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American Carnage

James and Zarina are nobodies more or less until they've been arranged to marry each other.

Zarina felt herself being stared at which is something she should be used by now.  The three versions of herself in the mirror looked back at her for an answer to the question they posed. It made glancing at the beautiful figure in front of her hard and yet she remained absolutely entranced.

I’ve never been so dolled up in my life, and it’s for a stranger.

Being married off was one of her greatest fear, everyone told her it was a stupid one. In a classroom of thirty, three kids would have their marriage arranged for them which meant there was 1 in 10 chance. Somehow, despite all of her friend's adamant protests, she ended up being the one.

Zarina dreamed about the day her insides would burn from the strength of her love. Her mind pulsated with a single phrase, ‘I never thought it’d be me.’

It’s like death, from time to time everyone forgets it looms over you. She’d forgotten an arranged marriage was a possibility.

Zarina tried her best to hold it together, at least for the sake of her seamless eye makeup, but it ended up having to be retouched  constantly. Someone she’d never met is supposed to be the most important person in her life for the rest of her life. No questions asked, no barriers to overcome, that’s it. They are each other’s everything, and neither of them asked for it.

Her eyes started to burn with tears and staring back at the three versions of herself  tearing up made holding them back even harder.“I’m so sorry, Zari.”

Joan Butler, her mother, stood behind her in the floor length mirror. She was wearing the best dress money could buy. A lace, bejewelled, floor length gown the color of  gray. She helped Zarina step into her tall, white heels and reached up with a soft cloth to dab her tears away.

Zarina’s mouth barely opened; instead, she nodded only once to acknowledge that she heard her mother apologize for the millionth time. At this point they hardly sounded like words, the pleading her voice remained, though. She couldn’t even forgive them for doing this to her.

It weighed heavy on her father’s conscious. After all, he is the one who agreed to the marriage. He was the one who reminded her that in this world she has a place and exactly where it is.

Her mother, giving up for now on more desperate apologies. “I’ll only say this once,” she said, eyes softening and glowing with pride that mother only has on her daughter’s wedding day. “You look beautiful, absolutely gorgeous.”

Zarina looked at herself in the mirror; she had to agree. The dress which was picked for her (with some of her input) was both modest and sexy with her chest being prominent and pushed up while her hips stayed hidden within the white satin and tulle of her gown. After some argument, she was allowed to forgo the ‘Bridal Diet,” but that was all they’d allowed her to win on. Her usual mane of curls were straightened into long, thin locks and tucked up into a neat half up-half down. The top of her head was donned with a delicate tiara and veil.

“Mom, I don’t want to do this,” she gulped in a breath which shuddered when she exhaled. “I can’t do this.” The words made their escape from her lips; they saw the opportunity as soon as she no longer had her mind on keeping them captive. “Please, mom I--” she stopped at her mother’s expression.

Her lips drew in tight, it marred the beautiful mauve color they’d been painted into one thin unwelcoming line. “If it were up to me, you wouldn’t be. But your father…”

Zarina only nods, there’s no explanation needed. Her father in the simplest words, had sold her to the highest bidder. She’d been paraded around and perused like an item to be chosen. As if that was a good thing.

“You’ll be okay,” she combed through her hair with her fingers slowly.

“I won’t,” she assured her. “I can’t be. Marrying that weirdo aside,” her voice started to break, “all those people are counting on me.”  As soon as it was announced it was more than just her father’s mistakes that had gotten her here. The marriage is more than just a statement on candidate Daniel Aaronson and his family’s behalf, but a cultural one.

Her name is a hashtag: #Justice4Zarina and #SaveZarina being the two most popular. Those that didn’t want to swoop in and rescue her from the Aaronson boy called her 'traitor.' A traitor to her race, to women, to liberty, or just a traitor period. After Katherine Aaronson’s outburst, she should’ve backed out of the marriage. None of them knew the marriage didn’t exist until then.

“Well, he looked genuinely interested in you when we talked,” she said encouragingly.

“I know, that doesn’t help.”

“Yes, it does,” her mother said matter of factly “if he’s willing to at least be interested in you, you both could grow to--”

“Never mind,” she said quickly

The last thing Zarina wanted to hear about was that boy’s feeling or if he had any towards her already.

She felt sick to stomach thinking about him as anything more than the enemy. Deep down in her heart, there were no hidden fuzzy, warm feelings towards her boy-husband or their marriage waiting to suddenly appear. There were so many opinions from Mr. Aaronson, her family, and social media; ultimately she wasn’t sure how to feel anything except except anger at him and his entire family.

