CW: sexual abuse
Your cousin Maureen convinces you to come saying you’ve missed too many family reunions and the older folks are dropping like flies and Sophie did you know Great Aunt Rena will come in spite of her stroke but only if you’re there and you finally agree and it’s okay helping her set up the balloons and signs and it’s okay helping her set up the jumpy house for the little ones and put out flowers and food and utensils but you have to take a Xanax when you clip family photos on the strings of tiny white lights and when the first relatives arrive you’re out the back door walking quickly watching the aspens shake their golden coins the father and son across the street wash their car and you return thinking you can hold it together and you relax into Great Aunt Rena’s hug when she tears up seeing you saying Sophie oh Sophie
and you’ve prepared yourself for the moment you see him and it’s only across the room but there’s eye contact and you forget to breathe your heart jackhammers but you take another Xanax and watch the kids in the jumpy house which has a water feature so you take off your shoes and wade and let the kids splash you and help your little niece blow bubbles and when your mother and sister come out with cocktails and greet you stiffly you pretend you’re too wet for hugs and Kara’s and Betsy’s eyes flash relief especially Betsy your mother who told you to stop calling her Mommy when you were five and soon it’s supper time and you help your great aunts navigate canes and walkers and there’s eating and entertainment some cousins on keyboard, guitar, and trumpet
and then it’s game time with the Jeopardy Board you made and your rule that the category Family History must be last and to hell with not mixing alcohol with Xanax you’re on your third Guinness and you’re an awesome game show host everyone loves your categories even shy ten-year-old Gwen requesting “Family Pets for $400” and when you flip the cover to reveal This pet kisses and plays dead she shouts “Who is Roxie?” and everyone’s laughing the game going on and on when it’s time for Family History and you explain the rules are different now we’ll begin with the $200 answer and end with $1,000 and snarky uncle complains and Aunt Rena tells him to shut up and requests Family Trivia for $200 and you uncover the answer I feel a headache coming on and Aunt Rena calls out “Who is Betsy” and your mother fake laughs and yells “Family Trivia for $400” and you reveal the words Christmas week 2000 and she answers correctly “When were all 48 of us snowed in at Donner Lake Lodge?” and snarky uncle does Family Trivia for $800 and you say he needs to do $600 but he won’t so you read $800 They called Sophie’s letter a lie and stopped speaking to her and people look upset and confused murmuring “What letter?” and snarky uncle’s eyes darken and you know your mother showed him your letter and he stands and says “We’ve had enough of this game Sophie” and claps his hands asking what’s for dessert and you yell “Who are Betsy and Kara?” and your mother’s face is about to explode and you call out “We’re on $1000 now come on come on” and people are rising for dessert but your cousin Maureen shouts “Family Trivia for $1,000” and snarky uncle and his son head toward you calling you hysterical and drunk but Maureen reaches you first and squeezes your shoulder and the $1,000 answer flies from your mouth “On little girls’ bodies” and Maureen yells “Where did Grandpa put his cock?” and you meet the old man’s eyes and don’t give a damn about his osteoporosis and fading memory his diabetes and heart disease and you and Maureen clutch hands and watch the room collapse.
Claudia Monpere’s fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction appear in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Kenyon Review, The Forge, River Teeth, Hunger Mountain, The Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, and elsewhere. She’s a recipient of a Hedgebrook residency and of the Georgetown Review Fiction Award, and she teaches at Santa Clara University. Twitter: @ClaudiaMonpere.
Photography by: Yuvraj Singh