McKinney 2016: 1st Prize, Short Story

in Creative Writing/Fiction/McKinney 2016 Winners/McKinney Contest/Undergraduate

Gabriella Rollo

Meeting the Parents

The man I like is meeting my parents. This means that our house, which has been peacefully lingering in a state of post-battlefield repose, must be cleaned. My father scrubs the bathroom sink before frantically hiding his Popular Mechanic magazines from his wife. Eyes sharp as a hawk, my mother corners him like a squirrel and blocks the door with a garbage can. There is squirming. Shrapnel words cut through the air and several “No’s” are shouted to nobody in particular by my father, who desperately clutches the precious magazines to his chest. Finally, after several minutes and much more yelling, there is a heavy plop of paper on plastic. A bitter sigh releases itself from my father, and I can almost feel the burning glare on my back as I grab the dustpan from a nearby closet. Shoulders hunched, I retreat to my brother’s bedroom to deliver the dustpan and broom. My brother nestles himself deeper into his cocoon of blankets, demanding to be left alone, as it is only 9am. Why, he asks, his voice muffled by a pillow, should I have to clean when it’s your boyfriend? I don’t respond. I don’t need to. At precisely that moment, my mother’s loud screech reverberates throughout the wood paneled house: she had discovered more magazines underneath the bathroom sink.  I watch my brother turn onto his back, eyes dilating in fear, and, in the time it takes me to smile, the broom and dustpan are snatched out of my hands. I leave the room in approval.

 

Approval. This is what the man meeting my parents needs to win.  I imagine the drifting thoughts of my father coalescing into a filing cabinet of information regarding the man arriving today. Each time a sentence is spoken, the words will be analyzed for signs of apathy, inappropriateness, superfluous habits, pickiness in diet, and level of enthusiasm for the woman he is trying to woo. Research analysis does not end with personality. Body mass index, height, signs of balding, degree of knuckle hair, and eye size will all be checked. Knowing my parents, the work will eventually be divided; my mother will do the physical analysis and my father the mental. A bar graph of the results will be created, with desirable traits given a score of one and undesirable a score of zero. An average value greater than 0.92, or ninety-two percent, will be considered. Below an A is not approved in my family.

rollofiction

A man I like is meeting my parents, and this means that I need to be given the talk. Is there any way I can avoid it? I decide the basement needs cleaning, and grab the oldest, heaviest vacuum. This vacuum, called the schifezza by my Italian mother, must be lifted from place to place because the wheels are broken. When I turn it on, pressing the button twice since it never works the first time, it almost sounds like a hair salon with twenty hairdryers lined in a row. My ears start to ring from the drone of air attempting to suck the rug away from the floor. The creaking of wood as my father stomps down the stairs is masked by the whining motor, and believing me to be busy he tromps back up again. That is fine by me; I would rather hear the disturbing groan of vacuum than the talk anyways. I shift the couch to clean underneath, and pull away the cushions to capture the dust bunnies. Instead I find 15 Popular Mechanic magazines laid out evenly over the springs, and, with a smile, I put the cushions back without disturbing my father’s hiding place. I exhale in relief, knowing it wasn’t because of the talk that he kept awkwardly pacing the basement. He visits twice more during my thirty minute binge clean, and satisfied that I had not discovered his stash, leaves me alone as I move to the second room.

How much longer can I avoid the talk? The longest I have ever evaded a lecture was one hour and forty-five minutes, the length of my typical long run. When I know I am due for a speech, I put on my running clothes, just in case. Then, when I feel as though I am being followed throughout the house by a parent preparing for a ‘discussion,’ I leap into the mudroom, snatch my shoes, and practically fall out the door in my socks as I tie my hair back. Safe on the driveway, I can tie my shoes and begin planning a very, very long route. Unfortunately, the dull ache of torn hip cartilage prevents my usual avoidance plan, and I can only dust the television for so long. With a sigh, I begin my journey back to the kitchen to find my father blocking the top of the stairs. His bushy eyebrows crinkle into as frown as his round cheeks turn red from the building pressure of his words. “Bella, we need to talk.” Dread trickles from my throat to my stomach and I swallow an exclamation of despair. Was there something else in the basement I could have cleaned? Something, anything else? A jolt of self-loathing reminds myself I missed behind the piano. “Help your mother cook the sausages,” he says in a low murmur, “I need to move some electronic magazines into your bedroom. Don’t tell your mother.”

***

A man I like is meeting my parents, and this means my mother wants me to dress up. Her ridiculing eyes pass over my striped sailor shirt.  Any mariner with an identical top, if faced with her disapproving stare, would hide below deck. Despite imagining myself fleeing from the kitchen, potato peeler in hand, I stay under the scrutiny of her disappointment and continue skinning the potatoes that will soon complement the sausages in the oven.  “Why don’t you wear that low cut magenta blouse of yours from this summer,” she demands. As I stammer back a silly account of how it seems too fancy, my father passes yet again through the kitchen, carrying a load of laundry. “No,” he said, cutting into the conversation, “wear a turtle neck so you don’t give him the wrong idea. Jesus.”

He drops his laundry on the ground and grabs a bag of carrots from the fridge, proceeding to pull a stool beside me. With each crack and pop of carrot in his mouth, he ends another sentence about the dangers of promiscuity and the disappointment of any parent with a daughter who pays no heed to morals. Thankfully, even though he attends church every week, he is overly religious, and no warnings of the fiery pits of hell or eternal damnation are mentioned. I listen politely, nodding once every fifth baby carrot to announce I understand the implications, and affirm I have no intention of contracting genital warts or of becoming a mother at my age. Convinced of my integrity, he thumps my back in approval and continues to the laundry room. He always slaps my back as though I am a man.

 

Man: the proclamation of relief many people exclaim after a workout. “Man, that was hard” they moan as they wipe the beads of sweat clinging to their forehead with their soaked t-shirt. I remember when I was in Italy last summer and a teenaged boy, wearing a Laker’s shirt, shorts with the boxers hanging out, and a baseball cap, used the word man to describe humidity. He loved using American idioms whenever he spoke, and he sounded like an idiot. I thought about what it would be like to say man in Italian using the same sentence, thinking maybe it would sound less stupid, but after I was done repeating it twice in my head I found there was no hope. I could substitute “pencils, it’s humid,” and honestly it would sound about the same.

***

The man I like is meeting my parents and he is arriving in thirty minutes. My mother is putting on makeup, while the buzzing radio indicates my father is in the shower, listening to the oldies station as he shampoos what’s left of his hair. I wonder if I can hide and then, when the man I likes arrives, we can pretend it’s the wrong address and that that no woman besides my mother lives here. Sounds like a plan, except that somebody is ringing the doorbell right now! Why is he early? He’s definitely getting a B-.