Game disbanded, mind expanded: a trip to see the Hagens

A work of short fiction by Astrid Munn.

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Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Civic Nebraska Writers Group member Astrid Munn shared a short fictional story featuring Beatriz, a university student who is navigating a brand-new environment while coming of age. The short story below moves Beatriz forward in time about a year. Reflection questions are at the bottom of this page.

She second-guessed whether she was at the right address; she had only ever been there at night, and briefly. She flipped her phone open to check Leslie’s text – 5340 Boyd. She found it, but a white-haired man and children occupied the porch.

“Hi? I’m here for Leslie?”

“Who are you?” a boy of about 8  asked. He and a smaller boy had SpongeBob and Patrick figures in their hands.

“I’m Beatriz,” she started, looking to the man for approval. “I do theater stuff with Leslie. She invited me?”

“Well?” the old man asked the boy. “Aren’t you going to let her in?”

“Ugh. OK.”

Still clutching his SpongeBob, the barefoot child led her past a breezeway full of Crocs and tennis racquets and through a living room strewn with magazines. Slung over a dining room chair was a blue track jacket, and Beatriz’s heart skipped a beat. That was Leslie’s brother’s jacket. Beatriz said nothing and followed the boy through the kitchen into the backyard.

Outside, Leslie’s father and another man slowed their grillside chat ever so briefly to look in Beatriz’s direction. She could feel them assessing her ensemble – a thrift store tee two sizes too small, jeans, and Birkenstocks. Leslie sat back under a deck set, her freckled face hidden behind white-framed sunglasses. She cradled a drink in her lap and seemed zoned out as her mother – a towering, voluptuous force – bickered playfully with a woman whose blonde mane and lanky figure resembled Leslie’s.

“Leslie!” the boy yelled. “Some Spanish lady’s here for you!”

With that, the boy marched back inside

“Beatriz! Oh my gosh! You made it!”

“Well, you invited me. Is this a family reunion or something?”

“This? This is just a little get-together,” Leslie laughed. “If you got past the porch, then you already met Grandpa Leroy and my baby cousins. Out here we’ve got Uncle Mitch, Scout, and Aunt Didi. And of course, you know Mom and Dad already.” She paused. “Harry’ll be back later; he’s at roller derby.”

Trying to seem casual despite the last part, Beatriz dove into niceties.

“It’s nice to finally meet you, Ms. Didi,” Beatriz began. “I saw some of your paintings at The Delaney.”

“Nerd.”

Beatriz ignored Leslie’s remark. “I liked your artist’s statement. The part about finding splendor in dryer lint and gas puddles? Very, uh, ‘American Beauty’-y.”

 Aunt Didi looked at Beatriz wryly while exhaling her Parliament.

“I didn’t write that. My agent did. Or her intern Françoise did. All artist statements are B.S. You’re friends with Leslie, you ought to know that by now.”

“But without an artist statement,” Beatriz countered, “maybe I wouldn’t have known how to take in your triptych of mid-century toilets? Or that dead magpie?”

Aunt Didi blinked slowly, as if to better absorb the 19-year-old’s words. She took another hit off her Parliament.

“You’re funny.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, it’s a good thing.”

Right then, a Jeep pulled into the driveway. It was Leslie’s brother. Harry. Before Beatriz could decide how to pose her legs or her chin or her arms – she never knew what to do with her arms – her train of thought was interrupted by Leslie’s dad, the Dr. Paul Hagen, D.O., and the clicking of metal tongs.

“Supper’s ready. Hope you brought your appetite.”

“Are you going to have a hot dog, Pumpkin?”

 “No.”

“How about some tater salad.”

“No.”        

“Tossed salad?”

“It has Dorothy Lynch all over it.”

“I think your Aunt Lindy made deviled eggs because she knows you like them.”

“I’ll have a couple. But just the whites.”

