Everybody Has It
by Nicole Smith
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
They all dreamed of the day they’d meet Mr. or Mrs. Right to fix everything. Sometimes this concept felt as mythical to Andi as the idea of seeing a unicorn.
Andi walked the hallways of school and observed crowds of girls whispering to one another arm-in-arm or giggling in the cafeteria, and she watched in awe the transfer that was only visible to onlookers. The weights from one of the girl’s bags would soar through the air and plop into the bag of the other girl’s as secrets and fears were shared. Andi shook her head. They traded so freely, without a second thought.
She tried expressing her thoughts about this to her mom once, “I just don’t understand the point of sharing so easily, when it’s just a trade. Your bag still ends up weighing the same.”
Her mother studied her. “But Andi, you’ll have less of your own past to carry and you’re helping someone out by keeping part of their weight.” And her mom ruffled Andi’s hair like she’d been doing since Andi was four.
“But it’s just not logical.”
Starting to walk out of the kitchen, her mother tossed back over her shoulder, “Plus, it’s practice for when you find a suitable husband.” Andi made a face. “And love is never logical, hon.”
Then there were the others, the ones people called the “unmarrieds.” Without the solution of relieving their weight, the committee had long ago decided that unmarrieds should not be punished for their personal choice or being unable to find the “right one.” They had the option of appealing to the committee any time after they decided not to get married.
Appealing meant that they would be exempt of extra weight accumulating in their bag. But these were few and far between; most people opted for the possibility of getting rid of all their weight, seeking marriage as the solution. Of course, marriages didn’t always work out the way they were meant to.
Andi paused in perusing her list as she remembered one of her most recent encounters with her sister.
* * *
“Gah!” At eighteen, Andi was shaking the rattle in front of her tiny nephew Michael’s face. He crinkled his nose and his sea eyes sparkled at her as he cooed. Andi laughed at the baby’s joyful expression.
However, he was distracted by his mother pouring more Cheerios onto his high-chair table, which he scooped up and popped into his mouth.
Still far off from age five, Michael didn’t yet have a chain around his wrist with an attached bag like his sisters.
“How did your baby get to be so cute and well-behaved?” Andi teased Scarlet, who had just recently added copper-red highlights to her brown ringlets. Scarlet liked to joke that it was her way of living out the teenage years she had never truly had after Michael’s unplanned arrival in her life.
Scarlet walked to the pantry while Andi watched her bag, a good deal heavier than Andi’s, trail at a snail’s pace behind her. Andi’s sister shook her head. “Lord knows, it wasn’t Ryan.” This was meant to come out lightly, but an undercurrent of seriousness snuck through.
The pounding of footsteps announced his arrival and the apartment door was thrown open, only to be slammed behind him.
“Why is it that I always come home to a mess?” Ryan failed to address either Scarlet or Andi. He glanced at his watch. “And where is my dinner? It’s after six.”
It had begun.
“It’d be nice if I wasn’t the only one working hard for this family every day.” Growling streams of other incoherencies, Ryan was already walking away.
Andi heard Scarlet’s low mumble, “Hope you had a good day too, love.” Andi could distinguish the thump, thump, thump of Ryan’s bag as it trailed after him upstairs.
Andi had been taught at a young age that people’s bags doubled in a dysfunctional marriage due to acquiring weights, but she had never imagined witnessing it in the life of her sister.
Andi paused in her reminiscences to sift through the weights and add them up: 38 pounds. The remaining weights that comprised Andi’s bag were acquired from the teenage humiliations, rejections from colleges her parents had pushed that she had no desire to attend, friendships that bent and broken. It didn’t matter anymore what they were; she couldn’t take them back now.
With every step she took, the weights shifted, colliding and readjusting themselves in the bag that was connected to her. There were moments in which the chain felt heavier than others, as after a particularly gloomy day. Days when the sun shone and her favorite song came on the car radio were when the bag felt like a non-existent entity, as if it were a friend hanging out in the backseat.
