Reading Time: Approx. 15 minutes
We are thrilled to present "Abby, Who Doesn't Come to Weddings" in our Summer 2020 issue, available July 29.
“Good morning, sleepy Homo sapiens.” Dr. Abigail Monroe pressed the top right button on her clicker. After a seconds-long delay that simply should not have occurred given the amount of money the university poured into its technology budget, an image of a Japanese macaque lounging in a natural hot spring appeared on the projector. Flanking the matriarch, two less-dominant females hunched over the water, anxiously awaiting her permission to enter.
“I’ve tried my best to delay it, but we’ve finally reached that point in the semester where I’m gonna be obnoxious and talk about my research. But you can’t complain because I didn’t make you go out and buy the $275 textbook I co-authored. Those motherfuckers at Columbia, however, are stuck with it.”
As she reveled in the post-adolescent laughter of her class, Abby remembered that most students who could manage the tuition bill at NYU would probably be fine buying the book. But she knew all college students liked to imagine themselves as victims of this absurd economy—especially those who were offspring of Wall Street and Washington perpetrators. Appealing to their sensibilities in this way wouldn’t hamper her teaching, and it would only help her scale the rungs of tenure track like a siamang swinging through the Sumatran canopy.
“Dr. Monroe,” said fourth-row-third-from-the-left-hand-side. Greasy hair and glasses. He had a name, surely, and it was probably something whiny and insipid like Stuart. But she had never taken time to learn it, just as he had probably never taken the time to read her goddamn syllabus. In this witless, chaotic world, each organism had to invent her own justice or perish.
“What can I do for you, Mr. …?”
“Seamus,” he said. “I wanted to ask if that picture is real because a lot of people crop stuff like that all the time. You know, fake news and stuff.”
“Right.” Now that she looked more closely, Stuart was wearing an Indiana Jones-style canvas jacket with the sleeves pushed halfway up his hairy forearms. That kid, like the few other students who didn’t look like they had pajamas on underneath their NYU outerwear, was an anthro major. Undoubtedly. This one in particular seemed to envision himself as a kind of Wade Davis figure in the making. “It’s always vital to remain a bit incredulous, but I can assure you that my colleague took this picture with her own Nikon. Moving forward, before we begin our discussion on the Macaca genus, would anyone like to situate us in the taxonomy?”
First-row-fourth-from-the-left, an Ugg- and North Face-clad blonde who thought attendance and participation were going to get her an A in this class raised her hand. “Well, we’re in the primate order.”
No shit, Susan. Or Sally? Something.
“Right,” she said, the word stretching out like taffy, or perhaps her ever-receding patience. “That is what one would assume, since we’re in a course titled ‘World of Primates,’ but let’s get more specific. Suborder? Infraorder?”
“Haplorhine and catarrhine,” said second-row-dead-center, an environmental science major who was the only person to get an A on the midterm.
“Exactly. And what distinguishes a catarrhine from a platyrrhine?”
The same girl glanced around the room before half-raising her hand again, her fingers curled like a gibbon’s. She seemed the type that was afraid to come off as obnoxious. Abigail had been that type eight or so years ago, before her thesis advisor nitpicked and red-inked the timidity out of her.
“Catarrhines are the monkeys and apes that live in Africa and Asia, while platyrrhines are monkeys only found in the neotropics.”
Abby nodded, smiled. “Remind me of your name.”
She might write Marie a recommendation someday. The rest of them could rot.
After teaching two back-to-back sections of Intro, sitting through an hour-long departmental meeting that provided no information that couldn’t have been conveyed via email, and playing Tetris on her tablet during office hours, she hiked up to the Union Square station and boarded a Canarsie-bound L train.
She snagged a seat near the end of a middle car and put in her earbuds, but before Frank Ocean could entrance her with his riffs and trills, a less melodic voice intruded on her.
“Abby, is that you?”
She knew without looking that it was her Aunt Stacey, and that she hadn’t acquired any volume control in the twelve years since she’d last seen her. Abigail kept her eyes low and opened up an e-book on her Kindle app, hoping she looked different enough from her perm-headed adolescent self that most people would assume they had made a mistake. But Aunt Stacey, ever rotund, rash, and rude, had never possessed the manners of most people.
