The Math is Bad
by casey hannan
I find glass in the salad. I pick it off my tongue and let it clatter on my plate with the olive pits.
"Can I take these home and plant them and see if they turn into trees?" the child asks.
"No," I say.
"Yes," his grandmother says.
We give our answers at the same time. No one hears mine. My voice is a tweezer plucking at the hairs of conversation. I could pay for this entire meal by alerting the staff to the glass in the salad, but I would rather not make a scene. If a fly drowned in my wine, I would swallow the fly.
The family isn't my family. They belong to my husband. His name isn't really Dandy. I didn't marry that name. I married Dan. His family caught him fixing his hair in a hallway mirror once, and here we all sit with the joke.
Dandy turns his lettuce over with a fork. Living in the desert, we're conditioned to look under every rock.
I fish a small mirror from my purse and study my teeth for cracks.
No one at the table believes my name is Vonda. The child calls me "mother," which is a name I can't believe. How many mothers forget having a child? There he is, but I struggle to say he's mine. I didn't pay for him. Children are expensive. Not the money. The price.
Everyone is having a good time. My brother-in-law tells a story about the dog he rescued from teenagers with air rifles. Her body is lumpen with scars. This morning, my brother-in-law caught her sucking the jelly from a discarded condom.
Big laughs. Small laughs. The child barks. I cover his mouth with my napkin. His nose, too, disappears behind the cloth. I appear to suffocate the child.
The family watches.
I remove the napkin and kiss the child on the forehead. The pasta has arrived.
Gnocchi. Little knuckles. Pasta named for bones. I hear a ringing when food is compared to parts of the human body. My legs have been likened to carrots too many times.
"How do you stay the way you stay?" Dandy's mother asks.
I sip my wine.
"She exercises," Dandy answers for me.
Only because my mouth is full. I tell myself he wouldn't answer for me otherwise. But looking back, I've answered for Dandy, too. My marriage proposal wasn't a question.
"You'll say yes," I told him.
He never said yes. We start every day as if he did.
There's no glass in the pasta, but there's a lizard on the table. The fat, venomous kind that resembles a beaded purse. No one asks where it came from. It's enough for the dragon to appear. We sit in silence and wait for it to pass.
The family chooses quiet.
I say, "Monster, please."
Lizards have ears. Two paper circles of flesh. They pulse as I make my case.
"My name is Vonda. I hatched from an egg my parents found in the desert. I consumed the soft shell for nutrients. My skin was fragile, but my bones were strong. The poles have reversed. I'm mostly liquid now. I hear it every morning when I run alone. There's a slosh in my belly."
The lizard drags itself to my corner of the table. I lift it in both hands. My mouth is open. My teeth are intact. I'm not hungry, but try telling me that.
"The child, Vonda."
Dandy's mother holds a knife. Dandy's brother notes how I hold the lizard like a sandwich. Dandy himself recognizes the day has arrived where all the equations come out wrong. The child's eyes grow large. The rest of the child stays small. The math is bad.
I tilt my head back. Dandy places a napkin over my face and over the lizard.
For the child's sake, I tell myself. But the bitter reptile in my mouth tells the truth.
"This is all for you," it says, "and you've waited such a long, long time."