Beatriz eavesdropped on Uncle Mitch and Scout as she followed them in the buffet line. Although she felt embarrassed for the girl’s pickiness, she, too, sported an awkward muffin top over her low-rise Levi’s at 15, so she understood.

After completing the line, Beatriz’s plate held a generous spoonful of potato salad, a puddle of coleslaw, and a cheeseburger sans bun. She seated herself at the long dining room table next to Leslie, whose plate held nothing but baby carrots, cauliflower, and a dollop of Ranch from the relish tray. Dr. Hagen seated himself at the head of the table, with Lindy on one side and Harry on the other. After a perfunctory saying of grace by Grandpa Leroy, the family tucked in.

“So, uh, Beatriz,” Harry began. “I bet these mayonnaise-laden salads are a stark departure from your usual spicy fare.”

Beatriz’s nostrils flared. She leaned across her plate to address Lindy.

“First of all, I love potato salad and coleslaw,” Beatriz declared, anxious to quell any perceived slights to Lindy’s spread. “Secondly,” Beatriz continued, turning to Harry, “mayonnaise was developed in Spain, so maybe you’re the one eating the condiment of my people.” 

“Uh, OK,” Harry uttered. “Touché.”

Beatriz and Harry both looked down at their plates and smiled. Lindy clocked the entire thing. Leslie saved the moment with a burst of laughter. 

“Beatriz! You’re such a nerd!”

Leslie turned to Uncle Mitch and Grandpa Leroy. They  had been searching Dr. Hagen’s face for guidance on how to take in this guest, but the doctor had been staring straight ahead, deep in mastication.  

“She’s cool! She’s minoring in Spanish. She says stuff like this all the time. In the green room, we have a whole board with funny quotes. A lot of them are hers.” 

Uncle Mitch looked Beatriz up and down, not like a woman to undress but a tree needing pruned.

“So besides Rocky Horror, what else do you do?” he asked. “Do you go to school?”

 Beatriz nodded. “I’m going to be a sophomore this fall. Until then I’m helping with research.”

“A researcher, huh? Are you gonna invent the next pink slime? New and improved tater tots?”

“Not quite. I’m helping a poli-sci prof reframe John Stuart Mill.”

Beatriz thought that was a sufficient answer, but everyone kept looking at her.

“Oh, right. Mill,” Dr. Hagen said after much chewing. “Gave us some good stuff. Couldn’t name you the hits, though.”

The Subjugation of Women,” Harry offered.

“Nerd.”

Harry ignored Leslie’s remark.

“What’s wrong with Mill?” Uncle Mitch asked. “Was he a pervert all along?”

“No, but some scholars – women scholars, queer scholars, scholars of color – are beginning to ask whether his ideas on liberty and individualism were myopic.” Beatriz explained. “Like, he talks about fulfilling our highest potential if we just tried, but he kind of forgot that he was saying this as a pretty rich, pretty unencumbered guy.”

“What’s myopic?” Scout asked.

“Narrow. You fail to see the whole picture,” Aunt Didi explained. “And you’re onto something, Bea. He and his friends were all bohemians, keeping to themselves, writing their little essays while Ireland starved.”

“That kinda sounds like you, Harry!” Uncle Mitch teased.

“Hey,” Harry began, a little hurt. “I’m still between jobs since the record store closed. But I’m calling Noah at IntaVideo tomorrow.”

“I’m teasin’,” Uncle Mitch reassured. “What are you working on, anyway?”

Harry perked up from his usual slouch. 

“Actually, I just finished something for a competition,” Harry explained. “I was hoping I could read it to you guys tonight. To see if it scans.”

For a moment, everyone sat and chewed. Beatriz felt something under the table. It was Leslie, gently kicking her calf.

“Uhh – of course!” Uncle Mitch said. “We’ll make a boys’ night out of it!” He winked at Dr. Hagen. Grandpa Leroy sighed and pushed his coleslaw around.