“Abigail Monroe, I know you’re not ignoring me!”
“Mom, maybe it’s not her. Leave people alone,” said a girl who, judging by her Nikes and fuchsia yoga pants, was about seventeen.
“I know what my niece looks like, Allana! And don’t you dare contradict me. Walking around in those Victoria Secret pants like you just waiting for somebody to pull ‘em down.”
Yes, seventeen would be about right. Allana would have been five when she was forced to sit through Abigail’s high school graduation. She wondered what time had done to the little cousin who in her memories had always been perched on a couch cushion, wearing the meanest of expressions whenever the hot comb strayed too close to her ears. The curiosity was almost enough to make her chance a glance up, but before she could do so, her earbud was plucked from her right ear.
“Hey, baby! It’s Auntie Stace. I didn’t know you were back in New York.”
“It’s a recent thing.” A more primal part of her toyed with the idea of garroting dear auntie with the wire, but when she weighed the notion against the cost of switching to AirPods, reason won out. With a reserved smile, she took back the earbud and wrapped the reunited pair around her phone.
“You know, you missed your cousin Jennifer’s baby shower last May; I think that really hurt her feelings. And Joshua’s wedding two years back. Now that I think on it, you’ve been like a ghost for a while now. Don’t you look at the family group chat?”
“I spent some time doing research overseas, so—”
“Oh right, right! I remember. You were studying to be a veterinarian or something.”
Abigail opened her mouth to explain, not for the first time that week, what it was that primatologists did, but then she stopped herself. “Sure.”
“You live alone?” Aunt Stacey asked in a lilting tone that let Abigail know she was really asking whether she’d found a husband yet.
“No.” She stifled a sigh. “I share an apartment with my partner.”
“Partner?” Aunt Stacey looked her up and down, searching for telltale signs of dykedom. Finding no buzz cut or septum piercing, she narrowed her eyes. “You’re not some kind of lesbian, are you?”
“Mom!” said Allana. Against all odds, it seemed that the girl had ended up somewhat PC. A less incredulous person would’ve called it a miracle.
“What, Allana? I’m just asking the girl a question.” She turned back to Abigail, seemingly unaware of the hipster couple she smacked with her Macy’s bags. “So are you?”
“No, Aunt Stacey,” she said. “My partner is a man.”
“Ohh.” Aunt Stacey smiled broadly then, her dimples deepening, the wrinkles around her eyes spreading like the legs of the white man sitting next to Abigail. Seriously, though, people with that kind of wingspan just needed to drive. “You got a little boyfriend. Why didn’t you just say that?”
Because ‘boyfriend’ sounded infantile, and she was fucking thirty.
Aunt Stacey glanced meaningfully at Abigail’s hands and tutted in mock sympathy. “You’ll have to let us know when he decides to pop the question,” she said. “Men take their time putting a ring on it after you go and let ‘em get comfortable.”
Heaven forbid two adults become comfortable in a life without spending half a year’s salary to make some Z-list spectacle of themselves. The parade of weddings she’d been forced to attend as a child—all of them held in garish venues with too many dark corners and walls too thin to stop the ill-wishes of envious relatives from reaching the brides—had been enough to turn her off the idea early. And with people like Aunt Stacey on its PR team, Abigail wouldn’t be all that surprised if the institution met extinction in her lifetime.
“Yeah, I’ll keep you posted,” she replied, grateful that she’d thought to change her number after undergrad.
“Good, good. I’ll put a message in the family chat to let everyone know you’re here.”
“There’s really no need to do tha—”
“Too bad it’s not summer yet; I know your mom would love to put on a barbecue. But then again, she’s been so busy planning the wedding.”
Abigail did all she could to keep from rolling her eyes, and felt a strong sense of kinship when Allana did it for her. Of course Abigail’s mother, who made fake Facebook profiles so she could see what kinds of pictures all her nieces and nephews were posting on the internet, would insert herself into the meticulous planning of other people’s weddings. “Who’s getting married this time?”
