In truth, the place had been an absolute wreck when Clyde and I first started dating, but in the months leading up to the wedding, he’d gone to great lengths to make it presentable. His way of proving to me that he really was husband material. Now that there was a woman present, he vowed that he would no longer just let things lie where they may.
“He really killed those deer?” Haley asked me, her eyes wide.
I nodded. “And rabbits, and birds, and sometimes even squirrels.”
“That’s so creepy,” Haley said.
In that moment, she seemed even younger than 14. She’s small for her age as it is, but seeing her shrink into the couch like that, I wanted to move across the room and wrap her in a hug. I don’t think she would have appreciated that very much, though. She tends to squirm like a cat when I try that sort of thing.
“You get used to it,” I told her, even as I felt the presence of those massive antlered heads behind and to either side of me. The heads are so big, and the living room so small, that when I’m sitting on the sofa it feels like they’re right on top of me, staring over my shoulder. I’ve asked Clyde about taking them down, or at least moving them, but that’s a non-starter. Sometimes I wonder how the proud spirits of those mighty bucks must feel now, knowing that their heads are forced to watch reality television all day.
Sabrina crossed her arms and leaned back. “Why did you marry this guy again? He’s a weirdo. His kid’s a weirdo. And he doesn’t even have a job.”
“I’ll have you know he’s a successful hunter,” I said. “He gets by selling meat and hides. Like a pioneer or something. You think your father could do that? He doesn’t even know how to shoot a gun.”
“Yeah, well….” Sabrina moved a strand of hair from her eyes. “Dad doesn’t need to know how to do that stuff. We live in a nice neighborhood.”
I gritted my teeth, refusing to take her bait. “There’s nothing wrong with this place. The people are very down to earth. And Purness is not weird.”
“He’s totally weird,” Sabrina said, crossing her arms. “He’s on, like, the Mathlete team. He just sits by himself at lunch and draws, like, Rube Goldberg machines or something.”
“Have you ever actually looked at his drawings?” I asked. “They’re not just doodles. They’re schematics. And they’re incredible. You wait, in ten years when he’s designing robots and flying cars, you’ll wish you were nicer to him.”
Sabrina rolled her eyes, but Haley’s widened at the mention of robots and flying cars. I smiled at her, glad that there was hope for at least one of my daughters.
“Besides,” I added, “doesn’t he run cross country? I’m surprised you’ve never talked to him before. You’re both the same age.”
“I’m not on the cross country team. I run hurdles.” She blew out a little puff of air. “Plus, he’s, like, retarded or something. I mean, he doesn’t talk. To anyone.”
There was a loud scuffing of feet in the kitchen. We all looked up to see Purness standing in the doorway, his eyes wide and his face flushed. I jumped to my feet, trying to think of something to say, but before I could, he took off running out the door.
I whirled on Sabrina, who seemed unconcerned about the damage she’d caused. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I shouted. “You go apologize to him this instant!”
“Like you said, he runs cross country. I doubt I could catch up to him even if I tried.”
She stared me down, her dark eyes suddenly seeming unrecognizable. I don’t know what happened to her. I raised her to be open minded, but I sure as hell didn’t raise her to be a bitch.
We haven’t been sitting around the table for long before it becomes clear that Clyde – and Rock – are the only ones having a good time. Clyde praises the food in between jabbering on about some show he was watching earlier. He likes reality television because, in his words, it’s the only thing that makes him feel smart. He wipes his mouth with a paper towel and tosses a piece of ham to Rock, who catches it in mid-air. I scold him, without any real force, for feeding table scraps to the dog.
No one’s really paying attention to what he’s saying, but the thing about Clyde is that he talks mostly to entertain himself. In a way, I envy his ability to not care what others think of him. I try to tell a story about some of the students in my class, the bored housewives who can’t seem to grasp that there are other things you can paint beyond landscapes and still lifes, but I fizzle out when I realize the kids aren’t even looking at me. You’d think being a teacher would make me a good speaker, but a college classroom is a captive audience; your students are paying money specifically to hear you talk.
So instead of talking I fall silent and study the eyes of the people at the table. Haley is staring at Purness. Purness is staring at Sabrina. Sabrina is staring at her phone. Clyde is staring at the lake, and Rock is staring at the food on Clyde’s plate. My eyes roam, passing over each face in turn, looking for an invitation and finding none.
“Hey, Purness,” Haley says. “Do you like Doctor Who?”
She’s wearing a t-shirt with the image of the main character’s blue spaceship. I couldn’t understand her obsession with the show until I sat down and watched an episode with her. I can’t tell you for the life of me what happened, but I still remember vividly the main character’s lush hair and youthful face. Haley’s got streaks the same color as that spaceship in her hair, which frames her face and stands out in contrast to her pale cheeks.