 “I’d love to hear your story,” Beatriz added. Her enthusiasm was met with more chewing.

“Harry’s stuff is a little blue,” Lindy explained

“Like sad?” Scout asked.

“Like Rated R,” Uncle Mitch answered.

A quiet “oh” escaped Beatriz when she realized she was not welcome at the reading. Leslie leaned over.

“You don’t want to sit in on that,” Leslie whispered. “I have something way cooler planned for us anyway.”

“Leslie,” Lindy chided. “You know it’s not polite to tell secrets at the table.”

“Mom, it’s nothing. I was just reminding Beatriz that we had plans to practice at the park tonight.”

“Practice? For Rocky Horror?” Lindy asked. “Aren’t you just copying what’s on the screen?”

“Still!” Beatriz interjected, thrilled to join Leslie’s little lie. “I’m second understudy for Janet, so, you know, I don’t want to get rusty!”

           

After dinner, the men gathered in the living room while Lindy and Aunt Didi herded the children downstairs to the basement. Beatriz stood outside the pantry as Leslie dug around its shelves. From that distance, Beatriz caught a few lines of Harry’s story.

“What’s new, Sugarboobs?” Harry’s flat voice read from a Compaq. Beatriz wondered what kind of boobs, exactly, constituted sugarboobs. It seemed like a meaningless phrase.

“Not much; just finished my shift at the co-op,” Harry continued, not even attempting a higher register for his female character. “My coven has a gathering later.” 

Beatriz wanted to keep liking Harry, so she stopped trying to listen in and focused back on Leslie.

“You’re still hungry, aren’t you?” Beatriz asked. “All you had were veggies and ranch. You do realize ranch isn’t vegan, right?”

“Pretty sure that ranch was,” Leslie said. “But we’ll need these.” She eased a sleeve of crackers into a huipil bag.

“Are we feeding ducks? Because they’re probably asleep.”

“You’ll see.”

Beatriz and Leslie strolled into the swampy darkness toward the park. Acorns and sweetgum pods crunched underfoot. Although a year had passed since Beatriz left the arid West, where oaks and maples seldom grew beyond the country club’s perimeter, little things like acorns reminded Beatriz she was in another world.

“So, remember how I went to Eudoratopia last month with my dad and brothers?”

“Is that the festival where you tried opium and got that nautilus tattoo?”

“No, that was Watauga,” Leslie explained. “Anyway, I have some leftover shrooms from the trip. I thought we could do them.”

“Oh, wow,” Beatriz started. “I’ve never tried them.”

“They’re super fun.”

Leslie led Beatriz to a park bench. It was surrounded by ornamental grasses and little granite plaques. The plaques listed whom the grasses and bench commemorated. The streetlamp overhead enveloped them in an amber bubble of light. With great solemnity, Leslie opened the crackers, topped one with a leathery lump, then handed the combination to Beatriz.

“Leslie! This looks like a lot!”

“It’s what I’m going to eat.”

 “But you’re, like, six inches taller than I am! How much do you weigh?”

“I dunno – 150?”

Dammit. That was Beatriz’s weight.

“It’ll be fine,” Leslie reassured. “Just eat it.”

A few moments passed. Beatriz felt nothing. When the crickets finally reached a lull in their song, Leslie spoke.

“Beatriz, I really wish you would not talk about white people like you do.”

“Like at dinner, you mean?”

“Yeah. It hurts my feelings.”

“Well, I wasn’t talking about you, Leslie Hagen, pretty white girl living in the year 2006,” Beatriz chuckled. “I was talking about Mill and his privilege and his impact on us.”

“See? That – what you just called me. ‘Pretty white girl.’ Why do you do that?”

“Dude. You’ve been a model. Weren’t you in an Alloy campaign?”

“It was Delia’s. Still, I feel like my whiteness is all you care about. And there’s so much more to me than that.”

