De Facto

Justine Teu

The white neighbors gather in front of the house, behind the stretch limousine. Across the street, from inside my own house, I go to the window and see tops of heads over the ivory car roof, and watch bodies, in formal wear, emerge to climb the stoop’s steps. My best friend next door texts me about it. The bride is going to be so beautiful, she says, with three exclamation points instead of one, but that’s because she was invited to the bridal shower.

My older sister and I are less impressed. Ogling the procession behind me, she asks: will she wear her hair as high as a New Jersey prom date? Or some more standard David’s Bridal updo?

I laugh. We have allowed ourselves mean little prejudgments, for none of the white neighbors have told my family, or any of the other non-white families on the block, about the impromptu viewing. I don’t think they meant any harm in it. More likely, the bride’s mother, the one in the bright magenta dress, had broken the news to her closest friends first—the other white middle-aged women—expecting the news to come to us eventually. Whoever comes will come. Talk about a trickle-down effect. This was how my family always received gossip around these parts: first, it would come through the woman in the magenta dress, then go through her friend, then her friend, who liked to chat with my mother from their adjoining backyards. It’s finally happening, the neighbor said. The girl is the first on the block to get married. But like my mother says: it’s not like we were actually invited to see the bride off. Besides, she added, the Pakistanis had a wedding for their daughter six months ago. Where was everyone then? The archway made of flowers framed their front door for weeks.

The magenta woman’s talking now, radiating pride. By the time I open the window, her voice is nothing but a far-off sound.


My best friend, also white, texts me again: the bride is coming out soon. Four exclamation points. She lives next door to me, so I can see her, moving quick down the mouth of her driveway, to join the masses. She’s combed her hair for this. She’s wearing five-inch heels under her skirt, as if to help her stand in these high times.

I don’t know why she’s aiming to impress. The bride, a few years older than us, used to aim plastic tee-balls at us for target practice. In a game of pretend, she once made us lay down in the driveway and imagine we were the dinosaurs to her meteor.


The lesser-known neighbors, the white ones who live at the further end of the block, clamor closer to the house. They exchange good tidings, even though I know the magenta woman doesn’t like the woman from down the block because of a street parking debacle. More and more of them gather. Compliments fire like artillery: oh, look at your weight loss and oh, look at your trimmed hedges and oh, look at your Halloween decorations out front. They nod intently at each other, hooked on the empty words. The magenta woman grasps the shoulder of the parking offender, her pointed manicure on the verge of breaking skin.

She only ever waves to my mother from across the street, when she glances our way. But I’m sure she pretends not to see us, my mother speculates. She’s never once said a thing about my rose bushes, or your father’s Christmas display. The rose bushes, I can live with, but your father works so hard on those lights!

Suddenly, I am self-conscious: will the magenta woman, the bride, notice that the only Chinese family on the block is not there, to celebrate with them? Or was there a reason we weren’t told directly of this event? I imagine the lines of this communication, so vague and so unreliable, broke down just short of us, the Chinese family, the Pakistani family, the Jamaican family on this block. I imagine us clamoring to watch from far away, knowing only in glimpses. The stretch limousine, still a wall. The barrier as glossy as cow’s milk.

We could go out there, I tell my sister.

She asks me why we ever would.

It’s neighborly.

She frowns at this. Do they even remember our names?


Here we go, here we go, here we go, shouts the magenta woman. She reigns as queen of the block. Her hands go up as if to summon her most loyal subjects. Out the door, they all point their phone cameras at the bride, and begin their photoshoots under the harsh sunlight.

In front of the colonial house, between two columns, the bride poses for pictures alone. Then, with her parents. Her older brothers. Altogether, as this gleaming family. At the bottom, all the white neighbors swarm and snap like hunched sharks. They chant their niceties about how the bride is the most beautiful woman in the world.

New Jersey hair, I say, just as suspected. The dress is nice, though. I wonder if I should tell the bride this. I wonder if she’ll look at me, straight in the face, and forget the girl she used to press to the cement, the gravel marks left on my cheek like teeth bites.

Down the narrow street, a mail truck comes. The limousine is blocking the way, the driver yells out, and so the wall rolls away.

I see now. Not everyone is dressed in their Sunday best. There’s the man in salmon colored cargo shorts, others in various colored flip-flops. One of the unliked neighbors has started yelling about something, probably her rightful parking spot, while the magenta woman counters back, venomous, between wide smiles for the camera. My sister comments that they don’t have a proper photographer. The sun bleaches them all out. One of the brothers kicks a carved pumpkin down the front steps, staining a train of white with orange sinew on his sister’s wedding day.

The limousine returns, and the veil is restored. The family leaves for the ceremony, and the neighbors disperse: back to their little hates, back to their slumped shoulders, back to their homes and walls and rooms, where sound seems to travel better than in mine.


Why didn’t you meet me outside? my best friend texts that night. The bride was so beautiful!

I want to ask her if she remembers us as dinosaurs. Our faces covered in dirt and little cuts, the foam of the bride’s flip-flop against our cheeks. But I wonder, now, if my best friend grew into the gleaming sort, the missing piece of her own future suburban family. The kind of person who gets to go to bridal showers, who gets told things firsthand. She will look amazing in white one day, and another day, in magenta. She will dig her grip into the neighbors she will not like, forgetting the time she picked me up from the ground, and how she smiled because we avoided extinction that day. She won’t call about her daughter. She might even forget to text.

Next time, I type back. I draw my own borderline. I say nice things, just to say them, if only to echo back the distant sound.

Justine Teu headshot

Justine Teu is a Brooklyn-based writer pursuing her M.F.A. in fiction at The New School. She has most recently been published in Pigeon Pages, Reckoning, and Menacing Hedge. Additionally, she is a first reader over at khōréō. Her work has received recognition from the Mendocino Writer’s Conference and the Kenyon Review Writer’s Workshop. To reach her, you can find her at and @justinecteu on Twitter.