about the author

Nancy Stebbins is currently in her final semester at Pacific University MFA program. Her stories have been published in SmokeLong, Summerset Review and are upcoming in Saint Ann’s Review.

Bookmark and Share


font size

Proceed to the Nearest Emergency Room

Nancy Stebbins

Marilyn thinks the violent yellow of the bridesmaid’s dress should carry a warning: fatal in overdose. She has seen this exact shade on parakeets, but then parakeets aren’t six feet tall, are they? They don’t weigh two hundred thirteen pounds. And they don’t have dyed-to-match shoes with four-inch spikes.

Do not induce vomiting.

She dons the outfit and toddles around the house, trying to accustom herself to the heels. In the living room, her parents sit in silence, same as every night, as if they are ghosts in their own home. Her father leans back in his battered recliner, feet up, legs crossed at the ankles. His black nylon socks have identical holes worn under both great toes. He opens one eye. “You look like Big Bird.”

“Do I?” Marilyn maneuvers around the recliner, nearly toppling over, and then rights herself. The tiered flounces remind her of those Barbie doll cakes the little girls used to be so crazy about. Joelie had a pale pink one for her eighth birthday.

As a party game, the girls took turns lying on oversized sheets of white paper and tracing outlines of each other’s bodies, which made Marilyn think of crime scene drawings. It was Joelie’s idea to arrange the tracings by height. Marilyn’s lumpy silhouette loomed like a giant’s next to the others. She cried in the car, and when they got home, her mother made a banana pudding, saying, “Better than any Barbie cake.”

Her mother glances up from the blanket she is knitting. The needles continue to click as she says, “It’s not that bad. Your father forgets how much he likes yellow.”

“I never liked yellow,” her father says.

Her mother taps her head to indicate where Marilyn’s father is losing it. “He just doesn’t remember.”

Contact a Poison Control Center immediately.

Her father bumps forward in his chair, returning its back to an upright position, feet still elevated, and squints at the dress. “Reminds me of the uniforms they used to make the patients wear at the V.A. loony ward, different color for every size, and the largest was a knock-your-eyes-out yellow.” He plucks at a fold of Marilyn’s skirt. “When one of the fat guys escaped, you could see him for miles, like a huge banana flag.”

“Why do you want to bring that up?” her mother says, knitting needles silent now. “That’s history. Done with.” Marilyn’s towering Uncle Phil, her mother’s brother, was a revolving door psychiatric patient at the Waco veteran’s administration hospital. Schizo. Drugs. Alcohol.

Marilyn’s father says, “You’re the one likes history.”

“I do. It’s just that you always get it wrong, darling.” Her mother sets her knitting aside. She gets up and leans over to give him a kiss, leaving a salmon-colored smudge dead center on his forehead, and then she ducks into the kitchen, adding, “My brother wasn’t fat.”

Keep calm but alert.

Marilyn and her family used to drive to Waco to visit Uncle Phil on weekends. Then, after Uncle Phil tried to kill her father—dumped his whole supply of medicine into Marilyn’s father’s coffee, actually expected Marilyn’s mother to be happy about it—only Marilyn and her mother made the trip. The two of them stopped along the way for Nehi grape sodas and ice cream sandwiches. “Just us girls,” her mother would say. “Fun! Fun! Fun!”

Marilyn’s mother returns with three mugs of hot cocoa on a serving tray. Marilyn’s has cinnamon. Her mother’s has a dollop of whipped cream. Her father’s is made with low fat milk, on account of his heart. Marilyn’s mother is always extra careful of her father’s heart. “Where’s Joelie going for her honeymoon, dear?”

Marilyn stands to drink her cocoa, not confident of her ability to sit—or to rise again—in this dress. “Alaskan cruise.”

Marilyn’s father ignores his. Instead, he looks Marilyn up and down, pretending to shield his eyes from the glare of the dress.

Proceed to the nearest emergency room.

“Hey, you still got your old catcher’s mitt?” he asks. “It’s supposed to be good luck for a single gal to catch the bride’s bouquet. With your height—”

“Good luck?” Marilyn stares at him, from his worn-out socks, to the top of his head, the skin dotted with lentigo and shiny with sweat.

“Flowers are always nice to have around,” her mother says. “That’s what he means.”

Her father jerks at the lever to lower the foot rest, struggling a little, like a bug on its back. This small effort takes his breath. “No, I didn’t. I meant—”

Marilyn’s mother doesn’t look at him. “He means flowers are nice. Yellow flowers. He really loves them.”

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...