“What in the—” Aunt Stacey’s penciled-in eyebrows shot up to the top of her lace-front wig. “Your mother! Didn’t I just say so? I’m telling you, all these devices y’all kids keep sticking in your ears’ll make you all go deaf. Anyhow, you really mean to tell me that Claudia check-on-your-loved-ones-six-times-a-day Monroe didn’t have the presence of mind to tell her own daughter she was getting married?”
Perhaps a more loyal daughter would have bristled at the way her aunt seemed to revel in the would-be scandal, but Abigail merely glanced up at the overhead subway map. Thankfully, she would be able to get off soon. Though it wasn’t exactly surprising to hear that her mother had been searching for a new man, Abigail paused to wonder how an individual with the personality of a vampire bat had gotten not one, but two non-impaired humans to legally bind themselves to her.
“Well, I was out of the country, so…”
“I guess that’s right. I keep telling everyone I know to get onboard with that Sprint Global Roaming plan; it’ll save you three hundred dollars every year. Now that you’re back, though, call up your mother. And come down by the church on Sunday. After service we’re gonna go over some of the color swatches...”
Abigail tuned her out, glancing around as the train eased into the Bedford Avenue station. “This is my stop.”
When she finally made it back to her fourth-floor Williamsburg walkup, Roger was smoking a cigarette at the foot of their bed. She stood in the doorway for a minute, unzipping and pulling off her leather boots. Then she went over to the window and threw it open.
“It’s fucking freezing in here, babe,” he said.
“You can give yourself cancer if you want, but you’re not killing me.” Abigail made a great show of spraying the room with Blood Orange & Spritz Febreze. She always took pleasure in shopping for the scents she knew he’d dislike the most. It was supposed to be classical conditioning, but it wasn’t quite working yet.
“Don’t be dramatic,” he said. He crushed the cigarette butt into the ceramic ashtray he bought in Miami last year. “You seem stressed. Did something happen today?”
“I mean, not really,” she said, slipping out of her black slacks and grabbing the folded pair of pajama shorts from beneath her memory foam pillow.
She shrugged, opened her MacBook, considered asking him to grab her a beer from the fridge. “I just ran into my aunt on the subway,” she said as she pulled an oversized Nirvana t-shirt over her head. “I wasn’t expecting it.”
“You have an aunt?”
“I have, like, six.”
“And they all live here?”
Abigail paused, considering this. Aunt Miranda, her late father’s favorite sister, had been threatening to move down to Atlanta for the past twenty years, but she was probably still sitting on her same stoop in Bed-Stuy, annoyed with the kids, and the noise, and the white gentrifiers with their eight-dollar smoothies. “As far as I know.”
“Okay,” he said in the way he always did when he wanted to ask her a question she probably wouldn’t really answer. “What’s so bad about this aunt that running into her ruined your day?”
“Nothing, really,” she said. “Aunt Stacey is just … a lot.”
“What, did she say something?”
“She must have said a thousand things.” Abigail gave a tiny snort. “The woman never stops talking.”
She knew that if she told him about her mother’s upcoming wedding, he’d want to go, and not only because she’d never brought him around her family. The only frivolous thing Roger Singh loved more than leather goods and craft beers was weddings. He would take pictures and make toasts and perform the Jersey Boys love ballad a capella if he’d had enough to drink. Over the years Abigail had dragged him home from enough of his castmates’ receptions to know.
Roger looked at her for a long stretch, his eyes slightly narrowed. “How long have we been together?”
“Fuck if I know.” She laughed. They had met in Chicago when she was working on her master’s degree. He had been acting by day, bartending by night, and inching towards an MFA in the time left over. He called it a meet cute; she called it horny and ready to interact with someone who had never handled monkey shit for research. But when she left to do her fieldwork in Nagano, he had followed her. With the exception of the odd show or conference, they’d lived together ever since. “Five? Six years now?”
“Indeed,” she said. It was something no one would have expected of her, the reclusive bibliophile who seldom left her room in high school and undergrad. “Back then you drove to work on a motorcycle.”
“And you had a retainer.”
