"Neither Nor" by Faith Faith Gardner

Categories: ISSUE 01: Babe

Neither Nor
It was a one-night vacation less than a hundred miles from home. Andy had slept on the hotel room floor and his fiancée Pari and soon-to-be mother-in-law Nadia took the bed. He knew he must love Pari. He didn't even get mad and want to drive his car into things when they cancelled Barbados and settled for Yosemite because of Nadia's unexpected visit from overseas. Actually, he was sort of looking forward to Yosemite, minus the prospect of bears, which terrified him because of that movie he watched about that guy who tried to befriend grizzlies but instead got eaten by grizzlies.

In the hotel dining room the next morning there were plates of cold breakfast between them on the sunflowered tablecloth. In Barbados, they would have had steamy room service breakfasts rolled to them in their king-sized bed.

"Egg whites?" Andy offered his plate.

"Looks like birdpoop," said Nadia, draped in a shawl printed with tiedyed lizards. Pari sat next to her and had not yet begun to show under her stonewashed jean jacket.

"Mmm, birdpoop," Pari said with apple-cheeked cheerfulness. "Shush or I'll throw my breakfast at you, mom."

Nadia mock-sighed. "If you do that I'll have no choice but to smash a piece of toast on your head."

The women laughed, shoved lovingly, laughed.

Andy imagined if he threatened his father, even in jest, with a piece of toast. He would possibly cut off his trust fund. At least, as an ex-Special Ops Marine, he would lecture Andy about the quickest way to wound or kill a man. Out the hotel dining room's flowerboxed window sipped a hummingbird – a ruby-throated hummingbird, to be exact. Andy was sort of a nature buff. He watched birdwatching on TV at home.

"What'll we do with our last names when we get married?" Pari asked Andy, eyeing her reflection in a butterknife and picking at her teeth.

"Good question." Andy looked to Nadia. She seemed traditional, although he had no idea what tradition specifically she adhered to. She wore bright scarves, had olive skin and an indistinguishable accent. She came from London, she lived with a parakeet. That was all he knew. The courtship with Pari had been of the whirlwind kind. The kind with a nine-month deadline.

"Why are you staring at me? Pop your eyes back in your head, my boy, this is not my territory, I'm not marrying you," said Nadia.

"What about just taking my name." Andy rubbed his naked ring finger.

"Then my name would be Pari Pillow." Pari chuckled about this until she had to wipe her eyes on her denim sleeve. Nadia chuckled too and dabbed at her own laughter-tears with her shawl's fringe.

"I'll take that as a no." Andy recalled the picture online of the hotel room in Barbados. Luxurious sitting area. Marbled bathroom. Bed with comforter folded artfully, fluffed pillows. Andy imagined picking up one of those fluffed pillows and hitting his soon-to-be-wife over her braided head, and then topped it off with imagining hitting his soon-to-be-mother-in-law's bereted head with a pillow. Then they would retaliate. Violence without consequences. A storm of friendly feathers blew around his mind.

"'Pari Pillow.' Like a muppet name or something," Nadia said. "Now Pari's last name, that's a name your children can be proud of: Sengupta."

Addison Sengupta, thought Andy, the smile on his face paining him a little. Olivia Sengupta. Andrew Sengupta.

"Some people these days, they invent names. Legally, you can do it," Pari said. She traced a heart on the table with a chipped purple fingernail. "You have to share like four of the same letters."

Senglow. Senglow, sweet chariot. Definitely not. He brainstormed. "Pilsen," said Andy. "We could change our last name to Pilsen."

"Pilsen," Pari said, brow furrowed.

Nadia yawned. "Makes me think of the dough boy, the fat little white boy on cake boxes."

Pari threw a sausage at her mother, who made a little shocked utterance as it bounced off her arm.

"Oh my child, you really want to start this now, in front of your poor fiancée?" Pari's mother said, grabbing a fistful of egg whites and shaking her head.

Food fight. Fruit flew, bacon soared. It was some kind of tradition they had, he guessed. When Andy went "home," only for dire holidays nowadays, his father liked to take him out after his mother went to bed. They drag raced the Priuses on dirt roads. Sometimes Andy hoped one or both of them would crash and burn. Another father-son tradition involved boxing gloves and the punching bag in the garage. "Hit it like a real boxer, son," he'd say. "Really slug it." Andy did it for his father's benefit, but how boring he found racing a hybrid car on Molehill Road or punching a canvas bag full of sand; he would much rather be watching the Nature Channel on TV. He couldn't wait to get home and watch the special on Barbados again. A piece of banana flew and stuck to his cheek for a moment before sliding down onto the table. Shrieky laughter in stereo.

Andy squinted out the window and imagined calmly driving his car into that pole right there that said WELCOME TO GOLD COUNTRY. He didn't know why he thought such a thing. Nadia was a hoot, Pari was a catch. Pilsen didn't even sound so bad. Andrew and Pari Pilsen. But it was a sorry thing to give up a name. To meld two names together and make something new, nothing like either entities, just fragments of each. He wondered if that was what the rugrat would be. He thought of it as a "rugrat" because it sounded less scary and real than "baby" or "child." Would Rugrat be something made of them, but not of them? Would their marriage be the same, something neither nor?

--Story by Faith Gardner

--Foreground photo by John Maloof