My father is mopping up soy sauce with tendons of sashimi while I tell him about my day. The edges are bruising, and the smell of lukewarm fish cuts the air.
“This looks risky,” I say, poking the ribbed pink flesh with my fork.
Over a decade ago, after hearing the splashes of airport sushi hitting toilet water and my father groaning through the door of our motel bathroom, I took an oath to never take risks when it comes to sketchy fish. To suss it out further, I ask rapid-fire questions to the sophisticated woman that lives in my phone: What are the warning signs, and is it snobby to nix an expensive dinner, because the fish smells too fishy?
“Sushi is not a food to mess around with before flying,” she says.
“More for me then” my father says, reaching across the table.
Next to me, my brother hunches low over his plate with both elbows on the table, the three of us around a cornucopia of a feast with enough platters of food to sub in for the sketchy sashimi. Our forks scrape the plates, and a Bob Dylan song ends. Bass-heavy rap music, and then a new song that rattles the table.
And so it goes, “There’s some whores in this house, whores in this house.”
I press my lips together to suppress the devious smile burning at the corners of my mouth, and sneak a glance at his reaction. My father’s face goes sour, his mouth too full with food to speak. He motions for me to change the song, waving his hand like he’s fanning away something rancid. My brother buries his face into his hands. Rather than changing the song, I hold down the button of my phone to summon my right hand woman again. I’ve got more tricks up my sleeve, the fun is only just getting started.
“Siri, is it sexist to dislike Megan Thee Stallion?” I ask.
The electrical activity of her heart reawakens and sputters back to life, a plasma ball spinning with colorful strands of light. She’s thinking. A moment of silence, and then three top hits, because my question is a popular one. There are op-eds, articles, and Twitter threads that go on forever; everything under the sun discussing Megan Thee Stallion, the artist who sings the song and has apparently shattered the glass ceiling with her swarovski-crystal flecked pussy plated in rose gold steel, though Megan Thee Stallion raps about pussy arbitrarily. There’s no rhyme or reason. The trove of cultural criticisms might say otherwise, because the world is full of loose tongues advocating for the devil and speculating their lives away, just to take up space and generate new topics to fill conversation. Like everyone else, I am always looking for a reason to start shit, to feel something, anything. And I thoroughly enjoy swinging my fork around like I might stab someone’s eye out. But if the eyeball is that of a man, even better.
My work is done, and so I put my phone screen-down on the table and continue eating. I love making a statement, and a loud silence after dropping the mic. It’s already been nearly a week together, and I’m antsy enough to push buttons and get a rise. The plan has worked, there is a critical conversation brewing.
“You can never leave things alone, can you?” my brother says.
He’s right, I do it because I’m bored. All week, the Elvis Costello radio station has been the music of choice, and I want to shake things up. I want more than the aux cord, dammit. I want to sway the public opinion of this house, to tear it down until they stop shifting their eyes nervously when they’re catapulted from their norm of never being challenged. The bloodline of women on my father’s side are Madonna-armed and chock-full of conviction, masters of oil painting during the day, but weaponizing silences at the dinner table. I want to be a strong woman like my father’s mother, and so I sit on her throne at the head of the table and crack my knuckles.
“Foul is what it is,” says my father.
“So why don’t you like female rap again?” I gesticulate theatrically with my fork in the air.
“Because… I don’t,” says my brother.
I nod sardonically, stroking my chin and feigning deep reflection. “Ah, I see. Which female rappers do you dislike then? There’s so much nuance,” I say, dragging the ‘u’ to sound snappy. Nuance is a new favorite that I’ve integrated into my lexicon this past year. It holds so much power, a great intimidation tactic when conversing with those not as well-read. Most definitely a silver lining of 2020, a little victory.
He names two female artists, the same two singing the song that incited this debate of substance. I say nothing and slurp a spoonful of salmon egg roe into my mouth, popping each skein and smacking my lips loudly. For the rest of the dinner, I revert back to playing Switzerland and blend into the background of our candlelit meal, swallowing my opinions with each bite. They’re back to being distracted by their hunger, so we don’t say much. I slip back behind the protection of silicon glass, and scroll through more articles landing on a profile by GQ that gets deep with Megan: at the end of Hot Girl Summer, a man shot her foot at a party, but Megan has taken the high road because she’s a hot girl and that’s what hot girls do. She was shot, but she’s living her best life now. GQ is taking a stand, because as a male-centric magazine, they must. GQ is listening, and is taking active steps to smash the patriarchy to smithereens. Finding the right words is hard, but in the meantime, they stand in solidarity. In the case of cancellations, they’ve got the words in print.
Do these men across the dinner table think I’m trying to stand in solidarity, that I’m advocating? If she got her name because boys in highschool liked her curvy body and called her a stallion, and because her name was endowed with sex, is it sexist or not sexist? If she was shot by a man, does that mean his intentions were sexist? Is shooting a woman sexist before it’s violent? Is it sexist to dislike Megan Thee Stallion? As I chew, I realize that perhaps I am not dissimilar to an internet troll, because like the trolls that set up camp on Twitter, I like to litigate, and enjoy ruffling feathers to supercharge myself with dignity. Sue me. This is why we are match-made in heaven, that little bluebird and I. The two of us make a suicide pact to charge straight into the window without looking back, and this is what gets us into trouble. We flap our wings and take flight together. Tweet, tweet, splat.
The conversation has since shifted to his friend Ashton, how he just went on a trip to Mexico with a group of friends and posted a bunch of pictures on his story. “Who even does that?” says my brother. “So dumb.”
I turn up the volume and smack my lips a little louder to drown out the snooze-fest.
“Turn it down,” snaps my father.
“I’m feeling silenced right now, and Meg is too,” I quip.
“Stop looking for a reason to start shit,” says my brother.
I ignore him, and plot my next move. When we were kids, before he grew to tower over me, he always started shit. He’d flick or pinch me, sending me into a fit of rage. At that point, he would claim innocence, and I was sent to my room to reflect. After that, I refined my strategy. On road trips, when he had to pee but there was no stripmall in sight, I described waterfalls, even going to the extent to hover a water bottle above my mouth to make noisy splashes. I used my imagination. So at this dinner, and because I’m a writer, I take the biggest bite of salmon eggs I have yet, sticking out my tongue coated in orange jelly. I sing along with the song:
“Mmm, so wet and gushy.”