Abigail rolled her eyes and pressed her cold feet against his shins. “That retainer is the reason why my smile is perfect now.”
“That’s not why.” He kissed her four times before her attitude came undone and the Nirvana shirt slipped back over her head.
“Do they even know you’re seeing someone?” he asked after. He lit another cigarette, and she couldn’t be bothered to lecture him about it.
“Well, thanks to my aunt, I’m sure everyone on this planet who shares even a shred of my DNA knows by now.” She stretched, arching her back, trying to determine whether or not she wanted to put on pants. “Family group chats should be illegal.”
“Agreed,” he said, and Abigail knew that his aunts and cousins back in Delhi routinely got together to admonish him via WhatsApp over the fact that he wasn’t married yet. It didn’t matter to them that they had everything but the certificate. “At the same time, I get that your mom is problematic—”
“Understatement of the century,” she said. “But go on.”
“I don’t know. Don’t you think I should have met someone related to you by now? Like anyone?”
“Because introducing me to your family went so well?” His father had been cordial, and steered the conversation towards topics like finance and politics, which suited Abigail fine. But his mother had scowled through the entire dinner, and his grandmother watched her silently, like she was a stain she wanted to bleach out of her lacy tablecloth.
After dessert his mom had told him something in Punjabi that, judging solely on inflection, sounded like, ‘What was wrong with the nice Indian girls I introduced you to?’
“I think it went fine,” he said, blowing smoke as usual.
“They hated me on principle.”
“They didn’t.” He ran a hand through his hair. “They’re just kind of—”
“In the sociological sense, people of color can’t be racist.”
Abigail pondered that for a moment. In a way it was true. They weren’t monsters. She imagined that if she had been an entry-level employee at Mr. Singh’s firm or a member of his mother’s romance novel book club, she would have been liked, if not adored outright. But within the white-supremacist world order, someone like her could only do damage to the status they had worked so hard to acquire.
“Fine.” She rolled her eyes. “Not racist, then, but definitely anti-black.” And it was fine because he mostly hated his parents and her mom was the worst and they were never getting married, anyway. “For right now, let’s just focus on our lives.”
After the Aunt Stacey incident, Abigail stopped taking the L train for over a month. Each day after work she would catch the N at 8th Street and take it to Canal, where she would try not to get elbowed onto the third rail as she made her way up to the J line. She would use the five to thirty minutes she spent suspended over the Williamsburg bridge every goddamn day to figure out whether she’d take the fifteen-minute walk home or wait for a bus to the north side.
The new plan added over an hour to her commute each day. Otherwise, it cost her about sixty bucks a week in cab fare, money—as Roger loved to remind her—that could be better spent on travel, or saved for the kids that he thought they were going to have someday. As far as Abigail was concerned, not running into any of her relatives was well worth the investment.
But one Friday afternoon, after a late ramen lunch with Roger on the Lower East Side, the universe—and by the universe, she meant the MTA—decided that it was going to work against her.
Seriously, with next to none of the trains running normally and the shuttle busses more crowded than a headline act at Coachella, the MTA chairman was about to become third on her kill list, right after Trump and the head of Nestlé.
She turned to Roger, who was still probably comparing the merits of Tokyo and Nagoya style miso in his head, with a sigh. “We need to move to Manhattan.”
“I thought that’s what we were saving for,” he replied as they made their way over to Broadway.
“That and Hamilton tickets.” She smirked, recalling a particularly outrageous boast from circa their second date. “Although, I thought Lin was your bro.”
“An estranged bro,” he said as they made their way down the subway stairs. He tossed a five into the 7-Eleven cup of a kid playing Tchaikovsky on his keyboard. “And that is why we have to take the train.”
“You’re right,” she said as she swiped her pass. “If we take the 6 to Bleeker Street and then transfer to the M, then we can—”
“Then we can rage-quit at Marcy and take a cab?” He shot her a meaningful look as crowds of people running for the Queens bound R train pushed passed them. Abigail knew how to sidestep them, but at least two people stomped on Roger’s suede shoes. Though she supposed that was what he got for wearing suede when he didn’t have to. “Let’s just take the L.”