Beatriz’s head felt heavy and her feet felt prickly. She eventually figured out why. At some point, she had rotated 180 degrees in her seat, her legs now hanging over the back of the bench.

“Look, I’m sorry,” Beatriz began, slowly righting herself. “Once you start looking at things through a new lens – the lens I use in my research – it can be hard to turn off.”

Leslie sat with her arms and legs crossed, unmoved. Beatriz needed to change tack.      

“Maybe, subconsciously, I’m a little envious of how easy you have it? As a pretty white girl, I mean.”

“My life’s not easy, you know,” Leslie retorted, her foot jiggling. “And I work really hard to help minorities. Maybe harder than you, if we’re being honest.”

“OK.”

“For real, though. Remember when I taught that dance clinic at the Tatanka Center for Urban Indians?”

“Yeah,” Beatriz conceded. The discomfort of fourth-graders channeling their inner Britney was still fresh in her mind.

“Or when I ran that book drive for refugees?”

“Of course,” Beatriz nodded, wondering which unlucky Somali got Lindy’s yellowed collection of Harlequin romance novels. “You’re right. Again, I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Leslie sighed, standing up. “Let’s hug it out and go back to the house.”

Beatriz shot up to meet her friend’s embrace, only to find herself gripping Leslie’s bicep for balance.

“Jesus! Did the ground just roll?”

“Ha. That’ll happen. You’ll feel better once we start walking.”

Leslie led the way, which Beatriz secretly appreciated because she no longer recognized the neighborhood. Were the tidy rows of bungalows Tudors all along? Had sidewalks always worked like this – gently rolling toward a convergence point impossibly far away; pulling her forward, feet first?

“I am truckin,” Beatriz whispered. “I have to keep… on…truckin’.”

“What was that?” Leslie interrupted. “Are you even listening to my story?”

“Sorry,” Beatriz replied, trying to recall Leslie’s monologue from the last million blocks. “You were saying something about Bill O’Reilly. Jesus Christ – are all you Kappa Chis reading him?!”

“RILO KILEY,” Leslie chided. “Also, remember?”

“Oh, right.”

The previous winter, the Kappa Chis kicked Leslie out for leading a boycott against the Beta Tau’s Much Ado About Beef fundraiser on animal cruelty grounds.

“Your boycott was a … valiant effort,” Beatriz sighed. “Didn’t it cut ticket sales by like a third?

“Yeah, but apparently some of the proceeds were for Birds N Da Cage.”

“The Shakespeare for inmates thing?”

“Right. And so when I applied for their residency, I got rejected because of the boycott. I mean, that’s what I suspect. So here I am, doing Rocky Horror instead.”

Rocky Horror. That’s what they were supposedly practicing at the park.

“Crap! We didn’t rehearse anything. What do we tell your family? I’m really bad at lying.”

“Relax, nerd.”

“Can you tell I’ve partaken? Are my eyes bloodshot?”

“You look fine. They probably won’t ask much unless you say something. If you get a little goofy, they’ll just think we smoked a bowl.”

Beatriz started up the front steps, but Leslie stopped her.

“No, no – let’s go around back, to the basement.”

Perhaps the basement was better, Beatriz thought. For now. Peering through the door’s beveled glass, Beatriz could make out the shapes of Dr. Hagen, Uncle Mitch, and Harry. She wondered if they could see her, looking in.

Down in the air-chilled, cream-carpeted basement, Lindy and Aunt Didi had resumed their bickering while Scout helped her little brothers rifle through the shelves of DVDs and videotapes that made up a whole wall of Dr. Hagen’s home theater. Leslie swaggered in so casually; Beatriz tried to follow suit.

“What are we watching?” Leslie asked, sliding into the beige leather sectional. It, too, was chilled to the touch.

“We wanted to watch ‘The Rescuers,’” the smaller boy said. “But its box had ‘The Fox and the Hound’ in it.”

“Fox and Hound,” Beatriz muttered. “I never saw that one all the way.”

