The Manchurian Feminist

Bob Hogewood greeted his daughter’s future in-laws then eased into the empty leather chair next to the one his wife occupied. Jane Hogewood shot her husband a disapproving look.

“Well it certainly looks as if we might enjoy very tall grandchildren!” Glenn Baker said as he sized-up Bob and smiled broadly. “You must be six-foot-two.”

“Six-four, actually,” Bob said. “But please, don’t let my lateness interrupt the festivities.”

“As I was saying, Molly was raised to be a very traditional girl,” Jane explained to Glenn, his wife Millicent, and their son, Breck, who was sitting odd-man-out on the love seat watching the older couples interact. “Yes, we are a very traditional family,” Jane continued. She raised her hand slightly keeping it close to her shoulder. “Guilty as charged, haha. Very traditional. Some in the community have had a problem with that. Even some from our church. As a very active real estate agent and member of the Million Dollar Club, I end up hearing simply everything through the grapevine. You’d be surprised.”

“Yes, well, I’m not at all surprised,” said Glenn as he clapped his son on the back. “Times have certainly changed and Breck, well, let’s just say he has not always been so circumspect in his choice of female companions. Have you Old Sport? In this case, however, we could not be more delighted by his choice. Molly is a wonderful girl and we just think the world of her.”

“Thank you, Glenn. That means a lot,” said Bob just as Molly returned and began handing out glasses of iced tea and small napkins to help them hold the sweating glasses.

“Oh my aren’t these just lovely,” Millicent said. “Crystal?”

“Yes,” said Jane. “Antique. Passed down three generations of Bob’s family. We are the fourth, and Molly’s family will become the fifth.”

“Someday,” Bob said.

Brief chuckles all around.

“The etching is beautiful,” said Millicent. “Just lovely. We’ve traveled, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Thank you, Millicent,” said Bob. “All of my brothers and sisters wanted it, but since I was the oldest sibling, it passed directly to Jane and I.”

“What a great story,” Millicent said. “And please, call me Millie.”

Bob smiled and raised his glass. “Well then, cheers Millie.”

“So what did I miss while I was in the kitchen?” Molly asked.

“Just that your prospective in-laws think very highly of you, as we do of their son,” said Bob.

Molly beamed. “The feeling is quite mutual.”

“You know,” said Jane, “since Molly is our only child we have always supported her dreams and fancies, and were thrilled when she said she intended to go to medical school and work with missionaries and Doctors Without Datelines. We felt it is such a noble calling.”

“We have decided that plan is not consistent with what we envision going forward,” Breck said. “We both think that Molly is of far more value to our domestic future. She will be a fine wife and great mother for me and our children.”

“Children, eventually, right,” Bob said. “Surely you’re going to give it time. Make sure you’re stable financially. Make sure things, well, work out.”

“We understand your concern,” Breck said. “But we believe in each other.”

Bob looked at them and paused noticeably before replying. “Molly’s mother and I are a bit surprised thought that things seem to be moving along so fast. Won’t things be a bit challenging with both of you having almost two years of college to finish?”

“Oh, that won’t be an issue, sir,” Breck said. “College was never for me. I never matriculated and Molly will be quitting in order to get the homestead in order.”

Jane Hogewood perked up at this. “Homestead?” she asked. “But what about your degree, dear? And we were under the impression that you both were in school pursuing degrees.”

“No ma’am. Molly will be putting what she’s learned to good use managing the kitchen and the garden,” Breck said as Molly crossed the room and sat next to him on the loveseat.

Jane’s face brightened. “You could always join me in the real estate biz,” she said. “I’ll teach you everything I know.”

“Mama, I don’t think you understand–“

“We appreciate that offer, Mrs. Hogewood,” Breck said. “We will let you know if that becomes a favorable option for us.”

Bob gazed at Breck as though he were an animal he’d never seen before. He shook himself as Glenn began to speak.

