In that moment, just hearing Charlie say he had broken up with Zulya wasn’t enough for me. As Anabelle suggested in her comments on my last post, I couldn’t trust him, at least not yet. I needed proof. And an apology.
As I put the phone back in my handbag, I finally took in the picture I’d been staring at. Sure enough, it was a photo of the famous four-person wedding: Dad, Mom, Laura and Leif stood on their dais, joyful but self-conscious. Leif is dressed incongruously in a tuxedo, Dad in a jacket and tie, Mom in a business suit and Laura in a green scoop-necked dress. I imagined that anyone who looked at this picture could tell, by the way their hands are linked, that these are more than friends.
As I absorbed the photograph, my breath shortened. I’d searched in vain for something like it at my mother’s house, and I knew my father didn’t have any photo albums older than his marriage to Betty. I hadn’t seen any photographs from the group marriage at all in over fifteen years. A few I’d kept from childhood disappeared sometime after I was in college, along with boxes of school papers and toys. I never doubted what happened, but my whole family acted as if it didn’t. And I realized as I stared at this picture that the lack of anything physical I could point to had given the experience some of its aura of fantasy in my mind.
“Brings back memories, doesn’t it?” Laura had come silently up the cushioned stairs. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. You were gone for so long it’s getting toward lunchtime. I wanted to see what you and your kids would eat.”
“Oh, the usual kid stuff,” I said. “Anything that’s not nutritious.”
She laughed. “Sounds easy!” But the two of us didn’t budge, gazing at the picture.
“I can’t believe you’ve got this hanging here,” I said.
“Does it embarrass you?”
“Not me. What does Marco think?”
“He can’t stand it.”
“Then why display it?”
“Because he can’t stand it.”
I turned to see the crows feet deepen on her face.
“Actually I already moved it once. You know that wall in the hall with all the oil paintings of Marco’s ancestors?”
“Those are his ancestors?”
She nodded. “The guy in the funny hat was a Greek general who did something or other in their War of Independence. Anyway, I originally had this picture across from them just to tease him. And to see what reactions I got from visitors.”
“Were they shocked?”
“Most people didn’t say anything. You’d see them stop and put their faces closer to the picture, trying to figure it out. Then they’d look at me, and back at the picture. And then their jaws would clench, as if they were at a fancy dinner and had just taken a mouthful of something bitter but were too polite to spit it out. One couple hasn’t had anything to do with us since I explained who was in the photo, which is wonderful, because I was looking for a way to stop seeing them. I still do get some questions about it, once in a while, if a guest of ours has wandered upstairs looking for the bathroom. They’ll say something like, ‘Are these your brothers and sisters in that picture on the stair case?’ and I’ll say, ‘No, my ex-husbands and wife.’ I’ve had some at this point actually get angry, as if I’ve made an off-color joke. But the ones I like best want to know every detail.”
“You tell them?”
“Of course. And sometimes I show them the other pictures.”
“You have more?”