--You are a superior being married to a quasi-Neanderthal who has yet to internalize the mores of the middle class, that's how, he says, turning to her. And when she doesn't turn back, he puts his eyebrows up and down, he has these big thick eyebrows like caterpillars. Then he says, quiet like:--I do beg your patience.
His cell phone rings, this week the tune is 'America the Beautiful,' which he says is for the benefit of Lizzy and me, he wants to make sure we know more than 'Afunga Alafia.' Not that he has anything against Swahili, Swahili is very nice, he says, a language spoken by many.
--Sounds great, he says now, into the phone, in his work voice. Just make sure the visuals are in order and that new one...exactly.
Bailey starts crying, so Lizzy plugs him up with a passy.
--Anyway, she's from a little town someplace between Shanghai and Beijing, Mom says. Which are cities in China.
--You told us that already, says Lizzy.
But Mom keeps going over the whole thing anyway like it's what to do in case of a fire or something.
--She's very nice and she's our relative, says Mom. She'll be here for a couple of years, helping with you guys, and we are all going to like her.
--That's reassuring but not necessarily true, says Lizzy.
--No one can say anything around here, says Dad.
--That's not true either, says Lizzy.
--So what is true? I say. If you're so smart.
LIZZY / --Parents are liars, I said. When they're worried they reassure you and they steal your Halloween candy if you're not careful.
--Nobody stole your Halloween candy, said Dad. If you're talking about last year.
--I was careful, I said.
WENDY / --Some was missing from mine, I say.
I look at the black back of Dad's head. Then at the blond back of Mom's.
--I don't even like Reese's peanut butter cups, says Dad.
--Oh, for heaven's sake, Carnegie, says Mom.
--Nor do I care for Kit Kats, he says.
--Honestly! says Mom. You are my fourth child.
--So sue me, sue me, what can you do me, sings Dad. I...a-a-ate...them.
His cell phone rings again. We can hear the words in our heads. Ohh beau-ti-ful for spacious...
--Will you put that thing on vibrate, says Mom. And when Dad doesn't answer:--Honey, please. Taking phone calls night and day is just not going to help. If there are going to be layoffs, there are going to be layoffs.
--Thank you for that consoling insight, says Dad. It will bring me almost as much solace on a sleepless night as knowing the Great Greenspan saw this coming.
His phone rings again. Ohh beau-ti-ful for...
--And may I just point out that I turned mine off even though I have that board meeting tomorrow, says Mom.
--Nobler than springtime, are you, sings Dad then. Sweeter than Kit Kats, are you...
But he shuts his phone off and hands it to Mom. She puts it in the glove compartment, closing it up with kind of a bang because it doesn't work that great. Of course it falls back open again anyway, so she hits it again, only more gently, which works. There's that click. Then she looks over her shoulder and says:--Your dad is a joker.
Excerpted from The Love Wife by Gish Jen Copyright© 2004 by Gish Jen. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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