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  • Zach Keali’i Murphy

The Family Barbecue

Victoria is late to the family barbecue, even though it’s in her own backyard. She stares out her bedroom window, chewing her cuticles and longing for the morning, when cute rabbits sniffed through the lawn’s dewdrops. Now, the lawn is full of people that somehow share her blood.

Victoria’s year-long bout with Lyme disease is a readymade excuse to avoid mingling. Sometimes the tiniest things cause the most damage. The condition is currently in remission, but she refuses to touch grass.

Victoria’s mom calls her name. The first time around, Victoria can pretend she doesn’t hear it. That’ll buy her some time before having to make an appearance. She has approximately nine minutes before her mom calls her name again. She knows the drill. She’s seasoned at this.

She sees her cousin, Craig, strutting around with a drink in his hand. She can’t read his lips but he’s got his “bragging about being in law school” face on. If only the rest of the family knew about his DUI. Uncle Tim has a ketchup stain on his shirt that is almost as red as his politics. After being subjected to his onslaught of Facebook posts, Victoria finds it difficult to breathe the same air as him. Aunt Marie is there too. She always judges Victoria like it’s her profession. Every time Victoria sees her, Aunt Marie’s eyes give her a body scan that could rival an MRI machine. Yes, it’s the year 2017 and tattoos exist.

Victoria’s mom calls her name again, attempting to mask her irritation, but that voice couldn’t sugarcoat a gumdrop. Victoria can probably get away with approximately five more minutes before making an appearance. She knows the drill. She’s seasoned at this.

Victoria wonders, why should she feel obligated to even show up at all? So she can greet people with mutual feelings of disdain and muster every muscle in her face in order to cook up a smile? So she can get passive-aggressively roasted for still living at home at the age of twenty-three?

Everything hurt less when Victoria’s dad was still here. When he went away, he left an emptiness in the house that only ocean caverns know, and mom’s new boyfriend from HR definitely won’t fill it. Victoria pictures her dad at the grill, sweating, wearing his cooking apron with the bear on it, pretending it’s an easy job but simultaneously worrying he’ll mess up the shish kabobs. Victoria used to get so mad when her dad would come into her room without knocking. Now she would do anything to see him walk through the door again. Sometimes she still catches a whiff of his scent–Old Spice and sadness. At least once a day, she listens to the last rambling voicemail he left her about how he was at the store buying lettuce for the rabbits in the yard.

Victoria’s mom calls her name again, even louder. But Victoria doesn’t hear it this time.

Zach Keali’i Murphy is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, Maudlin House, The Coachella Review, Raritan Quarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and more. He has published the chapbooks Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press) and If We Keep Moving (Ghost City Press). He lives with his wonderful wife, Kelly, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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