My sister Crab had four kids then six then eight, and from her kitchen window we watched her new husband bandy about her new pool at her new house popping his hard-veined pecs in front of my pale pigeon of a husband. My husband, he cleaned toast crumbs from our soft bed. He never urged a child into me.
Are they getting along? I asked my sister. I can never tell.
How about we hear your side of this instead, Frog, and she dropped a bank statement onto the oak table. It said I had inheritance money, a confounding heap.
I said, We got money from Dad?
She thrust a sharp fingernail at the page. Is this not your address?
It is, but it must not be real because that’s not me me.
Is this not your name, Frog?
No, I mean—
I mean, I never signed this. I looked harder. Wait. That looks like your handwriting—the x’s in place of dots? And this isn’t inheritance. This is a loan. Are you taking loans out in my name?
How could you say that. She snatched the sheet away. How could you accuse me of a theft of Father’s final leavings you yourself have conducted?
Where did you even get this?
That is piss talk. You’re always trying to piss on me.
Is this why I’m getting collection calls all the time, Crab?
All the pain you’ve brought to me in life, to Father—I am done with you. Mother Mary in Heaven, help me get this woman out of my house!
In the pool, her husband and eight children were piled on my poor husband, who never realized it wasn’t a joke. He floated up, belly down. Their white shih tzu, Chips, sat atop his drowned back, yowling in damp sorrow.
The man was deep in his 50s, and at the café when his face creased from the high noon sun he appeared trapped in his 80s. An old face pocked and crumpled and dried on a stove.
Your sister says your husband is dead?
That is true.
She says you owe her money?
She says a lot of things.
It’s not your first rodeo, I can tell.
Blind date. First blind date. My head swims sometimes. Does that happen to you, Flipper?
My name’s Frog.
What kind of name is that?
It’s a family name.
Never trust family, he said. A bus rolled up across the street. Well, lovely parley this was, and he took a sip of wine and lit a cigarette and flicked it burning into a brittle bush and left the café and paid his fare for the bus with a pocket of nickels and quickly strode back out the bus and pointed at shop name after shop name until the café was found again and sat back down with me across his doublewide garden chair and said, blinking anew, Hello. I hear your husband is dead?
It’s—not my first rodeo?
He smiled at that, the bush smoking behind him. Exactly what I was thinking.
My sister had 12 kids and two in the chamber. Her body was a taut bubble and mine still flat flab.
Can you even have kids at your age, Frog? she asked.
If I drink enough, maybe?
Crab pulled my hand to her belly as she lay on her long leather couch elbowed into the corners of her living room. Imagine, she said, imagine what the future will yield for my babies in this great nation: how many grown from me, how many grown from them, generations looking back and thinking, My great great gram was responsible for so much genetic kindness and love and we will never forget her throughout all time. Like what Father did for us. But better, you know? And me, not him, or you.
Unless there’s a fire or something, I said.
What’s that supposed to mean?
Like, and I pointed to a wildfire sprouted from the café across town. Like that. Like when that gets here. Eventually it will. That’s a lot of suffering you’ll be on the hook for, the world you’d be bringing them into.
What a thing to say, Crab said. Two of her kids raced to hoist her up. Did you hear her, Francy? Francy was her newest husband. His shoulders were marbled in freckles, always peeling from sunburn.
What did that bitch say now? Francy yelled from the kitchen.
She says we’re all going to die in a wildfire.
Outside my new husband idled in his swollen truck. He was staring into the sun, his eyes creased. He blinked anew. Watching me buckle in, he whispered, Did we already go inside?
My new husband’s fat had winnowed off his body, and his brain had devoured itself and he sat with me on his hospital deathbed and told me now was the time to have kids.
Think about it, he said. Longevity past expiration. Pushing new life into this wide world and letting you and me be a part of that endless string of nature.
That’s a long, lonely life you’re pinning on me.
Kids bring joy when you’re alone.
You mean you want me to be alone?
I mean what I say. Did I say it right, though?
I sleeved sweat off his cheeks. Kids cost a hefty buck, hon. You’re not leaving me with much. The rental, the car lease. My first husband did the same, too, the poor man. Remember me telling you? Look where that’s led me.
Am I not enough? What about the cans I’ve been saving? The lentils. The baby corn.
Dang. He chewed on that. Did you ever meet my wife? She has money.
I am your wife.
