A couple returns from their honeymoon to find a strange package left in front of their door.
“I swear to God. I swear to God woman, if I didn’t make a promise before God to love you, I would snatch that damn box and throw it out the window.”
To say Bucky had a penchant for the dramatic would be like saying Elvis Presley really liked peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Bucky loves drama more than a drag queen loves the stage. I’m two-thirds convinced I’ve been catfished and am married to a trans man and I’m his oblivious cis-beard of a wife, for some ingenious performance art piece that will win him a MacArthur grant. In five years, Diane Sawyer will sit me down, with her deeply blue and skeptical eyes to ask me how I could have possibly missed the fact that I was married to a drag queen when all the signs were there… while I, dripping in diamonds and sincerity, mutter something about how my first crush was the Boy George wax figure at Madame Tussaud's wax museum, circa Karma Chameleon, and that being married to Bucky just felt right. Oof, there I go again, on one of my maladaptive daydreaming rants.
Anyway, I was never one for traditional gender roles. Sure, to the heteronormative cis-world, I am the lipstick femme, while my broad-shouldered Bucky wears plaid shirts with the sleeves cut off, unironically. God love her. Yes, she has the aesthetic of a trucker, but if I’m the one wearing the hair extensions, she’s the one installing them. If I’m the one cooking for the dinner party, she’s the one fussing over the place settings and complaining that the entryway flowers are never lavish enough, and how could we ever expect to be featured in “Better Homes and Gardens” if our wedding invitations don’t even contain the proper ratio of fine Italian cardstock to Egyptian glitter. Oy. If she’s a card, we are a pair.
“Babe,” I say, “for me to throw this mystery package out the window, that would mean one of us would have to fix it first and I don’t do windows,” I laugh. “Or, we could call the super and have him fix it.” Great, now she’s pouting. “Love, it’s not that I’m saying you’re not incredibly handy, but yes, I do have to reference the toaster incident of 2019.” Bucky adjusts her stance and rolls her eyes in my general direction. So, I think it’s time to give Lenny a call.” By the time I finish speaking, Bucky is practically doubled over in unexpected hysterics.
"Liv, you want me to call that wanker, Lenny, and actually invite him back up to our flat?” Short bursts of laughter interrupt every other word. “First of all, he charges an arm and a leg and for wot? Remember how much he wanted to fix the ceiling fan? We could’ve installed central air at his prices.” She steadies her back against the living room wall, for balance, as she transforms into a fountain of giggles, and my cheeks begin to flush. I can feel the impending ridiculousness of whatever she’s about to say. “Every time Lenny comes up here it takes three days to get rid of the smell!” Bucky puts up three of her fingers to indicate the significance. Then continues, “Not two days, not two nights and one day— literally 36 hours to air out this place, minimum, which we can’t do because brilliant Lenny, Lord of the low-riding plumber pants, bloody painted the window shut in a fit of utter incompetence.” Bucky buckles to the floor. I can barely hear her over her own furious laughter. “He was supposed to fix a leak he actually made worse and we had to spend the weekend at your mother’s. Your MOTHER’S, Olivia. I still get a twinge in my back when it rains because I fell off that damn twin bed of yours which your MOTHER refuses to update because then, she would have to acknowledge that you are no longer a teenage girl, pining after one Justin Timberlake, but a woman married to another woman. So no, Liv, I’m not going to call Lenny.”
I look at her, sighing with my eyes. “I’m not throwing it out.”
“Throw it out.”
"Bucky, I’m not throwing it out. It’s obviously a wedding gift."
“A gift? It’s a gift she says. A gift! Love is a gift. That’s just a brown rectangle in the shape of a box! There’s not even a bow. Who gives a gift wrapped in parcel paper? That’s what you wrap fish in or a bomb you’re trying to disguise and don’t want to draw attention to. You have no idea if it’s a gift. Chances are, it’s a warning.”
I look down at the brown box between my hands. Lighter than it looks, I decided to shake it.
“Oh my God now she’s shaking it. Don’t shake it! For Pete’s sake you might be detonating the thing. Yes, I said I want us to go at the same time Liv, but I didn’t mean today.”
“Anyway, it’s not your decision to make. It’s mine.”
“Actually dear, it’s ours, as what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is mine. Remember that little promise we made?”
“Not promise, vows. When we invite our closest friends and family and spend more for catering and the venue than I did on my PhD, they are called vows, dear.”