“Of course you didn’t,” Scout said, barely looking up as she opened and closed videotape clamshells. “’Fox and Hound’ is a boys’ movie.”

“A boys’ movie?” Beatriz asked. “But it’s about a fox. And a hound. Overcoming pressure. To be enemies.”

“She means it doesn’t have princesses,” Leslie interjected, trying to bring the conversation – and Beatriz’s newly stilted manner of talking – to an end.

Beatriz, now silent and stunned that she had missed an apparent boy-girl split in the Disney canon, watched as Leslie patted her mother’s doughy knee for attention.

“Mom! What movie did you get at Menards?”

 People buy movies where they buy their lumber and plungers, Beatriz wondered.

 Lindy blinked hard as she processed the question.

 “Dumbo. It’s in a bag. In the laundry room. With the OxyClean and borax.”

 OxyClean and borax, Beatriz thought. She came from a Lysol and bleach home.

While Leslie dug around for Dumbo, Aunt Didi scooted closer to  Beatriz, who was now lost in the distressed threads of her jeans.

“Can I tell you something, Beatriz?”

“Uh, sure?”

“You have a lightness about you. A glow.”

“Thank you?”

“Now let me ask you something else. What is your nationality?”

From the corner of her eye, Beatriz spotted a wooly goblin emerging from the television. Beatriz wanted so badly to yell at it – order it back to whatever mental labyrinth produced it – but the opportunity to gently mess with Aunt Didi was irresistible. The goblin would have to wait.

“I’m a United States-er,” Beatriz beamed. “I grew up out West, but I was born just north of here.”

Aunt Didi chuckled and swirled her sweaty glass of iced Zin to regroup.

“Sweetie, no. What I mean is, where are your parents from?”

Before Beatriz could further antagonize Aunt Didi with yet another unsatisfactory response, Leslie swooped in, DVD in hand.

“Her dad is white and her mom is kinda black from Central America,” Leslie announced.

Scout and her brothers stopped their chatter to look at Beatriz.

“YOU’RE NOT BLACK,” the smaller one concluded.

“OK.”

“What he means is he’s used to seeing big Brazilian basketball players,” Aunt Didi explained. “From the junior college. Mitch and I host them every Christmas.”

 “Ah.”

“Anyway, I ask because you remind me of a woman I met in Sedona last year. Her mother was Hopi and her birth father was Creole but she grew up in Indonesia.”

Beatriz sat there and sucked on her jaws. The tiny, hard growths in her mouth were absolutely fascinating. But Aunt Didi’s face hinted that it was her turn to say something.

“I’ve … been to Dallas?”

Salome. Her skin was brown, but with a gray undertone. It gave her beauty a haunting quality. Kind of like yours.”

“My best friend Marisol and I look kind of green at Walmart,” Beatriz offered. “Because of the lighting.”

“I’m sure you and Marisol don’t look green. Your skin is olive. It has an olive undertone.” Aunt Didi reassured. “So of course Harry – with Cousin Eric dating a black girl before he has – has been ogling you all night.”

“DIDI!” Lindy snapped. Aunt Didi rolled her eyes and took another swig.

Leslie shushed the room and dimmed the lights. The movie was about to start. Beatriz hugged a pillow and looked straight ahead, unsure what to make of Aunt Didi’s words or the trademark castle cascading down the bright blue screen.  

Beatriz could not remember the last time she saw Dumbo. Or anything Disney, for that matter. She had turned her back on the Mouse in second grade; even then, The Lion King felt too saccharine and therefore too uncool. But in the darkness, amid so much sincerity, Beatriz let the magic sweep her away.

“THESE TITLE CARDS. THEY’RE SO ARCANE,” Beatriz shout-gasped. Still images of clowns and acrobatsfaded in and out. “I FORGET THERE WAS A TIME BEFORE SAUL BASS.”

