaimed to the mosquito-plagued forest, letting
the words rise the same way Emma’s had. “I’ll cut off my arm and
that will bring Charlie back to you. If you want me to kidnap him
and make him marry you with a red-hot poker sticking in his back,
you only have to say so. I can sue him, slander him, castrate him,
mow him down with an automatic weapon, it’s yours for the asking.
Tell me you want to castrate him. You can’t be this controlled,
Emma!”
    “Mom, it’s not
his fault.”
    “I’m your
mother, not his. So of course it’s his fault.”
    “I was the one
who canceled the wedding.”
    “Only because
he didn’t get in there three seconds ahead of you and do it first.
We all knew it was a pre-emptive strike on your part.”
    “It
wasn’t.”
    “Are you
really this controlled?”
    Emma froze by
the car door. “Of course I’m not,” she whispered, her voice
scraping out between razor blades, rusty ones. “God!”
    “Okay. Okay.”
Mom raised her hands. “I’ll leave you alone.”
    “Please
do.”
    Emma

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