Sometimes even when she tried to ignore it, she knew she would not have felt that way if she and James had met in normal circumstances. If she had seen him as a normal person on the street, she would not have thought much of him. He’s a normal looking boy with pale skin, a wooly set of curly dark brown hair and dark blue eyes. Nothing special, she assured herself.  His eyes, if she had to choose a feature, would be the only thing she’d give a second glance to on account of how much they reminded her of the waters in Cancun. Surprisingly blue and unmarred by any darkness except the occasional flecks of green and navy.

“He looked like a nice boy,” Mrs. Butler said upon seeing her daughter’s face. It must be obvious what she’s thinking about.

“I’m sure dad looked like a nice man,” Zarina said, nearly spitting.

Zarina knew for a fact he did, that’s how she explained it every time he let them down. Her mother would suddenly age with wrinkles pulled by twenty-three years of disappointment, and she would say ‘he looked like a nice man.’

“Seeming nice means nothing.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she with stern eyes. “He seems to care a lot about your happiness.”

“Bullshit!” Zarina burst. “I...I mean bullcrap. I wouldn’t have said that if you didn’t say something so wrong.”

“I really hope you don’t speak like that in front of him.”

She started to pull away from her and stomp off in a direction far from her, but she couldn’t not without hiking up her dress and kicking off her heels. Her mobility was seriously limited in both.  “I speak however I please, that inbred doesn’t own me.”  

Her eyes mother’s eyes alone warn her to tread lightly with her next outburst. She’s losing patience. Part of Zarina knows she has just as much a reason to be short with her.

Her fists clenched at her side. Anger caused her brain to smart and boil. Anger at the unfairness of it all. Despite her parents’ marriage, she still thought of a powerful love, the fairytale of one day having a life long partner that meant the whole world to her.  Zarina hoped to at least know if he had a sense of humor, but even that was expecting too much apparently. Something to cling to, but she had nothing.

I got a life long something, that’s for sure-- life long pain in my ass.

The one thing she wished for for her entire life, the only thing that came to her mind when she used to believe in those 11:11 wishes, was the one thing she was never going to have. The only denial more ultimate would be a rejection from heaven.

If there is a God. Like her birth father, she was wondering if she’d be able to look Him in the eyes either. Not after they’ve both forsaken her this way.

How could she have lived a life dodging any sort of responsibility, especially a responsibility to her race only for them to suddenly took to her. What sort of sick joke is that? She’s denied it fervently; no race should own her just because they share the same physical characteristics, the same geological birthplace. She could see the cruel joke, at least.

She wondered it every day:

Why me?

What was it that made her so special out of all the girls they must’ve looked at.

Not even her parents knew the deciding factor that made her the bride-to-be of James Aaronson. It could be that she’d grown up surrounded by white people her entire life that made her such an outstanding candidate for marriage.

As far as she knew most things pertaining to her life, ever since the Aaronsons had entered it, was out of her hands.

 


 

“You know, only you would be more worried about her liking you than the other way around,” James’s mother said smiling softly.

She’s pale in the face and despite her makeup used to fill in her sallow cheeks and her dark circles were showing, but James hardly noticed them anymore Her smile seemed to always make up for what medicine and makeup couldn’t fix. Her dark hair, nearly the color black was pulled up into a neat bun to help give the impression of good health.  

His mother shook her head a little, “you should be worried about yourself too.”

His father’s seated in the corner of the room. He chuckles, and it’s the first time he’s laughed all day. He sits in a chair by the door with his forearms leaning heavily on his legs to support his large upper half; his hands are folded as if he’d just finished praying, which wouldn’t be unlikely considering the day. Like his son, he’s also wearing a jet black suit and black button up blouse. The only difference is that his didn’t come with satin three buttoned vest, that honor was saved for James only.

By far his room is the most characteristic one in the building, probably left over from before one of the Municipal building’s many remodels it’s frozen in time. The hardwood floors have cherry red undertones, the walls which have some type of wallpaper on them are red. The window overlooking the dampened street New York street even views the autumn-y red leaves slicked with rain. The only things that weren’t red were the wooden furnishings which were painted gold. James wondered if Zarina--he couldn’t bring himself to call her his fiance--was actually seeing red because of all this.

He wouldn’t blame her for throwing a fit.

He wanted to riot when he thought hard enough about it. Shock still hung over him like a shroud, no normal eighteen year old expects this to happen to them. Not even someone who knew they were going to have their marriage arranged could expect something like this.

“I mean,” James said while tugging at the sleeve of his black shirt again, “I hope I like her, but I guess it shouldn’t really matter.”

Anna sighed beckoning him down to her level so that she could fix his hair. His relatives have been commenting on how nice it is to finally see his eyes all day. They reminded him he has the most lovely blue eyes in the family as if the fact that he had them was the biggest news as of today. “At least we raised an absolute sweetheart, Ben.”

“Mom--”

“You are,” she insisted. “It’d be very hard for her not to like you.”

