top of page

Welcome Home, Darlin’

Jordan Muscal

I. Todd

My aunt told me she was getting married again last weekend. This is her fourth, I think. I was little for her first, my first wedding too. On the ride to the church (Baptist because that’s what the groom was), my mom kept muttering, Shotgun, it’s a shotgun wedding I tell ya. I didn’t like how that sounded. Like we were gonna have to go hunting after the ceremony. Hunting the way my grampa hunted: sweaty and hot-breathed and too much crouching. I remember I told my mom I didn’t wanna go if it was gonna be a shotgun wedding. She chuckled. You and your gramma both, boy.

My cousin was born a month after the ceremony. He had his dad’s chin and vomited on me the first time I held him, all over my new NASA shirt.

II. Nice Southern Boy

By the second, I was old enough to know what a shotgun wedding meant. My aunt was “a changed woman” and this wedding would not be in a church, oh no. I saw what God’s blessing did to my last marriage, she spat. So it was in a field at the edge of town instead. My aunt wore no makeup and the groom referenced the “Great Beyond” in his vows. He was from Tennessee and had an accent and smile that appeased my gramma’s hesitancy. He’s a nice Southern boy, she kept repeating. A nice Southern boy.

III. Oil Man

I was a senior in high school for the third, which came about after the “nice Southern boy” and my aunt realized they didn’t quite have the same definition of monogamy. Sometimes, when my cousin complains that Mom only listens to country, always slaps my hand when I try to change the radio! I think maybe she still misses him and his accent. I never got too attached but I still use the National Geographic subscription he bought me so… there’s that. The third husband worked in Oil, capital “O” oil. Something that got him a big house, the latest computer and made up for his bald spot and resolutely contrarian ways—in my aunt’s eyes at least. Janie, you’ve known this man for four months! I overheard my mom say at the wedding reception, huddled in a corner. Her vowels were syrupy, drawl even stronger than usual, the way she always talks when she’s with my aunt. I know, Bea, I know. This is gonna be good for the whole family though… I promise. Don’t you want something good for us? Her eyes were pleading, pupils blown wider by the champagne. I couldn’t hear what my mom mumbled back, just: He treats you okay? I know Todd— My aunt cut her off quick. I’m fine, Bea.


So now the fourth. Oh you came! my aunt croons, pulling me towards her chest before I can even close the car door. Of course! I hope it comes off as sincere, since it is. I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Too much? But my aunt just beams. Come, come!

The house is hulking. I feel my jaw scrape the little paved path that leads to the door and pick it up quickly. Just family tonight, my aunt says, hand on the doorknob. Like she’s trying to calm me. And then everyone else at the ceremony tomorrow. My mom places a hand on my back as the door opens. Welcome home, darlin’. I laugh, startled. Thanks, Mama.

The maid (I pick my jaw up again) won’t hang my coat in the coat closet, her eyes wide at the sad patches over rips, the unraveling collar, the uneven corduroy arms. My mom and aunt have gone on, their jackets having passed the test. I imagine their coats hanging haughtily, noses upturned at mine.

My grandmother’s cross is simple, golden, and brushes my chin when I bend to hug her. It was fake, the gold, when I was growing up, though her insistence of its monetary worth has left our family remembering it to be much more ornate than it really was. But the gold’s real now; I can tell just from the way it catches light. I wonder when she replaced it.

The rest of my relatives are wine glasses hitting front teeth, aiming for classy and just missing, instead awkward and startlingly human. New money, the house—wallpaper, china teacups, wooden banister—howls, like a coyote lifting his snout to a yellow moon. This family is a barn holding far more animals than its capacity, the horses whining at their pig husbands, the chicks tittering amongst themselves at the kids table. Everyone looks exactly the same. But all night when they see me: Oh, honey, I didn’t even recognize you! You’ve gotten so tall/big! Wow! Just… wow! If I were someone else, I’d grow self-conscious. But I’m not, so I don’t. I’m going back Thursday, I’m going back Thursday, I remind myself.

Before dinner, we say grace—mostly to appease my gramma, I think. I try on religion for the first time since leaving home, a sibling’s hand-me-down jacket the way it’s just a little big around the shoulders, musty in its silence. I can feel it: this family’s cheapened piety, prayer simply a pause in conversation. I wonder when something changed.

The maid thinks I can’t see her standing in the small alcove by the kitchen door, and she shoves my coat in the trash, already mouthing the excuse she will tell me when it’s time to leave.

bottom of page