I shut out the commotion at the other end of the long narrow table lined with my new in-laws. I chat with my sister-in-law across from me. I can hear my mother-in-law’s voice over the din.
My pork chops arrive. The family is served pot likker, crawfish dip, black eyed peas, fried green tomatoes, fried catfish, shrimp and grits, Hoppin’ John, dishes pulled out of a bad fairy tale. I’m used to filet mignon, baked potato, green salad, New York cheesecake. They rave about Atlanta’s Pittypat’s Porch. They are introducing me to Southern cooking.
People are laughing.
“Miz Hamby! Miz Hamby!” is bellowed from the other end of the table. “MIZ HAMBY! MIZ HAMBY!”
Most of the adult women around the table are “Mrs. Hamby.”
When the same voice screams “DORIN! DORIN!” I jerk my head around and see my new mother-in-law Sweetie glaring in my direction. Her eyes bulge in a hysterical stare and her mouth is open mid-scream. My husband hates her. She is loud and rude. She uses her soup spoon like a shovel digging up a grave.
Shocked, “WHAT?” I’m irritated but I make myself smile.
“Why won’t you take your husband’s name? Are you ashamed of him?”
As a professional woman, I kept my first husband’s last name after the divorce. I think of telling her, “I publish under the name, it’s my children’s name and in the Second Wave, my consciousness was raised.” Instead I look at the roof.
Hubert Fraker, Sweetie’s fourth husband, has a scrawny chicken neck that sticks out of his heavy black winter coat. It’s August and I wonder if anyone catches the double irony. He is sitting passively next to her. He is so cowed by Sweetie he never speaks, except to mutter “Suit yourself.” But she is Mrs. Fraker.
Sweetie is waving both arms. She looks like helicopter blades crashing into a lake. She knocks over her hot cup of pot likker into Hubert’s lap.
I think I hear him say, “Suit yourself.”