Issue 195, Winter 2010
I was sitting at a long table with a lot of nice things on it. There was a large pitcher of water with an ornate handle that looked like it was made of real silver, and there were forks and spoons. There were apples and small, round appetizers, and a big dead cooked goose. There were so many things that the table underneath was eclipsed entirely; the visible objects obscured even more food, more tableware beneath.
My mother and father were sitting next to each other on the long side of the table, and a man I didn’t recognize at all was sitting next to them. I sat across on the other end, alone.
I was looking at all of the things and trying to notice connections between them. Why this table, why now? Why these things and not others? Many of the things were round. Except the goose. I tried looking from object to object: fork, butter, spinach, hand, napkin, apple, cup.
It was then that I noticed none of the others seated at the table were looking at the table or its contents. They were all looking at me. They were looking continuously; there was no sense that they would soon be looking away. They had these looks on their faces. Especially the man. He had a look like he just would never ever get enough of looking. His eyes were like two little identical stones, the bare minimum of a face, just enough to make you look twice to check if you were looking at a person.
You were announcing your engagement, said my father helpfully.
To who? I asked.
I felt a strange sense of ownership for all the objects on the table, yet I did not want to claim them.
To us, they said. All of you? I said.
No, only me, said the man in the button-up shirt, whom I did not recognize.
I find it increasingly difficult to speak of my feelings at will.
I am announcing my engagement to you? I asked, gesturing at him. Yes, exactly, he said, looking satisfied. It seemed impossible to phrase the question in a way that would yield a perfectly unambiguous answer.
Who am I engaged to? I asked.
To me, he said, no longer looking satisfied.
The whole situation felt as unreal as something could while also feeling sorely, mortally dangerous. It seemed to draw strength from my speech, as in: The more I spoke within it, accepting its premises, the more I spoke into it without screaming at it, the more it made me whomever this position demanded.