“I would, but—”
“Just speaking statistically here, what are the chances that you’re gonna run into one of your relatives?” he asked. “You’ve been taking this route home for months now and it’s only happened once.”
Abigail nibbled her lower lip. If she was going to carry on like this for the rest of her life, they might as well move back to Chicago. “Alright, fine,” she said, starting towards the lower platform. “Let’s just go.”
Abigail couldn’t really say she was surprised when the whole lot of them crowded onto the train, talking too loud, wearing too much perfume, and brandishing doggie bags from Max Brenner’s. It had been a rehearsal dinner; she could tell from the number of them, from the dresses and suits and bible verses badly quoted between vulgar jokes. But she still hoped, albeit weakly, that if she stayed still and silent, receded to nothing, no one would see her. Feeling her freeze and following her gaze, Roger looked over at them, maybe seeing the resemblance in at least one of them.
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” he half-whispered to her.
It worked better than she expected for half a stop. But when she spotted her mother, hair silver as Michael Jackson’s outfit in the “Rock with You” video, a small tremor ran through her. Each second after was reminiscent of that moment of agony before a switch came down on your legs, the anticipation almost as bad as the sting upon impact. It was strange to see Claudia Monroe as the rest of the family did, witty and graceful and content as ever at the center of attention. The lot of them would never know the parts of her that inspired horror.
Aunt Stacey made wild gestures with her bratwurst-like arms, slapping her husband, Uncle Mark, on the shoulder with her cherry red Nine West clutch whenever he said something she perceived to be out of line. Now that Abigail thought of it, Allana probably inherited her somewhat sane sensibilities from him―yet another example of natural selection hard at work.
She probably would have made it to Bedford undetected if not for Zeke. That man had always known where to find Abby when she wanted to hide. She felt the weight of his reptilian gaze on her, on her breasts and the angle of her collarbone, seconds before she spotted him.
As he crossed the car to greet her, his steps long and sprightly, Abigail felt a scream swelling in her lungs, refining itself at the base of her throat like a Howler’s danger call. But in the end she didn’t scream. She never had. She supposed that at this late date she didn’t even know how.
“Hello there, babygirl.”
If Abigail could have dissolved into the pale blue subway bench to escape his leering, she would’ve done it, but the next best thing was to stay still, as she had been taught, hands folded in a Sunday school gesture to keep them from trembling. On some level, she felt Roger reach for her hand, but all her senses were fixed on a pink wad of bubble gum stuck at the base of a metal pole. If she kept her mind elsewhere, there would be less to remember later.
When he leaned down to kiss her cheek, Zeke strayed too close to her lips, as he always had, even when the others were watching. And why would they ever think to watch him, a church-going man, a god-fearing man, exactly the type that should have known better? She wondered, not for the first time, if there had been others. She hoped Uncle Mark had the sense to keep that man out of his house. Abigail’s father had, while he was alive.
She supposed Zeke had understood her mother in ways her Jamaican father never could. They’d both been born in the South Bronx with Alabama souls, their grandparents’ Great Migration stories buzzing through them before their ears formed in utero. It had baffled her as a girl, but now she understood why her mother couldn’t let anything bad about him be true. She was too weak; it would destroy her.
“I thought you would never make it back from school,” Zeke said. “You’re not gonna give Uncle Zeke some sugar?”
Abigail did not speak, because she knew that she had regressed to a place beyond the influence of words, that the next move she made would bring an end to him or her or both.
“Say that name one more time,” Roger said, because she had told him during their first month in Nagano.
“I’m Ezekiel Brown,” he replied, adjusting his Crimson Tide red tie. “Who wants to know?”
Roger turned to Abigail with something like murder in his posture. He gestured at Zeke, but his eyes never left her. “Is this the guy?”
“Babe,” she said, the lone syllable telling him all he needed to know.
Roger stood up.
And suddenly there her mother was, looming by Zeke’s side, warning her with eyes of obsidian to be civil or begone. Since her daughter was thirteen, Claudia Monroe would tolerate every absence and early departure, so long as she never embarrassed her or invited discord into the stitches of her tightly knit social circle.
