Do you ever just get that urge to smash something? The feeling that you simply have to grab the nearest breakable object and send it careening towards the hardest available surface with as much force as you can possibly muster? You imagine it colliding violently with the floor, the wall, the counter; you see it shatter into a million tiny fragments, destroyed beyond any hope of repair.
No? That’s alright. My mother wouldn’t have understood it either, which is why I was forced to resort to some very desperate measures after I became the first Winslow woman to literally break family tradition.
In my defence, it was three days before my wedding. Theoretically, this should have been a happy time, but between my mother and his mother and somehow even his very particular father, our modest ceremony had been blow so out of proportion that it got to the point where I often thought someone else’s wedding was being discussed. First, it was the venue. Then, it was the dresses, then the food, then the napkins. Every argument became more absurd than the last and the most ridiculous part of it all was that it wasn’t even my fiancée or I arguing them. It was the parents, his sister, my aunt who I haven’t seen in five years. Without either of us ever once granting permission for this sort of involvement, it seemed like everyone and the neighbour just had to have their hand in the bowl.
I hadn’t even gotten out of bed that morning when my Uncle George was tapping at the door uncomfortably to ask if I had an opinion on doilies. I asked Uncle George if I looked like the kind of person who had an opinion on doilies and he just sighed and stood in my doorway until I finally pointed at the one in his left hand. I heard him calling out my answer to my mother, who made a disgusted sound in reply. I guess it had come down to a vote and she was on the opposing side.
I held a pillow over my head and tried to fall asleep again, but with over 50 members of my immediate and extended family all sharing the top floor of this outrageous hotel, I would have needed a lot more than a pillow to get some peace. I swear I could even hear his mother, although my fiancée’s family had reserved the first floor.
Suddenly I started to feel smothered by it all, so I got up, splashed some water on my face in the lavish ensuite, threw a baggy sweater over my t-shirt, and poked my head out into the hallway before darting across to the elevator. I smashed the button until the door finally deigned to open and jumped in before anyone had the chance to stop me. It would have been a clean get away had I not run straight into someone on my way through the door to the gardens. I stepped back quickly, pulling at my sweater to keep it closed.
Only one person called me that.
“Thomas.” My fiancée.
We both cast furtive glances around to see if anyone had heard us before he grabbed my hand and pulled me further into the gardens. Only once we were properly shielded by a tall willow did I get a proper breath of air.
“So you’ve been hiding out here too?” I asked.
“Quite possibly,” he said. He looked as though he had more to say, but didn’t know how to say it.
“What?” I asked. “What have they done now?”
“Okay, well, here’s the thing,” he started.
“Oh no,” I laughed. Thomas joined in, recognizing his habitual phrasing just as I had.
“Okay, okay. Your mom was trying to convince me to wear the suit again, but this time she took it a step further,” he said.
I groaned. My mother has always been really big on traditions and this particular detail was one she had fought hard over from the very beginning; it was a fight that she just wasn’t going to win. I would happily marry on a Wednesday, put a silver sixpence in my shoe and accept the heirloom wedding bowl, but the suit in question was nothing short of ancient. The last time I spoke to her about it, my mother insisted it wasn’t out-of-date, only traditional. In that case, I told her, the thing is so “traditional”, that it looks as though it’s from another era.
“What is it this time?” I asked.
“She’s resorted to bribery,” Thomas replied.
“Yes. And completely unfair bribery too, might I add. It started out with the usual; she’d cover the cost of an additional chocolate fountain, she would let me pick my shoes. But then she really got desperate. Isa, I’m not even joking, your mom offered to buy us a car. And a nice car too,” he said.
“Tell me you didn’t say yes,” I pleaded.
“Of course not. But a car? Isa, this is getting crazy.”
“I know. I’m so sorry,” I said.
Thomas waved it off. “It’s not your fault. My mom’s just as bad. Her and my father got in this huge argument about flowers and it’s gotten so bad that they’ve started hiding utensils from each other,” he said.
I stared at him in stunned silence, but I hardly doubted his claims. This whole thing had gotten so out of hand, it was going to drive everyone insane. I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks as I thought of my mother confronting my soon-to-be-husband for what had to be the millionth time.
“Hey, it’s alright,” Thomas said. “Just a few more days.” He smiled reassuringly and I felt some of my anger melt away. My mother had always said I had a temper, but Thomas always managed to rein it in. For her sake, it was quite a good thing that I was marrying him and not someone more hotheaded like myself.
