You feel her. She’s coming. You can smell her peach body lotion. She’s here. Aunt Tammy is standing directly next to you.
The cornhole court is full. You’ve already made the rounds. There’s nowhere to go. You clear your throat under your mask, smiling with your eyes. You must look at her. It’s time.
“Tammy, hi! I love your… shirt.”
“It’s a tunic,” she sneers. “I found it in a catalog and bought it in seven colors. This is supposed to be magenta, but I think it’s more purple.” She has ketchup on her heaving bosom. She’s not wearing a mask, even though your mom promised everyone would be.
“Yeah. I like it.” You look down at the styrofoam plate you’re holding. This bit of disposable flatware will exist on Earth for three thousand years longer than you will. It’s loaded up with a mayonnaise-forward potato salad. A cousin screamed earlier that it was “too spicy” and spit some out on the patio. What happened to your fork? You must have dropped it near the Miller Lite cooler…
Aunt Tammy leans in. There’s lip gloss on her teeth: “What do you think of Barb’s potato Salad?”
“It’s good,” you say immediately, though it’s obvious from your collapsing plate and lack of utensil that you haven’t taken a bite.
“I think it’s too spicy, gross, not for me,” she says. “But maybe you’ll like it.”
“Yeah.” Your eyes dart around the yard. Kids screaming, meat grilling, men looking at grass. You start to sweat. Finally, your gaze rests on a ‘Back the Blue’ yard sign. You try to course-correct, but it’s too late. Tammy is looking at it, too. No no no no no no…
“I don’t know why they have to make it so political,” she says.
It’s happening. What now—play dumb? Go there? It’s so hot all of a sudden. You finally look up. She’s staring at you. Did she get closer?
“The police,” she continues. “Why is that even a political conversation?” You freeze. Is she serious? The plate is so heavy. The children’s screams are so shrill— “Ya know?” And just like that, she jostles you with her purple elbow.
“Um, well, it’s very political, I think. The police are, um, the militia of the ruling class,” you stammer. Why are you talking? The words keep coming out from you. “They’re literally murdering people, just mowing them down. And there’s no accountability. It’s terrifying.” Should you continue? No. Yet you continue: “They terrorize Black communities. The best neighborhoods are under-policed and overfunded, so I mean, we don’t even need cops at all, I don’t think…”
Deep breath. You look up. Tammy’s glare is a brick shithouse. Did the screaming stop? It’s 110º.
“OK Diana.” She says your name like it’s a curse word or a piece of Barb’s unctuous potato salad she is trying to dislodge from her soul. “Then who is an old lady going to call when she’s getting raped by a gang?”
You laugh-cough. You’re blinded by sweat. Your mask is so tight. “Um, well. Have you ever actually heard of that ever happening? Like, ever?”
Tammy’s rosacea is angry, pulsating—
You can’t look away. You can’t stop: “And if you have, have you ever heard of cops actually helping a victim, or solving a rape?”
Suddenly you have the feeling of being alone on stage at the end of a tunnel. You break eye contact with Aunt Tammy and look around. Everyone has stopped what they’re doing and is staring at you. The Dingleberries still sway on the ladder bars; the hotdogs are burning on the grill.
Tammy takes a step towards you. You can feel her boiling hot breath on your mask.
You slowly lift the 200-pound plate of potato salad to your chin and inhale. You feel warm congealed chunks of starch vacuum into your open throat. There is no taste, only texture. You do not chew. You wait till your dry mouth is completely full and attempt to swallow. You can’t. You can’t? No, you really can’t. Are you choking? Yes, you think, as you double over and cough uselessly, you’re choking. You’re choking! Thank God in heaven, you’re choking! You’re free.
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