“Honestly, Abby,” she said with a tight-lipped smile that broadened as she turned to face the family. The mask of the Black American matriarch had not suffered a scratch in the past twelve years. “Thirty years and still so shy she can hardly talk to anyone.” Then her mother turned her gaze to Roger. “And look at this fine thing. I almost couldn’t believe Auntie Stace when she said you found yourself a man.”
Abigail saw Roger about to tell her mother about herself. She shook her head slightly to discourage him.
“God is good!” Aunt Brenda said.
Before the rest could crowd around her, Abigail stood up. The train, mercifully, was approaching her stop. As she made her way towards the nearest exit, her mother grabbed her forearm, acrylic tips piercing her through the peacoat.
“I expect we’ll see you both at the wedding next Sunday,” she said, loud enough for everyone to hear. “I sure hope you don’t have another one of those research things planned ahead.”
“It’s too bad,” Abigail replied, finally finding her voice. “I’ll be sitting on a panel at UC Berkeley that weekend. I’m so sorry to miss it.”
Seemingly satisfied with her response, her mother released her draconian grip, and Abby escaped through the sliding doors with her partner.
“Does she know?” Roger asked once they were above ground, waiting for the light to change against the backdrop of their favorite bodega. She placed her hand in his, feeling the tension leave her as his thumb rubbed tiny circles into the middle of her palm.
“She always did,” Abigail replied. “But it doesn’t matter because she loves him.” Only then had she realized that if Claudia Monroe was getting remarried, Zeke had to be the groom.
She canceled her classes on Monday, and her office hours on Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, there was a passive-aggressive email from the department chair in her inbox and she knew that if she did not get her ass back to work, gin-induced hangover and all, her chances at early tenure were all but fucked.
“You sure you’re up to work right now?” Roger asked, lighting a Marlboro.
Once again, Abigail could not find the strength to nag him about it. She took a sip from the mug of black coffee she was keeping handy at the edge of the ironing board. She could never line up the seams on her slacks quite right, but she had effectively blown her dry-cleaning budget for the remainder of the semester.
“You still want that West Village condo?”
“Then yes, I think this is the best damn idea I’ve had since my dissertation.” She knew she was being a bitch, and that they would have more money if he could find a decent teaching job, but the words still flowed out of her.
“Roger, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”
At that precise moment, her shaking hands knocked the coffee onto her slacks and the iron onto the floor. She snatched up the latter before it could blacken the hardwood floor and ensure that they would never get the security deposit back. She sighed, sinking down to dry the floor with the pants she would have to take to the drycleaners after all. Even on a good day, a morning mishap of this size would be more than enough to send her crawling back to bed.
“I’ll go get the mop,” she said, and made no moves to do so. She shut her eyes. Her lower lids warmed with tears.
“Babe.” Roger helped her up and back onto the bed. “If you need to take some time to...I don’t know, deal with stuff, I can talk to my parents.”
Abigail gave a mirthless laugh at this. The thought that his family would subsidize any of his endeavors outside of a full return to a career in finance, an endogamous love life, and the Republican party was more absurd than the 2016 election. “To your parents my only redeeming quality is that I make more money than you. Let’s not ruin that.”
“Fair point.” He put out the cigarette, conceding. “But have you ever tried seeing someone?”
“I did,” she said, walking over to the meager bedroom closet. There had to be a dress somewhere in there that wasn’t too badly wrinkled. “In undergrad.”
“And I was a straight A student without a mental health diagnosis or the means to seek legal recourse,” she said. “The counseling center was short staffed. They told me the best thing I could do was stop thinking about it.”
She had been taught almost two decades ago in a storage room at some distant cousin’s church wedding, and in all the years that followed, that nothing was coming to save her. There were people and hashtags and marches and centuries-long silences trying to protect men like Zeke from racist police and an unjust justice system. And in turn there were people and marches and hashtags and pop-sociological anthologies out to defend quirky white girls with trust funds against men like Zeke.
“No, that’s America,” she said, pulling a black dress over tights. “And now I am going to go teach. I’ll see you tonight.”
