This was the day Ayla would forgive Lucija. The subway doors screeched, stopped, clambered open. Ayla stepped off, avoiding the gap. Immediately saw, sprinted, then scurried away. A pillar! Big enough to cover her. Held her breath, hid, almost comically. What the fuck is she doing here. Almost laughed, bit down her cheek. Her ex-mother-in-law was limping towards the escalator. Holding four grocery bags. All (including Lucija) were bursting. Straining and stretching against their respective garb. Undoubtedly containing food. Guilt food, love food, forced food. Probably store-bought pasta, pronounced pretentiously: Ayla, do you know what arrabiata means?
It means fucking angry, had thought Ayla. Her chest constricted behind the pillar, remembering. The scene: dark, cold Sunday in December. Supposed family dinner. The characters: Jakob (boyfriend) Lucija, her husband, and Ayla. Set design: candles, Scandinavian requirements in every home. The last time she would see them. Oppressive Bolognese and cardamom infusing the air. Dead flesh, simmering in tomato sauce.
Both her and Jakob vegetarians. To no avail.
Lucija popped open the wine, enthusiastic. One drink, done; now the second. Her truth tumbling out like greased marbles.
You know, Ayla, why go to India? Why be so selfish? Why can’t you do yoga here?
Heaping steaming food on everyone’s plates. Pasta making worm-like plopping sounds upon landing. Still simultaneously sipping the wine. Forcing them to eat out of politeness. Jakob, silenced by obligation, her emotional mass. More wine, more helpings of truth. Her husband, too Swedish to respond. Or already steamrolled like malleable asphalt.
I stayed home with my children. Raised them. Are you really going to work? I suppose I’ll have to take care of them. Your future children.
Ayla eating, stuffing her feelings down. A goose force-fed for pâté. Spicy hot arrabiata gurgling up instead. Trying to keep the hate-vomit from spewing. Masseter muscles rock hard, teeth ground. Like the rotten beef in the sauce. Keep your lid on, Ayla.
Why are you so attached to Turkey? Your life is here now. You need to let go. Look at me – I left Yugoslavia in the late 80s. For my husband, he is my everything. Packed coffee for decades despite my law degree. I want my boy, Jakob, to have that. That kind of love. Can you provide that for him?
Keep calm and keep chewing, Ayla. Don’t be shrill. Be quiet. Be polite. Be a good woman. Be the woman your mom raised you to be, be a good fucking girl.
And what is this I hear? About you wanting split finances? A real family joins everything. One always has to sacrifice for family. It’s what we women do.
Don’t let the anger spill out, control yourself Ayla, use your therapy skills remember your anger management focus your mind on somewhere else think of the outside think of being there in the cool blue snow remember people are who they are they all have different stories but what the fuck who does this woman think she is lecturing me and affecting her son too gel-soft to stand up to her and a husband with an immune system severely weakened over the years so he can’t even finish a sentence before Lucija hacks through it with a butchers knife and grabs the handles of the spotlight and turns it, screeching, onto herself every time because it is after all the Lucija show and the rest of us all but characters in the monologue that is Lucija and her heroic epic life – Ayla could feel the red bleeding over her eyes, bull taunted by the fighter; she could feel the shaking starting in her toes, working its way up to her hands, the fork clunking out of her hands as she could no longer control herself; the wires had broken, the lid blown, the anger runneth over until suddenly –
“I think that’s enough, Lucija.”
Silence. Napkin put down, next to plate. Chair noisily slid back, hitting the wall. Clunk. Knife dropped on ceramic, joining its life partner. More clanging. “Many thanks for a lovely dinner, as always. It was a delight.” Standing up, squeezing around Jakob’s seat. Put on her winter boots, jacket. Loud silence. Left her Christmas present pointedly on couch. (Red table cloth – as if she ever cooked). Opened the door, welcomed the frozen night. Walked out. Could see her breath winking back. Snow crunched beneath her feet. She could see Jakob in the window. Arguing with Lucija. Mouths and hands moving, no sound. The dad still sat, sullen and silent. All was calm outside. She turned her back, blood vessels loosened.
Today, Lucija paused, coughed, heaved, continued. Wiped sweat away from her matted bangs. Ayla was still breathing slowly, staying quiet. Lucija stepped gingerly on the moving metal. The subway stop was cool in summer. Silent, empty but for the requisite teenagers. Ayla held her gaze at Lucija’s cankles. Followed by thick soft black orthopaedic shoes. Lifted gently by Herculean efforts against gravity. Lucija’s darkly clad sweaty flesh became smaller. She was cut off by the ceiling. Nothing but lavender-and-sweat infused air remained behind her.