“Um … hi?”
I spun around to see Brady shuffling his feet awkwardly in the dirt. Somehow, I must have been so engrossed in my mother’s latest schemes that I hadn’t even noticed that my little brother had made it within a few feet of where we stood.
“Can I talk to you for a second?” he asked.
“Sure,” I sighed. “Let’s sneak back up to my room.”
I gave Thomas a final look before leaving with Brady, trying to promise with my eyes that I’d find him again soon. Normally, I would’ve just sent Brady inside, but he looked genuinely upset about something, which was an odd expression on his usually care-free face.
“What’s up?” I asked as soon as we cleared the hallway.
Brady stood quietly for a second, before whispering “calculus.”
Of course. Brady’s never been the best at math, but he’s always tried so hard. While I knew it pained him to ask our mother for help with his homework as a high school senior, he had been suffering through each of her lengthy explanations and practice questions to save his grades for the past two months. It seemed that this whole wedding fiasco had completely derailed that.
“There was a test. I took it online, but no one had the time to review any of it with me before. I tried my best, but I totally blew it. Isabella, I f —”
Brady’s eyes welled with tears as he held up his phone to display the failed test. I didn’t bother trying to hug him, knowing that acknowledging how hurt he was would only be adding salt to his wounded pride. Instead, I took him over to the drawing table by my window before he had the chance to utter the dreaded f-word. We spent at least an hour reviewing that test and carefully worked through each problem until I could finally see the word “derivative” being met with more than a glassy stare. Meanwhile, my blood boiled. All in a single morning my mother had made Uncle George run around the hotel with doilies, scared my fiancée out into the garden and nearly made a 17-year-old boy cry. It was too much.
As soon as Brady left the room, my vision tunnelled and I searched for the nearest thing to destroy. There! Before I had even consciously decided to do it, the bowl had been smashed against the wall and rained down on the carpet in pretty, painted pieces. As is the way with these things, it took only seconds before the triumph turned to dread. That bowl wasn’t just any bowl. To make matters worse, Brady hadn’t gotten far enough away and was already poking his head back in the door.
“Isabella? Are you … oh,” he said.
I risked opening one of my tightly shut eyes to take a peek at the wreckage. “That was the wedding bowl, wasn’t it?” I asked.
“Mmhmm,” said Brady.
“Right.” My mother was going to flip. This bowl had been passed down to the first daughter of my mother’s family on her wedding day for as many generations back as could be traced. Personally, I didn’t think there was anything special about it, but my mother certainly did and if she realized I had broken it before I was even technically supposed to have it … well, it wouldn’t be pretty. It was only in my room in the first place because my mother had wanted to show it to me before the big day. She had every intention of taking it back so she could properly gift it to me later. Which meant there was only one possible course of action. We had to fix the bowl before she found out.
“Brady, you have to keep mom out of this room, okay?” I said. I was already on the floor gathering up the pieces and depositing them into an empty shoebox. Thankfully, the mess was somewhat less glorious in reality than it had been in my mind and the extent of the bowl’s destruction had left it in about ten pieces. Brady nodded and ran out of the room to fulfill his task without hesitation. Maybe he felt like he owed me from the tutoring session.
He must have headed off in the wrong direction though, because I had hardly made it two steps before my mother came around a bend in the hall and looked me up and down with the most disapproving scowl I had ever seen.
“Where have you been?” she asked.
“Never mind! The cousins are a fashion disaster. None of them match!” she said. “What’s that?”
I gulped. “Oh, this? These are Molly’s shoes,” I said.
“That box is huge. She’s four,” she replied.
“I know right! That shoe store. Seriously, who’s even in charge down there?”
My mother gave me an odd look, but then shook her head like she couldn’t be bothered. “Go give them to her, then hurry up and get back to the meeting room!”
I watched her rush away, resisting the urge to sigh in relief as she went. Once she was out of sight, I left the building and went down to the garage to get my car. It was an old piece of junk with a broken air conditioner and a trunk that never closed, but the radio was great and it was cheap, so I suppose it still checked the most important boxes. It’s too bad that it’s ability to hold boxes was another matter entirely.