 “Nerd!” Leslie whispered, checking her phone. “Quit tripping out!”

“She has a point, though,” Aunt Didi said, pouring herself another glass. “Back in the day, this was how all movies started. We didn’t know better.”

The movie opened with storks flying above a cartoon map of Florida. The flapping of their wings and their downward spiral was so slow and crude. Beatriz could feel the shifting of pencil strokes from cel to cel. Time had apparently melted, as she could now see where the artists forwent feathers or scales to depict motion instead. It hurt so much to keep looking. South Park never felt this coarse, and Beatriz was pretty sure that show was literally made from paper.

“DEAR GOD WHAT IS ANIMATION?”

“I know, pretty crazy stuff, right?” Leslie replied, her thumbs repeatedly punching numbers to spell a few words on her phone. “Listen, I have to go meet Kane; he’s the dude I met at Eudoratopia.”

“I’m going with you, right?” Beatriz asked, her eyes locked on the screen as storks delivered baby animals to surprised-looking mothers.

“I’m still getting a feel for him, so just stay here for now. I’ll be back soon.”

Beatriz was upset but all that came out was more commentary.

“AAAAND SUDDENLY I’M LACTATING.”

Scout stopped the DVD. Everyone turned to look at Beatriz.

“Are you OK?” Scout asked.

“Sounds like some good bud,” Aunt Didi guffawed into her glass.

“No, it’s not that!” Beatriz explained, bolting upright. “The tiger! In the movie! It’s like, one minute she has nothing inside her, but the next minute she rolls over and is ready to nurse all those cubs.”

“I thought YOU were lactating.”

“No, Scout. I never have,” Beatriz sighed. “I was just, you know, speaking for the tiger mom.”

“You remind me of that show my dad likes,” Scout said, restarting the movie. “The one where the robots yell at bad movies.”

“MST3K,” Beatriz mumbled, ashamed. She could sense Lindy was deliberately ignoring her out of anger.

“So I’m going now,” Leslie started, slipping on her rope sandals.

“Can’t I go, too?” Beatriz whispered. “I feel very inappropriate.”

“You’re fine. I’ll be back in an hour or so.”

Onscreen, Dumbo finally arrived. The older elephant moms mocked his freak ears. Beatriz could relate; now more than ever. As Dumbo and his mother pounded tent stakes with their trunks, Beatriz was certain her heart was skipping beats just to sync up with the chain gang melody booming through the speaker system.

“Ms. Didi?” Beatriz whispered. “Do I feel feverish to you?”

 Aunt Didi leaned over and touched Beatriz’s forehead and neck. The pads of her slender fingers were cool and soft. Aunt Didi smiled, shook her head, and returned to the movie.

“I don’t feel well,” Beatriz announced, sliding out of the sectional. “I’d really like to check in with Dr. Hagen if he’s not too busy.”

“Oh, sweetie darlin’,” Aunt Didi pleaded, “you don’t want to do that. Not at this hour. He and the boys have been up there a while.”

“You really don’t,” Lindy added. “Everything’s great down here.”

“I’m sorry but I really think I need, like, medical attention.”

“You’re fine, sweetie darlin’!” Aunt Didi called out as Beatriz padded up the carpeted steps. “You probably just need a glass of water. You want some of my wine?”

What’s wrong with coming upstairs, Beatriz wondered. It’s just some dudes.

The stairs were almost pitch-black, but a slice of light under the kitchen door lit the way. Beatriz could hear rock music and the lower parts of the men’s voices. Clearly, Harry had finished reading some time ago. Surely, they would not consider Beatriz a bother.

“I just need someone,” Beatriz whispered to herself. “Akin to a veterinarian. To check the hummingbird. Inside my chest.”