Andi threw her list in the trash as she thought about him.
* * *
His name was Seth; she had met him at a party she wasn’t supposed to attend. Her old roommate Mya had just broken up with her boyfriend of two years and needed a plus-one replacement. Suffice it to say, Andi was dragged to a party full of strangers that all worked at Mya’s office, Reynolds and Reynolds.
Mya, a natural partygoer, was in all areas of the place at once, chatting with various strangers and warmly embracing them. Able to cling to Mya for only so long, Andi forced herself to create conversations and bond in the tiny commonalities she discovered with people until she was exhausted.
A little over an hour had passed when Andi decided she’d done her duty.
About to duck out, Andi misstepped in her haste and collided with a chain stretched in front of her. A hand reached out and grabbed her wrist before she could plummet into the circle of people straight ahead.
“Oops, sorry.” A male voice.
“You’re fine. It’s bound to happen in a room this crowded, but I wasn’t being careful,” Andi shook her head and was about to head towards the door, but she glanced up instead to meet kind, shining blue eyes and a smile.
“Hey, I don’t think we’ve met. Are you new at Reynolds?” he asked.
“Oh, no, we haven’t. I don’t work there at all. I’m friends with Mya. She kinda... forced me here. I’m—”
He interrupted her introduction with a question: “Salty or sweet?”
“Uh... what?” Who was this guy?
“Salty or sweet?” the stranger repeated, amused eyes holding hers.
“Correct answer. See, we’re not strangers anymore. I’m Seth.”
Andi laughed in spite of herself. “I guess that’s true. I’m Andi.”
Seth surveyed the room before looking back at her, “So... I am new at Reynolds, and none of the other newbies decided to show up, meaning I know virtually no one else in here right now.” He chuckled.
“Well, now we can not know people together.”
She was very careful at first, but her guard inexplicably softened. There didn’t seem to be anything wrong with Seth; the deeper she dug, the more light she unearthed.
She’d be sitting at work and start grinning, for absolutely no reason it seemed, besides thoughts of Seth. From the moment she started dating Seth to his proposal, no new weights sprouted up into her bag.
* * *
Everyone around her seemed like they were going to combust at any moment; Andi was strangely calm.
Nothing mattered. Not the flowers, the cake, the wedding party line-up. Her mind was filled with the vision of the man who’d be waiting at the altar.
Her chain remained around her wrist and she caressed it lightly with her other hand. Soon enough, she’d be free of this. Seth was the right one, and once they got married, both of their bags were sure to disappear permanently. Andi found herself unable to quite contemplate this supposed truth.
Her mother pushed into the dressing room and smiled at Andi. “You look gorgeous,” her mother said as she smoothed loose tendrils of Andi’s hair back gently and examined her daughter from all angles. “This sweetheart dress was the right choice. Are you ready?”
Then Andi was standing across from Seth in front of everyone she loved. Seth couldn’t contain his glee; it was glowing out of every pore in his face, but Andi couldn’t stop herself from fingering the chain around her right wrist. It was hard to imagine it not being there. She glanced back up, her smile widening at the adoration in Seth’s eyes.
The smiling pastor stood in front of Seth and Andi. “Do you take this man as your husband, swearing to love him forever?”
Their hands were now clasped together.
“I do.” It was simple to return his ‘yes’ with one of her own.
“And do you promise to relinquish your baggage and remained untethered to it; as you will only be tethered to each other?” Other than attendants, people in religious positions were also considered committee members, and were granted with the power to remove the chains.
Andi had always been fascinated by the idea of becoming a pastor or something, just so she could witness people’s happiness when she freed them. The pastor made to unlink the chain from Andi’s wrist.
Andi could feel her smile faltering as she glanced down at the bag that lay alongside her on the ground, where it had always been.
“I...” Andi removed her hands from Seth’s and grabbed onto her bag’s chain. In the next split second, she flew from the altar.
It was all she had ever known.
Copyright © 2016 by Nicole Smith