I had only been driving to the nearest (and only) hardware store on the island for a few minutes when I became aware that the breeze was a lot more intense than it should have been. I realized with a feeling of horror that my trunk had come wide open while I drove. I pulled over, got out and started searching frantically for the shoebox. It wasn’t in the trunk where I had left it, so I locked the car and started walking back down the road, looking for any sign of it. It wasn’t until I heard a violent “smash!” that I spotted it lying in the middle of the road with at least a dozen different tire tracks through it. I rushed onto the street to pick it up, narrowly dodging a car myself. I hardly needed to open the box to confirm my suspicions, but when I did, my heart sank a little further. There was hardly anything more left of it than dust.
I called Brady as soon as I got back into my car.
“Hey Brady. Did you bring paint?”
“Yeah, of course.”
Thank goodness for my brother, the artist.
“Okay. I’m going to try to buy a new bowl. Find an old one in the hotel and paint it though. Just in case I can’t get anything close enough. Remember what it looked like?”
“Uh, sort of.”
“Great! I’ll be back soon.”
I tried not to question this new plan as I changed course. I had no idea where to find a quality ceramic bowl on this island, so I drove straight to the Walmart, hoping they had something suitable.
I got a few angry looks from drivers on the way, but there was nothing I could do about it. My mother was probably already scouring the hotel for me, so I didn’t have any time to waste.
As luck would have it, I spotted an almost perfect replica just as I set foot in the store. The only problem was that this nearly perfect replica was being wheeled towards the exit in someone else’s cart. I didn’t bother with smalltalk as I approached the guy steering it and just got right to the point.
“I really need your bowl. But I’ll pay you,” I said.
The guy raised his eyebrows so high he looked a bit like one of those cartoon characters whose eyebrows have the ability to move right off of their faces. “You need my bowl?” he asked.
“Yes. How much was it?” I asked. I was fishing for my wallet as he shook his head.
“I’m not selling the bowl,” he replied. He looked like he was contemplating the best way to try to keep pushing his cart with me standing in front of it.
“Look. I know there’s no way for you to possibly understand this, but I really, really need that bowl,” I said.
He paused for a second. “You really need it?”
“Like, so badly you would trade me your shoes?”
“What could you possibly want with my shoes?” I asked.
The guy sighed. “I happen to be in a slightly desperate situation myself. It’s my anniversary with my girlfriend tonight and I’ve completely dropped the ball. No present, no nothing. I don’t even have the car. So here’s the deal — did you drive here?”
“Um, yes,” I replied.
“Okay, perfect. You give me your car keys and your shoes - they're the exact kind she’s been asking for - and I’ll give you this bowl and get your phone number so I can call you when I’m done with the car,” he said.
“What? That’s completely ridiculous. I can’t just give you my —”
The guy shrugged as if to suggest it was my loss and looked like he was thinking about how best to run me over with that cart again.
“Okay fine! Fine,” I said.
So I handed him my shoes, my keys and wrote my phone number on his hand with a pen from my purse.
As I was walking home, shoeless and car-less, but with a very perfectly ugly bowl, it occurred to me that I had probably made a very poor decision. That was precisely the moment in which it started to rain. It was also in the same moment that Brady called me.
“Hey,” he said. He sounded so dejected I knew it could only mean one thing.
“She found out, didn’t she?”
“Isabella!” I heard my mother’s shriek before Brady even had a chance to answer. “Why on Earth is your brother painting the family heirloom? What do you have to say?” she asked.
I laughed, as I realized my mother had no idea the bowl was broken and had just assumed that Brady was painting over the original.
“This is no laughing matter,” she said.
“Mom, listen. Do you have the phone? Good. I’ve been meaning to talk to you. I just wanted it to be my tradition. I asked Brady to just paint my initials, but from the sounds of it he got a little carried away. But mom, honestly, this wedding isn’t just about you. You’ve hardly paid attention to either of us in the last week and you would’ve known that I wanted to make this more personal if you had ever bothered to ask. I’m sorry it happened like this, but this was just my way of trying to add a little of myself to it all,” I said.
My mother was quiet for a good while, before she let out a very long sigh. “Well, there’s nothing we can do about it now. I suppose it’s having the bowl that matters, no matter what state it’s in.”
I took that moment to think of what state the bowl was truly in.
“But honey? Please tell me beforehand next time you’re thinking of bending tradition.”
Bending? I realized in that moment that there was no way my mother could ever find out her tradition hadn’t just been bent, but utterly obliterated. I also hoped she was serious about offering my fiancée a car because I had the sinking suspicion we were going to need it.