Something to Say
In the summer, my cousins and my sister and I stood behind the ice shack, which hadn’t been used in years. The country club staff had left up all the old signs “Thin Ice November and April,” “Hang Skates Here,” and “Ladies Changing Room” for reasons of nostalgic charm. Our dads had skated here back in the sixties, but none of us lived in Minnesota anymore. And our families didn’t belong to country clubs. At twenty, I’d never played a game of golf, and I was pretty bad at tennis.
I passed the joint to Chip, my fifteen-year-old cousin with orangey-red hair that no one else in our family has. My little sister Alice and I joke that Chip is an alien, or someone else’s son. Whenever we see Chip, we can’t wait to escape to the bathroom to whisper. “God, isn’t Chip weird? He’s going to be some sort of serial killer, you can see it in his eyes.” Chip’s eyes are dark brown, almost black, and stand in sharp contrast to our Aryan features—blond hair and blue eyes. Alice and I look alike: our grandmother’s hooked nose, our father’s hair and eyes. Chip’s older brother, Jones, looks like us, too. He and Alice could be twins. She hates it when I say this, or whisper in the bathroom. “Are you like, attracted to Jones? Because you think you’re so hot?” Jones is not Jones’ real name, but something he came up with at college when everyone was reinventing themselves and trying on self-assigned nicknames. Jones is really Jonathan, but he makes even his parents call him Jones and gets upset when they trip up.
“Nice,” Chip said after he inhaled and smiled like he’s all experienced but then he coughed. Alice passed on the joint, and so did Jones, so Chip and I passed it back and forth and got really high while his brother and my sister look at us with crossed arms and raised eyebrows, judging us even though they’re jealous. Jones is a Resident Assistant at his college and takes it really seriously. Alice and I laughed when he told us about all the drunk freshman he’d busted.
“There was an opium growing empire on my floor,” Jones told us in his slow, deliberate way. Jones is smart, like mathematician and engineer smart, but sometimes he has trouble articulating sentences. Alice and I didn’t quite understand how he had friends, but he seemed really popular when we stalked him on facebook. Eating pixie sticks and sledding with his friends in i-phone photos, Jones looked happy and relatively normal. My sister and I reasoned that he was friends with an anti-drug contingent of World of Warcraft playing losers, and that he was their god. We christened Jones “The Narc” which was hilarious.
Chip and I put Visine in our eyes and blinked back tears. Now that we were stoned getting through an assigned seating family dinner would be much easier, unless anyone decided to ask us questions. I hoped I’d be able to get away with smiling and nodding and listening to some older relative’s stories.
“You look like a little hooker,” I told Alice, who looked hot, but promiscuous in a very short white-eyelet sheath, espadrilles, and pink lipstick. Alice keeps her hair very short and bleached blond—it’s kind of eighties.
“Shut up,” Alice said. “You’re jealous.” My sister and I often accuse the other of being jealous. Usually it’s true. Jones was wearing khakis and a polo, fine, but Chip’s choice of clothing clashed with his skin and hair, and made him look like even more of a serial killer: Salmon-pink short-sleeved Lacoste polo and bright white slacks. Worn in tan boat shoes. Alice and I have never known our only cousins well enough to tease them about things like poor fashion choices, or about anything really, like how neurotic their mother is or how uptight their dad can be. We’re all within five years of one another, but I am the oldest, which was why Chip and I were smoking pot even though Jones was a narc and Alice disapproved. I was wearing black, as usual, and pearls. I had weird tan lines on my feet and shoulders, but I thought they added to a WASPy just-back-from-the-lake summertime je ne sais quoi.
Alice and I scanned the seating chart and had been placed across the room from one another—she had our dad at her table, and I had Chip at mine. “Sweet,” he said grinning at me. I hoped he wouldn’t think we were best friends now because we’d smoked together.
Chip sat next to me at the table and started balling his dinner roll into little doughy pieces and arranging them on his bread plate. Our table filled up: Ginny, the recently married debutante from Dallas, Litmas, someone’s obscure Estonian artist husband, Wilson, a pot-bellied professional racecar driver, and Melanie, a divorced poet with adult children. All blood relatives to me and Chip, except for Litmas who sat on my left and smelled of wine.
“Laura? Or Marcy?” Wilson asked, looking at my place tag. “Laura,” I said, trying to look pleasant. “Sorry,” Wilson said, “I thought you might be your mom. You just look so much like her.” Wilson (really, half of my relatives) has been saying this to me since I was twelve. I want to remind them my mom’s twenty-five years older than me, completely silver-haired, and skinny as a bird.
I couldn’t think of anything to say to Ginny, though I needed to say something: “I heard you had a glass dance floor at your wedding? Over a swimming pool? On like, the eighth floor?”
I flagged down a waiter, some high school kid with tinted Clearasil on his zits. “Can I have a bootleg, please?” Bootlegs are divine, easily the only truly enjoyable aspect of the country club experience: sweet soda, muddled mint and lime, and gin. They’re the Midwest’s answer to the mojito and nearly as good.
“Are you 21?” the waiter asked me.
“Yes,” I rolled my eyes.
“I guess it’s OK,” he said and I thought he should go make friends with Jones and start a task force to squash underage drinking. But there was no one to tell.
A Vassar graduate, Adele Melander-Dayton is attending graduate school for journalism at NYU and interning at Salon.com
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