It’s 1969, thought the pretty woman with the blond bob, you’d think people would be more open-minded.
Yet they weren’t. That was why the woman living alone with her three young daughters had to carry around her late husband’s death certificate wherever she went.
I shouldn’t have to prove I’m not an unwed mother, Carol found herself thinking. Times have changed!
But she soon realized that even she wasn’t ready for some changes. “You’re living with a WOMAN?!” she cried.
“No!” said Mike, the handsome man she’d been seeing. “You don’t understand. She helps take care of my kids.”
Funny, thought Carol. That’s just what I’d hoped to do. Before my world came crashing down around me.
“I’m sure she does,” she said, sarcasm dripping off her chin like the juice off a peach.
“Her name is Alice,” Mike said. “She’s really quite lovely.”
Carol plucked her hands from the pockets of her sporty mini and clapped them over her ears. Did Mike think she would be part of a harem?
Brady, she pondered. Why should I take that name? I’m not marrying anyone. Marcia Martin: that’s the name I was born with.
Marcia had always enjoyed the alliteration. The initials “MM” suggested a certain lusciousness, like you were enjoying something yummy. “MB” didn’t sound luscious. She listed words with MB in them: numb, dumb, crumb, thumb, thimble… none of them described Marcia.
And worst, she’d have to change her seat in homeroom. Alphabetically, she’d probably have to sit next to that creep Felix Brown! Why couldn’t Mom have married someone named, say, “Klink”? Then she’d get to sit next to that dreamboat Harvey Klinger.
Her sisters had it better. “JM” and “CM” weren’t so special to begin with. But “JB” and “CB” had certain cachets. Made you think of James Bond and CB radio. Kind of spunky.
Rumba, samba, plumber…
But perhaps it wasn’t so bad. I’ll be married by sixteen, she thought. To a dentist. Then I’ll be Mrs. Marcia Dentist!
She bolted upright in her chair. Oh! she thought. Who will I get to sit next to then?
“When you see that red light go on,” the man in the colorful suit said, “we’re on the air.” The red light went on, and Cindy went off.
Not just off. Paralyzed. Stricken. Terrified. Like she wouldn’t even cry if someone chopped an onion or wince if someone fed her a bitter radish.
She always knew she was smarter than her sisters. Certainly smarter than her stepbrothers, though she didn’t really feel the need to prove it. Yet here she was on local television trying to show the world just what she was made of, and suddenly something much more important shoved itself to the front of the line.
The man in the colorful suit asked questions. Some people her own age were answering. They were missing the bigger contest, the one Cindy realized she’d come here to win. Not the Kiddie Show Quiz Contest, which was really just a barrage of inane questions designed to insult her intelligence, but the staring contest between her and that red light.
The man in the colorful suit wanted to know the capital of Louisiana. Why was he asking her? Didn’t he know? Even Bobby knew the answer to that. She doubted that Bobby, or any of her sisters or stepbrothers, were watching, far away in that house she’d only recently been compelled to call home. But if they were, surely it was lost on their small minds how important this real contest was.
“Baton Rogue, Cindy! Baton Rogue!!” Cindy could hear Marcia cry, as if she were telepathic.
Cracks. Peter’s whole life, it seemed, was made up of cracks. The cracks made by the classmates who said he had no personality. The cracks in Mom’s favorite vase after he’d played ball in the house. The cracks in the bedroom wall paneling that he could stare at for hours and seemed, in turn, to stare vacuously back at him. And now his voice.
Egg and Man. It seemed to Greg that eggs and man had been battling for generations. He thought of his father trying to teach the girls to cook. Mike, too, had once been foiled by an egg.
Gotta beat Marcia. The words danced a rumba through his head. Gotta gotta gotta.
But why? How many times had they been through this rivalry? Had they learned nothing from the house of cards? Where was Tiger to foil this exercise?
Slowly, his newly manly hand shifted the car into drive. The egg that rested nimbly on the traffic cone beckoned him from afar.
Gotta beat Marcia.
Who got to move into the attic? Who was older? Wouldn’t it all even out if he just stopped the madness ans allowed Marcia to be the better driver?
He looked at his Dad. Dad looked stern. Perhaps this struggle was really between Carol and Mike? Was this something bigger, a metaphor for women’s evolving rights? Or was this contest supposed to answer a question about the modern family? It occurred to him that Marcia wasn’t even, biologically, his sister. He paused: Should that make winning more or less important?
He looked at her. She looked panicked. Jan looked even worse. “Marcia Marcia Marcia!” Greg could hear her whine. Jan wanted Greg to win, he realized.
The car sped up underneath him. Something—was it confidence?—rose in his beating heart, like a burp from a fish.
And Marcia’s face returned to his consciousness. Marcia, the little girl whose heart had once been broken by that creep Felix Brown.
And then, suddenly, Greg understood what conflict really was.
Marcia was, at least in her own mind, like a perfectly ripe, juicy orange, plucked right from a California tree, not to be eaten but admired, pointed to, perhaps painted as the centerpiece of a still life—World’s Most Perfect Specimen of Its Kind. “Marcia.” Even the name had its own succulence. You couldn’t say it without producing some saliva.
She could have used some saliva right now, however, as her mouth was so dry it felt as if she’d been chewing cotton. Tears welled in her eyes, but they were short compensation.
Marcia had known loneliness before, but it was the triumphant loneliness of supremacy, not this strange feeling that kicked around her insides now.
I AM BEST, she screamed in her head, but even she could smell the desperation. DON’T call me a failure! You might as well call Cleopatra “ugly”! Call Bobby “smart”! Call Alice “wed-able”!
She yipped a quick breath, but the air was stale.
Call the Shapiros “Christian,” but DON’T call me a failure!
She stole a fast look around the room. The Beast was everywhere, casting its hideous pall over the yellows and oranges of her bedroom wallpaper, even snuffing the twinkle in the awards gracing her bedroom shelves.
Her mother was saying something about Marcia playing Lady Capulet. Juliet’s mother. And something about someone named Tina.
“Tina!” Marcia belched out the name. “But I’m better than her!” Marcia was better than everyone.
“MOM!” she cried, a cry that would melt the most petrified heart. But Mom was gone. Marcia alone was left to battle the Beast.