“Well it certainly sounds like you kids have this all figured out,” Glenn said. “We wish you all the best. Just all the best.” He turned and saluted Bob with his highball glass. “Don’t we, old man?”

“We certainly do,” Bob said, “But I do have some questions. We’ve already invested two years in Molly’s degree. We have always viewed this as an important investment in Molly’s future so that she’s not too dependent on a husband. I mean, we’re thrilled at her choice, but life being what it is…And don’t you think it would be wise for someone in the family to finish college?”

“Now see here,” Glenn Baker said. He began rising slightly until Millicent put her hand on his thigh.

Breck smiled. “Please, Dad, allow me to address this. I will take good care of your daughter, sir,” he said. “Like no one ever has or will.”

“I’m sure you fully intend to, young man. But…” Bob said, his face becoming blotchy, flushed. Jane slipped her hand on the back of his neck and stroked it with her fingers as Bob addressed his daughter. “Is this really what you want, sweetheart?”

“I defer to Breck,” she said.

Everyone shifted in their seats and reached for their sweating tea glasses. Everyone except Breck. “I have more to say to the family,” he said, “whilst you all drink this magnificent tea, lovingly prepared.”

Bob perked up at this and said, “You’ve set a date already, haven’t you. Haven’t you.”

Breck smiled. “No sir. Not exactly,” he said with what appeared to be genuine warmth. He then stood and addressed the group with his back very straight, his head very high. “We’ve married. Several weeks ago. Allow me to present the beautiful Mrs. Breck Baker. My forever wife, and, I’m delighted to finally announce, soon-to-be mother of the first child in our families’ continuing lineage.”

Molly turned to each set of parents, smiling. “I’m so proud to finally tell you,” she said.

“We understand this is sudden,” Breck continued. “But my little kitten here and I just, well, decided it was time.”

All four parents went somewhat stiff at this. Their eyes darted back and forth among their respective child’s prospective in-laws and each other. Jane wept openly. Millicent took deep breaths. Bob slumped against the sofa back with a sunken chest.

Glenn broke the silence. “So, when is this little blessing due?” he asked.

“Seven months,” Breck said. “And no, so far we don’t want to know what it is. We’re just happy to be blessed with the first of seven or eight children, and to be able to get started right away.”

Preoccupied as they all were, no one noticed Bob’s red face, the twitch in his eye, the prominent veins on his neck like steel cables binding cord wood under tension.

Bob looked down and shook his head. “This is not the plan,” he said under his breath. “This was never the plan. It’s not too late to–to do something about it!”

The Bakers turned towards Bob, their eyes wide in horror.

“Daddy!” shouted Molly.

No one noticed that his large hand, wrapped around the glass of tea, was shaking. Before anyone addressed his comment, Bob yelled “Motherfucker!” and leapt to his feet. In one smooth, violent gesture, his left arm whipped forward sending one antique fourth-generation crystal highball glass against the stone fireplace where it exploded in a shower of jagged shards and bursts of sweet tea. Shocked out of their respective reveries, everyone’s eyes widened as Bob launched himself across the coffee table. “Motherfucker!” he yelled again as he fell against Breck knocking him back onto the loveseat as Molly scrambled out of the way. Then Bob Hogewood, father of Molly, husband of Jane, deacon of his church and five-time salesman of the year began swinging his massive fists in loose, wide arcs like an enraged lesser primate at his son-in-law’s head.

Glenn pounced on Bob and attempted to pry the much bigger man off of his boy whose right eye was already swelling shut above the flap of skin that had been opened just below his cheekbone. Blood gushed first from Breck’s cheek and eventually from his swollen, broken nose.

“Daddy!” Molly shouted as the three men fell across the coffee table and she kicked at their legs to try and separate them as Millie Baker ran from the room. “Mother!”

Jane held a highball glass loosely in each hand as she stared at the shimmering destruction about the fireplace.

“They really are such lovely glasses,” she said.

###

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