If this is true and I really am such a sweetheart, James thought.  I probably wouldn’t have gone through high school entirely invisible to girls.

“You also have to remember marriage is a partnership, you two are equals.”

He wanted to say something smart but instead chewed on his lip. Of course, he knew they were supposed to be equals, but no one else seemed to look at it that way. James was almost positive by his family’s response; they expected Zarina to be subservient to him, in some way. He continued to gnaw on his lip until his mother told him to stop. He was caught up in the thought of somehow getting Zarina to listen to him, and why he should be having to do that in the first place. She is a free person with free will after all, even if it’s somewhat restrained.

She’s probably bawling her eyes out over the same thing, why should she have to listen to me? I’m just another kid.

Her rubbed his hands over his face, momentarily remembering the absence of his glasses. They insisted he wore contacts for the day, he was told without them he looked much older and more handsome. Whether or not that was true, he couldn’t tell. He was just glad he didn’t have to deal with cleaning them all time. Recently they’ve been impossibly tearstained; he’d gotten used to the cloudy, muddled vision.

He sighed again.

It’s not liked he ever dreamed of finding the perfect girl, to be honest, he just hoped for a girl which didn’t seem like asking for too much.

All he wanted was a girl, some day.

Not Zarina Butler at eighteen.

“I saw Zarina,” his father said suddenly. “I thought you’d like to know she looks beautiful.”. James assumed it was his father’s way of letting him know he cared--staying in such a steady silence for so long without trying to initiate stale conversation. He’s the type of man that had trouble straying quiet for long periods of time, silence made him more uncomfortable than stilted discussions.

He caught the words before they could escape her mouth, ‘she’s always beautiful,’ and instead offered his father a weak but genuine smile and a thank you.

James had seen pictures of her. Sometimes he had trouble telling if the fluttering in his chest was the anxiety he felt about the wedding and their new life or just the sight of her alone could do it. He decided her smile could pull the sun out of the clouds. Something inside him jolted with guilt whenever her thought of Zarina that way as if he could help it.

She’s just pretty. That’s not a big deal.

The thought, keep telling yourself that, kid, immediately followed.

“You’re welcome,” his father muttered, if not awkwardly.

His mother busied herself fixing her own appearance in search of perfection to the media’s standards and curse the informality of her wheelchair--the left wheel squeaks. His father sat with his head between his hands--possibly praying again-- and James was too disgusted with his situation to even look in the mirror.

How terrible of a person does this make me?

The news is getting to him, he knew it, despite his best effort to ignore it. His skin looked less like skin; it reminded him of mayonnaise which is unworthy of Zarina’s lovely darkness. As if it were his choice. Being an Aaronson is synonymous with racist and wealthy. Two things James knew for a fact that he wasn’t. Zarina’s a victim, and somehow he ended up being her captor, and he hated it more than he’s ever hated anything. His aunt and uncle if anyone, are the real bad guys, but no one except his parents seemed to see that. He took all their blame, the anger and eventually the guilt trickled down too.

She’s not the only one losing everything; he reminded himself.

His eyes wandered up to the inch long scar on his temple, still new and pink from the past year. A boy with several rings at his school happened to realize who his aunt and uncle are and decided he’s the next best Aaronson to let his aggression out on.

She isn’t the only one losing everything, he repeated.

He turned from the mirror to sit down on the round step stool deciding he liked the view of his parents more than he could handle looking at himself any longer.

Zarina probably wasn’t fairing much better if he had to guess, which he did, all the time. He always wondered how she’s doing despite never speaking to her. He’d met her parents. They scared him, they weren’t intimidating or threatened him, which might’ve been better. It was their hatred for each other that scared him. Zarina’s parents were also an arranged couple and that day meeting them; it felt as though he was sitting in an igloo naked. The anger was palpable, but the icy indifference between them was even worse. He could only imagine him and Zarina the same way as Mr. and Mrs. Butler, graying, bitter and fed up with each other beyond words.

His cousin Jared stopped at the door. Mysteriously, James noticed, he’d seen very little of his uncle Dan despite the fact that he’d orchestrated most of their wedding. Jared, his oldest cousin was delegated the role as  his Best Man on account that he should be James’s outstanding role model. Jared’s the only other person in the family with an arranged marriage, he’s most respectable and the most obedient out of all of his uncle’s children. In the black outfit, Jared stood out like an ivory statue even more than he did with his ginger red hair.  

They all look like statues in these black suits, James and his father just happened to look more like an unfinished one especially compared to the rest of their glamourous family.

“Time to go,” Jared said sounding more like an undertaker, than usual.

James nodded once and stood beside him. His father stood beside his mother, and if she could stand, he was certain she would be hip to hip with him. Both of them looked equally grim-faced and apologetic, but they were fighting to smile.  

“I’ll be okay.”

 

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