“Hi, everyone. This is J. Not like J-A-Y Jay, but J like the letter”. Silence. Felicity beams out at us all, as we sit around the table. Her smile falling onto each of us, one by one as she gazes from her date, to us, and back again. Jaws are hanging wide open around the dinner table, poorly masking the shock. I catch myself, forcing the chain to crank my drawbridge jaw closed, bringing my teeth together, and baring them in what I hope results in a smile.
Although I feel like I most likely resemble a crazed and surprised shark. My cousins are doing a terrible job at hiding their confusion/shock/disgust and I know I’ve got to be doing at least a better job than they are. Though that’s not saying much. We do this monthly. Dinner meet-ups. Bitches Breaking Bread, or BBB, or B to the third power. We tried the weekly thing but we live too far and get too damn busy to make that into a feasible reality. Monthly is still tough, but we make it work for now. I catch Max’s eye the best I can and give her my eyes of death, hoping it will signal her to stop her slack-jawed staring. She widens her eyes at me, her brown irises suddenly becoming surrounded by a rim of white. I shake my head at her lightly, discreetly, and she snickers a bit, then bows her head to hide behind her mound of giant curls. Max is Felicity’s sister, so it makes sense she would be the most openly shocked at the introduction of Felicity’s new love interest we’ve been hearing so much about through our ongoing group text message sessions. Suddenly I realize we had never asked to see a picture. Not one of us, not once. So unlike us. Had we seen a photo we could have at least prepped ourselves. Truthfully, I don’t know how much we could have prepped for this. But some sort of primer would have been nice, and although I’m sure our jaws would have fallen open in shock a bit, I don’t think we’d be so desperately trying to pick them up off the table.
Magnolia is hiding it the best. Naturally. She’s sweet, but I can tell she’s thinking “WHAT THE FUCK!?” same as us. She glances over at me like she can hear me thinking her name. Normally this would totally freak me out, but it’s not uncommon with the cousins. I raise an eyebrow at her and then bow my head and busy myself with adjusting the utensils in front of me. I don’t want Felicity to see this weird exchange, though she probably wouldn’t notice because she’s looking at J in a way that leaves me half expecting her face to morph into a heart eyes emoji at any second now. Otherwise she would have sensed it already and shot me laser-beams of death across the table. Dinner passes relatively quickly, quietly, uneventfully. The two questions I manage to ask J are met with an undecipherable mumble, which I respond to with an awkward smile/ nod/ squinty wink thing, before putting my head down and burying myself in my plate. There is one instance I will mention. And maybe I’m an asshole for pointing it out, but it was an event in an otherwise uneventful outing. J ordered soup, or rather, Felicity ordered the soup. For herself, or for J, I don’t know. The point is, J was hovering over the soup and just as I was semi-glancing up to attempt another awkward question, something plopped into the soup. Very lightly, with the faintest splosh. I tried not to stare so I kept my head sort of down (a running theme for this particular BBB outing), and flitted my eyes up really quickly ever other second or so. Whatever fell into the soup was now wriggling on J’s spoon, immersed in a tiny little broth bath. It was plump, tiny, white, and it was fucking moving. I was about to save the day when I saw another plump white something sploosh down into the bowl. My eyes traced in reverse the path the mysterious sploosher had just traveled. And it led me to a spot on J’s head, slightly behind the temple, mostly obscured by an ear. I instantly wished I hadn’t seen the splosh, hadn’t chosen to trace the path that lead me here. A wound. A festering wound. A festering wound with tiny little maggot heads peeking out to take a look into the world. Maybe staring down at their tiny little maggot friends swimming around in the soup. Maybe the splooshers were screaming up to their maggot brain friends “come on in, brainiacs! The soup is fine!” in these weird little high-pitched squealing voices, too high for us to hear. As I watched J spoon one of the maggots into his mouth, I snapped my eyes back down towards my plate where they stayed for the rest of dinner. If could call it that. More like, a meeting with food, because none of us really ate much after that.
“A carcass. She’s dating a fuckin’ carcass!”
“Well, yeah… obviously. But if that’s what she wants to do, that’s what she wants to do.” I’ve taken this new approach. Basically: If it makes you happy and it’s not hurting anybody and you’re not hurting yourself or being deceptive… go for it. I’m sure they were expecting me to say much more on the matter. But I’m trying really hard to have this new frame of thinking.
“But… do you think she knows?” This from Magnolia.
“Knows? Of course she fuckin’ knows? I mean.. right? How could she not?”
Max scrunches her nose and curls her lip, “The smell alone would be enough.”
“Dead giveaway.” I can’t help myself. I’m a sucker for a well set up pun. “Ok, that was bad, you know I couldn’t resist that. You wrapped it up all nice and neat for me. Anyway.. be nice. The smell.. I mean it really wasn’t that bad.”
“Aiden, it smelled like a fuckin carcass”
“But I mean…. wouldn’t you imagine it being much worse?”
“Why couldn’t she just be a lesbot like you?”
“Because we have enough lesbians in this family, I don’t want to take the blame for my gayness rubbing off on you all. You’re all forbidden to bring home anything but the peen.”
“Even if it’s dead peen?”
“I mean technically that’s like.. un-dead peen, right?”
We both stop and look at Magnolia.
“Baby cousin’s got jokes!”
Really, she’s not a baby. She’s only a few months younger than Max, but she’s the youngest of us and that makes her the baby.
“We just have to let this play out. She’s happy, what can we really do? We’re the assholes if we try and tell her what to do here. Give it another week or two, and it’ll be done.”
And that was that. Nobody said “are you fuckin crazy??” or “that’s stupid”. So we let it play out. For months. Six months, actually. Half of a year, we let it play out.
“Why didn’t you tell me!?” Felicity wails.
“Called it” Magonlia shoots me a look.
“Tell you? How did you not know?” genuine shock from me here.
Ok, Magnolia was right. We should have asked, hey you know you’re dating a maggot covered carcass, correct? Cool, just checking. But that felt like an asshole thing to say, because obviously.. or so I’d assumed obviously.. how could you not know? Like, it was impossible to not be aware of it. Or so I thought.
“I just felt that’s like.. if I was dating a black girl, I wouldn’t say hey guys I’m daaating a black girl. I’d just, introduce you. And you wouldn’t kick me under the table and whisper, ‘you know she’s black, right?’ Because then you’d be an asshole racist.”
“Did you just compare a maggot covered carcass to a black girl?”
“Dammit! No! I’m trying to illustrate we don’t state the obvious.”
They erupt in laughter, and I’ve now been labeled as a racist. But I guess it’s worth it to replace the tears with laughter for a bit.
“Ok. Pact time. We have to tell each other should one of us decide to drag home a maggot covered carcass. Deal?”
It’s unanimously agreed upon.
“But, don’t tell me if I’m dating a black girl. Or an Asian girl. Or whatever. Just assume I already know that. Because I have eyeballs. But if you think she’s a whore, definitely tell me that soon and often.”
“Now back to business. Would you rather.. eat a bowl of turd soup- you have to eat at least half a turd and sip some of the broth, or slurp two maggots out of a festering skull, chew, and swallow them? Too soon?”