Beatriz reminded herself to be cute and charming as she turned the knob and slipped in. She was immediately hit with bright lights – from the ceiling fan, from the microwave, from the linoleum under her – it all made her eyes ache. Beatriz squinted as she reoriented herself with the other half of the barbecue. Uncle Mitch, Harry, and Dr. Hagen stood around the kitchen island, beers in hand. Farther off, in the living room, Grandpa Leroy dozed on a recliner, his mouth agape.

“Dr. Hagen?”

“What’s up?” Dr. Hagen asked before immediately turning around and coughing. A familiar skunk hit Beatriz’s nose, and that is when she spotted the honey bear bottle with a carb poking from its tummy. This is why they were trying to keep her downstairs. So she wouldn’t see Dr. Hagen like this. Understandable; she was a tad scandalized. After all, a man of his means could afford something better than a honey bear bong. A vaporizer, at least.

“Aren’t you supposed to be with Leslie?” Harry asked. “You know, downstairs?”

“Um, I’m not ‘supposed’ to be anywhere, man,” Beatriz replied. Uncle Mitch raised an eyebrow at her sass. “And Leslie had to go out for a minute. I was hoping your dad could check something for me.”

“What’s that, sweetheart?”

“I don’t know what I did or what I ate,” Beatriz started, careful to insert a giggle, “but I feel as though my heart is beating out of my chest! Am I dying?”

“Well, I don’t have my scope or anything, but let’s take a look.”

Before Beatriz could grab a seat, Dr. Hagen pressed two fingers next to Beatriz’s windpipe and studied his watch. Beatriz could feel Dr. Hagen’s wheezy breath on her cheek. Unsure where to look, Beatriz stared down at her chubby brown toes on the gleaming white linoleum. There was still some nail polish on them – Goin’ Ape-ricot. More than six seconds had elapsed, but Dr. Hagen kept counting. That is when Lindy burst in.

“WHAT’S GOING ON UP HERE?”

“Her heart’s a little fast, that’s all,” Dr. Hagen reported coolly.

“OH FOR CHRISSAKES PAUL A HEALTHY YOUNG WOMAN DOESN’T GET TACHYCARDIA FROM NOWHERE,” Lindy scolded. “DID YOU EVEN CHECK HER EYES?”

“Oh God,” Beatriz gasped, her heart rising to her throat. “What’s wrong with my eyes?” Desperately, she searched everyone’s faces for reassurance that everything was O.K. Harry just stared at her, taking in the whole scene. Uncle Mitch slipped the honey bear behind some canisters. Grandpa Leroy remained asleep despite everything.

“Your eyes are a little dilated,” Dr. Hagen explained, “But I didn’t say anything because, you know, it’s a Saturday and I didn’t want to make you nervous.”

Too late. Beatriz darted to the bathroom mirror. Two pools of black looked back at her; she strained to find the familiar rings of brown around them.

“What did Leslie give you?” Harry asked, leaning against the doorway.

Beatriz was unsure how to answer the question. She didn’t want to get Leslie in trouble, especially considering she was driving. 

“Just some … leftovers. From Eudoratopia.”

Lindy snorted as she pushed past Harry and shut him out.

“Hmmph. Leftovers.”

In her arms were some clothes and a towel.

“C’mon. Get in the shower.”

“Why? Do I smell?”

“No, but I think you’ll calm down and feel better if you shower and go to bed.”

“Bed? Here? But aren’t all the rooms taken?”

“You can share a guest bed with Scout.”

“Scout? Can’t I take Leslie’s bed instead?”

“You’re too high to handle the logistics, but if I put you in Leslie’s bed and this Kane fellow spends the night, where is he going to sleep if you and Leslie are in her bed? Not with me and Paul. Not with Didi and Mitch. Not with the children, obviously.”

Beatriz wanted to suggest the sofas, but this was not her house.  

Lindy settled herself onto the toilet lid and flipped through a battered SkyMall while Beatriz undressed and turned on the water. Leslie once described showering on E as some transcendental cascade of sensation; maybe this would be similar. But Beatriz did not want transcendence right now, not with Lindy nearby. When she stepped in, however, the water was just water.

