Mary had arranged the party to be at her house, so he had decided he should go even though it was a long drive. Mary had been adopted and he wanted her to feel included in the family. They were not close, never had been, but she was very polite and sometimes quite charming. The family gathering was the first in forty years, and he feared he must go in the event there wasn’t another.
Upon arrival, nothing had changed. They were the same cousins. The same voices. The same dynamics. Though the parents had all died but one, the children had assumed their roles. They were, he found, more polite than their parents had been, and they moved with ease through the vineyard. He felt awkward, however. He had been prepared for less civil behavior, a picking up where things had been left off. There was none of that.
He wandered into the parlor with a glass of wine in his hands. There were photos of grandparents and great grandparents leading back into the 1800’s. His father was in a few, though mostly they were photos of his grandfather, whom all seemed to love. There were medals, diplomas from a century before. He went to the table where a computer had been set up so everyone could peruse and edit the database for the family tree. His cousin, Sandra, had written a note that said, “Please feel free to add stories and dates and any information I have missed.” He saw there were impressive names and dates on the site, all leading back to 1623, when the first family member had arrived in Virginia. He was familiar with them all, remembered how his father used to brag about their heritage. There were census data, war service notices, boat manifests, deeds, notable political speeches, primary source documents that had been uploaded to the site. It made him feel more attached to his family, proud of his American roots. He made a mental note to himself to tell Sandra that she had done an excellent job putting it together.
When he came to the end of the tree, he saw that in the listings of his grandparents’ children, his father wasn’t there. There were just three children now, Louis, who had died young, and his uncle and aunt. Birth and death dates were listed. He sat down at the computer, put in his mother’s name and birth date, then his father’s. He couldn’t remember when his father had died. It was somewhere around his own birthday. So he put a question mark. Next he listed his brother and sister, nephews and nieces. When he was finished, he clicked the mouse, watched the family tree update instantly online.
Dinner was served. Mary spoke first, told her how much it meant to be part of this old, patrician family. She received a heartfelt applause. Two distant cousins from Maryland spoke next. More applause. His brother spoke fourth, told humorous stories of his grandfather. He did not speak, though laughed and applauded with the others. A family photo was taken later in the vineyard.
When it was time to go, he realized he’d drunk too much. His wife had to drive them home. She got lost, and they took a very long route back through vineyards he didn’t know. He was embarrassed, woke the next morning with a hangover.
A week later, Mary sent everyone an e-mail with an attached photo of the gathering. He found himself in the photo, a tall man waving, a reddish face. They were, he thought, decent people, good Americans. There were so many more now than those who came so many centuries ago. It had been good to see them. He felt again the sense of inclusion he had experienced when going over the family tree.
Inspired, he turned on his laptop, searched for the family tree online. More photos and names had been added. Personal stories were there too. When he came to his own name, he saw he had been deleted. His mother, brother, and sister were gone too. His father was again missing. His nieces and nephews did not exist. An asterisk had been placed by Mary’s name.
The family photo was cropped so that only half his face was showing. Someone had gone in a changed the information. Suddenly he was back forty years in the past. He was a teenager. And the stories that were not part of the family tree were back with him.
When he looked up some time later, he saw the sun was going down and his wife was staring at him.
“You haven’t moved for an hour,” she said.
“No, no, I haven’t,” he admitted. Then, “I feel like I’ve been released somehow but I don’t know where to go to.”
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” he replied, pulled the laptop closer to his face, refreshed the page in the browser. Though he knew nothing would change, he hoped the photo would reload as a complete image, that his father’s name would reappear, that his mother, brother, sister, nephews and nieces would exist again. He clicked again. Then again. Still no one.
E.G. Willy is a West Coast writer. His short stories in English have appeared in Conjunctions, Zyzzyva, J Journal, The Gold Man Review, The Berkeley Review, and the Redwood Coast Review. His pieces in Spanish have appeared in Azahares, and Acentos. Anthologies that have included his writings are This Side of the Divide, Baobab Press, Stories From Where We Live, Milkweed Editions, The Breast, Global City Press, Creatures of Habitat, Mint Hill Books, and Lock and Load, a Second Amendment Reader from the University of New Mexico. In July 2021 he presented his research on Caste and the US and Mexican Census of 2020 to the Congreso Internacional Latinoamerica.