The other one. We have kids. He leaned on his side with a moan, scooped from his pocket a wallet album of photos: photos of my sister and her 20 kids. Two up front are mine, Flipper. Or maybe those two?
That’s my sister.
The woman. You’ve met her.
Is it? He looked worried. Ah. That’s where she went.
Open casket was pricier, cosmetically intensive, but curiosity got the better of me once my sister said she’d pay for my second husband’s funeral. I gave the funeral director a photo of my first husband from his 20s.
The man kept turning the Polaroid, holding it next to the coroner’s headshot of my second husband. Your husband certainly aged so—what’s the word?
Let’s just not define it, yes? He cupped a cold hand over mine. But we’ll do our best, Mrs. Flipper.
At the wake the coffin lid was propped up in a grand way, all cushioning trimmed of woven gold rope. Inside lay my second husband. His nose and ears they carved down, the rest pillowed with botox. He resembled a weather-beaten mannequin with a soldered on face updated for a line of surfer wear, a smooth new man I could love in between the men I loved. But his lips: a sour look. Sucked in. Sewn too taut.
I asked the funeral director, Is there a way you could puff his lips a bit before everybody comes? They were puffed more. More, I don’t know, kissable?
Do—do you want people to kiss him? Is that what you’re asking?
No, but, like, they should want to, yeah. Does that make sense?
Could you do it anyway?
He sighed, bent over the body, squeezed the lips until they pudged out, shining. A seam popped. Propane odor leaked out.
Pee-yew, I said.
That’s not good, the funeral director said.
Is that normal?
I—have to grab something, he said, and sprinted out the door and across the parking lot in long gallops and swallowed his body into a hedge.
Crab arrived. She wore matching black with her new husband Wort. Wildfire from outside ate at their pantlegs, which Wort beat back down with his jacket.
But it’s a dry heat, Wort said, and behind him my sister groaned.
Where are the kids? I asked.
My sister said, They’re tending the car, duh.
I looked out the window. All 25 kids were there, blowing and spitting on the flames creeping across the blacktop toward the minivan, stomping out what they could with their little sneakered feet.
Cuties, I said. Dad would be proud of you.
Wasn’t his favorite for no reason, she said.
Must have good lungs? Those kids?
You’d think. She cut a look at Wort. You would think that, wouldn’t you, Wort?
Wort threw his hands up. I need the pisser, he said, and exited behind a nearby red velvet curtain, which covered a wall. His heels peeked out. A flask audibly unscrewed.
Crab wiped away a tear. Sometimes I wonder, you know?
You wouldn’t understand. You don’t care about anything outside of yourself. Minimum for my respect is four kids, maybe three. It’s like I’m not even talking to another adult, honestly. Crab leaned into my husband’s coffin then, abruptly reeled away. Who the hell is that?
Who else would it be?
What did you do to him? She scrunched her nose. He smells off, too. He never smelled like that when I was with him.
You never said you two were married.
She rolled her eyes. If you could call that a marriage.
He said you took out a loan in my name and disguised it as coming from Dad.
Father didn’t give me shit. I made my family from nothing.
I still get calls about the loan.
Just calls? You’re bothering me at your husband’s funeral about just calls? Now is not the time. She said, We’re in mourning. She said, I need the pisser. She disappeared behind Wort’s curtain. Both their heels stuck out. I heard giggling, another flask unscrewing.
I said to my dead husband, What a rodeo, right?
The light from the wildfire colored the gas seeping from his mouth. It rainbowed it across the room, wisped out the window like a wanting wick. Out there, I watched my sister’s kids: dumping sippy cups on the marching flames, sponging the windshield clean of endless smokestain, vacuuming the leather seats of detritus and ember, all taking sweet care of mommy dear’s new white minivan so her life would remain up to snuff. Even their white shih tzu, Chips, seeing these as half-measures, ran into the fire to scare it all away, but quickly poofed into his own vacuumable ashball.
I waved to them. They waved back, precious black smudges of hard work across their brows.
I was such a proud auntie then.
I looked at this in-between face of my husbands, dead before me. Maybe we should have kids? I said, Is it too late to think that? I said, That’s silly of me, right? Gas swam in my brain. Fire washed the windows of the funeral home, lapped at its doors. Their lips looked kissably puffed, juiced, impatient for my touch, and I blushed hot, and puckered toward them, our real lives soon to start.