Every time a fork clinks on the edge of a plate, Evelyn tenses to keep from shivering. She can tell that Michael’s keeping an eye on her, and she can almost feel the weight of his disapproving stare when she hunches forward. His parents are oblivious, chattering away about the last time they were at this restaurant, and hasn’t Joan just gotten so tacky with all that big jewelry. She smiles as politely as she can, feeling her lips stretch all strained and aching over clenched teeth.
Michael’s mother is a heavy, overbearing sort of woman. They’ve never really liked one another, though they get on well enough. At least, Evelyn doesn’t think they like each other. It’s too warm in this restaurant, and the buzz of conversation keeps building to a suffocating pitch. Michael’s looking away from her now, he’s talking about Joan’s recent illness. Evelyn relaxes a bit, easing her shoulders down and laying her hands on the tablecloth. She’s done with her salad.
By the time dessert comes, she’s biting her lip so hard that she’s surprised it’s not bloody. His parents are at the end of a twenty-minute tirade about the state of things in this country, and Evelyn’s lungs seemed filed with a syrupy dread. When she met Michael’s parents, back when they were first dating, she had been struck with an uneasy sort of premonition. He was so unlike his mother and father, she’d thought, but Jesus save her from a marriage like that. It had made her glad for the easy, graceful relationship they had. After leaving she’d reconsidered, and thought that perhaps she’d been too harsh. His parents seemed nice enough, all told.
Every time they saw his parents, though, the feeling came back. Being around them made her heart pound in a ragged staccato beat and her lips curl in, skin catching on her teeth. She looks at Michael and he’s watching her, his eyes wells of gleaming dark in the dim lighting. He mouths, “Are you okay?” and she shrugs.
When they get home, she slips her coat and dress off at once. He smiles and pulls her toward him, but she ducks away. She sees the hurt on his face and thinks how ridiculous it is that he looks wounded over something so small, and she says, “That was an odd meal, sweetie. You know I don’t have the best time with your parents.”
He frowns and reaches for the remote where he tossed it on the bed earlier. The television flickers on, and his voice jumps to be heard over the end of a crime show, where the body’s being wrapped up and the detectives pat each others’ shoulders. Her eyes are drawn to it as she half-listens to him tell her about being disrespectful and understanding, which she apparently does in the wrong order. She nods, tries to smile at him, and says, “Okay, yes, I’m sorry. Could we avoid a fight right now? I’m just really tired.”
The frown eases, and he nods. The television is spewing noise into the air, someone advertising the next show over the music of the credits. They both slide onto the mattress from opposite sides and sit to watch for a while, slumped against the headboard, barely touching.
There’s silence except for the noise of the next show and the occasional shout from the street below the window. After a few more minutes they go to bed pressed up against one another, as usual. It feels like something they’ve done forever, except that she’s restless under the pressing covers. She shrinks from him ever so slightly, curls forward around the empty air in front of her, and he lays a wrist lightly over her waist, where it grates against the bone of her hip.
An ad for an online matchmaking service bounces onto the television, hearts wafting about the smiling faces of the spokescouple. They lean into one another and look boldly into the camera. “I’m so glad,” says the woman sitting on the left, “because without it I never would have found the love of my life. We’ve been married two years now, and I’m looking forward to spending the rest of our lives together.” They both flash bright grins and the screen fades to text. The words repeat in Evelyn’s head, taking on a queer bumping rhythm.
“For the rest of our lives together,” she repeats softly, her fingers over her mouth, feeling the words escape warm and soft on her skin. “The rest of our lives, then.”