“I’ll make biryani.”
“I love you.”
She shut the bedroom door behind her before he could respond. In retrospect, it was probably the first time she’d said that to anyone in nearly twenty years.
“Taxonomy, go,” said Dr. Monroe. She sat atop her desk, iced Americano in hand, and clicked the remote. An image of a male orangutan appeared on the projector. “Starting from the superfamily. If you don’t know what comes before that by now, your final grades are probably beyond help.”
Marie, who seemed to grow less nervous with each question she answered correctly, raised her hand. She was far less gibbon now, fingers a bit straighter, almost like chimp. But Abigail supposed that was the way of existence—progress or perish, evolution or extinction.
“Superfamily Hominoidea, Family Hominidae, Subfamily Ponginae, Genus Pongo.”
“Precisely,” said Abigail, reaching for her pointer. “Now what do orangutans and grammar Nazis have in common? Anyone?” she asked, unsurprised when the class remained silent. “They both live solitary lives.”
A chorus of groans came from the students.
“Boo,” said back-row-fourth-from-the-right, a boy she was sure came to class high more than half of the time.
“Come on, that was funny,” she said, though she was not quite old enough to believe it was true. She’d have to give it another five years or so. “Anyway, unlike our friends the grammarians, orangutans are mostly solitary by choice. Now, if you did the reading, you’ll recall that this is highly unusual for primates, but we hypothesize that it functions to reduce competition for food in home ranges.”
She knew at that moment, as she drew oblong shapes on the whiteboard to represent primate territories, that she would finish the lecture and all the others that followed until she got tenure. Manhattan would be her home range and she would endure in spite of the wrongs etched into her flesh.
When she got home, as promised, there was a pot of chicken biryani on the stove, and the whole apartment smelled of spices. The gentrifiers next door must’ve hated that.
“You wanna know something,” she said as they sat at the foot of the bed binge-watching Jane the Virgin. She was supposed to be grading reading responses, but then again, her students were supposed to be keeping up with them.
He smiled at her. “What? That they should have cast me as Rafael Solano?”
“You’re still bitter about that?” she asked, knowing that he would always be. But it wasn’t his fault that his agent tried to make him audition for every role that called for an attractive ethnic man. “Anyway.” She rubbed the back of her neck. “I’ve been thinking.”
He pressed pause; the screen froze on pregnant Jane and Petra in a boxing ring. “Thinking what, exactly?”
Abigail reached to grab her briefcase at the foot of the bed. She drew a ten-page document on coordinated faculty appointments from a purple folder. Each page was thoroughly annotated, with key phrases highlighted in neon pink. “I was looking over some paperwork about the tenure track and something occurred to me. If we were to get married now, Tisch might still hire you, especially after my next book comes out and other institutions start making offers. I mean, if you wanted to teach. I’d understand if you didn’t.”
It must have taken him a minute to tease her point out from the details. A smile grew on his lightly stubbled face. He blinked once. Twice. “Did you just fucking propose?”
“It might get us to the village faster,” she said, her eyes darting back to the documents. “And you could finally put that MFA to work.”
“And my father said a terminal degree in acting was pointless.”
“Your father also said Trump would shrink the national debt.” They were both well accustomed to parents being wrong.
“This is insane. You hate the whole idea of marriage. What—”
“Weddings,” she said. “I hate weddings. But a good marriage?” She shrugged.
Abigail turned the show back on.
Elizabeth had this to say about, "Abby, Who Doesn't Come to Weddings":
The first draft was written as part of my undergraduate thesis in creative writing, a short story cycle that explores the intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and class against the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn. The voice and journey of Abigail Monroe came to me at a time when the Me Too movement was gaining attention across the United States, and I found myself contemplating the silences that survivors of color are often compelled to maintain in the name of racial, cultural, and familial solidarity. The story is largely about the negotiation of silence and the ways in which personal freedom might be pursued when the option of justice is not on the table.
Elizabeth Charles (she/her) is a writer and educator interested in contemporary fiction with strong feminist themes. Her literary influences include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jamaica Kincaid, and Arundhati Roy.