“Does this ever end?” Beatriz muttered to herself, rubbing her eyes after the tiles started to pulsate.

“It will, don’t worry.”

“You heard that?”

“I hear everything,” Lindy said, reaching in to turn off the taps after it became evident Beatriz was just standing there, letting the water sluice over her. Lindy handed her a towel; it was faded but still silky and plush. Beatriz wondered if the fabric softener folks had yet to vertically integrate with the body lotion people; it would save her a lot of time in the morning.

“I know you and Harry like each other, but he has to keep his eye on the ball.”

Beatriz almost tripped as she fumbled on some Tweety Bird pajamas.

“Uhhh … what ball is that?”

“Uhhh, only a little thing called the GRE?” Lindy said, mocking Beatriz’s cadence. “And, like, this thing called an MFA?”

Beatriz’s father had warned her about MFAs; he was not going to bankroll one. Beatriz kept this to herself and nodded earnestly.

“OK. We all have goals. But would it be so bad if he and I went out?

“Harry is a catch,” Lindy insisted. “He’s done playing the field. He’s already 25. After he gets that degree, it’s the white picket fence and the minivan.”

 A Superman toothbrush sat on the edge of the sink in a Batman cup. Its bristles – faded, smushed, and splintering – suggested it was Harry’s, not the children’s. 

“I’m not out to get barefoot and pregnant,” Beatriz retorted. “My parents want me to go to grad school, too. Law school, even!”

Lindy heaved herself up and scoffed.

 “I’m not arguing with a girl tripping balls. Let’s get you to bed.”

Beatriz tiptoed up to the four-poster where Scout slept and slipped under the bedspread. She stayed near the edge so as to occupy as little space as possible. She felt bad for Scout; no one had consulted the girl beforehand. Lying there, Beatriz reminded herself of Moby Dick; how Ishmael woke up next to Queequeg on the Pequod. Not so bad, right? Beatriz resolved to make this comparison should Scout wake up and scream bloody murder upon discovering a kinda black Spanish lady in her bed.

When dawn broke, Beatriz slinked out in search of her street clothes and purse. Once dressed, Beatriz peeked into Leslie’s bedroom. Her careful arrangement of teddy bears and toss pillows was still intact. In the living room, Leslie slept upright on the sofa, not unlike Grandpa Leroy the night before. On her lap rested a head full of blonde dreadlocks – this was probably Kane. A DVD menu looped in the background; The Constant Gardener. Beatriz wondered who sought to impress whom with that movie choice.

Not wanting to wake Leslie and go through the pain of meeting Kane, Beatriz passed through the cluttered breezeway and onto the porch. Aunt Didi and Uncle Mitch were perched on the steps, coffee mugs in hand and another Parliament dangling from Aunt Didi’s grip.

“Are you leaving already?” Uncle Mitch asked loudly.

Beatriz could not tell if he was teasing. She was never good at sarcasm.

“Uh, yes,” Beatriz stammered. “I have some reading I ought to do.”

“Well, it was a pleasure meeting you,” Aunt Didi said. “You are a beautiful girl.”

“Thank you?”

  Once inside her car, Beatriz checked her eyes in the rearview mirror. The rings of brown were back. Driving away, she hummed a few lines from Rocky Horror. They were her favorite lines, the Barry Bostwick ones.

            It’s beyond me

            Help me, mommy

            I’ll be good, you’ll see

            Take this dream away …

1) On the surface, Leslie and her family seem to embrace progressivism and notions of social justice, but where do they fall flat? Where have you seen this in your life?
2) In what ways does Beatriz lean into the discomforts presented by Leslie and her family? Where does she acquiesce, and why? 
3) The story takes place in 2006, but many of the norms regarding gender and race may seem arcane by today’s standards, especially to younger readers. How far have we come along? Where do these norms still persist? 

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