We both laugh, easing the tension for a moment. Bucky softly grabs the back of my neck and pulls my face to hers. For just a second, my heart slows. I part my lips and can almost taste the biscuits and honey she had for breakfast.
“Babe,” she says, “if you love me you’ll throw it out.” This time when she says it, it doesn’t sound like a request. It sounds like certainty. Like she knows exactly how much I love her and exactly where the boundary is for how far she can push me without bullying me. Bucky’s ability for empathy has always been uncanny. Losing focus, I almost drop the mysterious brown box between us. This is the first time we’ve been this close since its arrival.
“How does she know where we live, anyway," Bucky chirps.
I know what she’s thinking. She's thinking about my ex partner of seven years, Stephanie, who until recently was trying to win me back. And by recently, I mean two nights before our wedding, when she crashed our joint bachelorette party to tell me so. She was always one for ultimatums. Ultimatums and grand gestures. It was an exhausting cycle of madness we ultimately couldn't sustain. Steph showed up to Bucky and my's joint bachelorette party in a tuxedo: the same tuxedo she wore to take me to our senior prom. I have never felt searing pain like I did that night. There is so much history between us. No wonder Bucky is pitching a fit.
The pain was so bad, Bucky had to take me to the ER that night. What a way to mark the end of our single lives! The doctor said it was probably a migraine, but Bucky still thinks it was some kind of old school witchcraft.
I want to let go of this box, but am afraid that as soon as I do, Bucky will toss it down the rubbish bin or out the window. I can feel my hand beginning to feel sore from how tightly I'm gripping the package. Or maybe it’s from lugging our suitcases up three flights of stairs. I can't believe this is the first thing we're quarreling over, on return from our honeymoon: an unmarked brown package left in front of our door. I want to say that it’s probably a misplaced gift from the wedding that lost its card. I want to say that...
The apartment is dark, with the exception of the living room lamp. I can see the light glinting off the wedding gifts we didn’t have time to open, before making the mad dash to Heathrow to catch our discounted honeymoon flight. I open my mouth to ask Becky if she locked the door behind us when I hear a noise in our bedroom. My heart drops. Suddenly every thriller film I've ever seen flashes before my eyes. The package wasn't mailed. It was placed at our door. Our apartment has been vacant for two weeks.
The last time the apartment was this dark, my body was in the fetal position from pain and my vision was blurry. My hands go clammy, as my fingers begin to meld with the paper box. Oh no, is it about to happen again? Bucky instinctively puts her hand on my shoulder, as I walk the narrow hallway to our bedroom. It is eerily quiet. I grip the package tight, in case I might have to weild it as a blunt force object. A murky fog, dense with nostalgia, courses through my veins, weighing me down. I'm scared. I push open the cracked door to our bedroom. Fuck. Imaginary future Diane Sawyer was right; when you know something is wrong, all the signs are there. Bucky, close behind me, breathes heavy on my neck, still smelling of biscuits. I want to vomit. Then Bucky screams out as Frances, our cat, zooms out of the bedroom, pouncing on her.
I almost collapse.
“Holy hell!” Bucky shouts. I turn on the light and my heart makes its way back up to my chest.
I gesture to Bucky. “Are you okay? I search out her eyes, not finding them, as her broad chest heaves. Bucky begins to cry. My voice wavers, then I clear my throat, "Wha— what’s the matter?” I begin to release the cry I’ve been holding in for the last ten minutes.
“Please. Don’t open it.”
For reasons I can’t be expected to explain, I begin to lift up the tape.
I want to say: Bucky, please, don’t ask me to ignore all the people I’ve been before loving you, but those words don’t come. Instead, I mumble “C’mon Bucks, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Ugh. In this moment, I despise myself more than I adore Bucky.
This is it. The box contains a large crystal heart, with my initials inscribed in gold. Inside the box, there are dried flowers and a card addressed to Bucky, which I hand to her. So yeah, she was right, it’s from Stephanie. I recognise the handwriting.
I place my hand on her shoulder and whisper, “I’m sorry. I’ll throw it out.”
Bucky reads the card aloud. It says, “I believe this belongs to you.”
About the Creator
Omotara James is the author of “Song of My Softening,” from Alice James Books. A multidisciplinary artist, she creates as a means to preserve joy, confront the past and free herself of it.
Follow @omotarajames & inquire at omotarajames.com
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