Thanksgiving - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Thanksgiving

You place your napkin in your lap and see that you are still wearing your apron.  You smile.  The table is set with your good dishes on a white table cloth.  You can smell roasted turkey and pumpkin spice candles.  The turkey breast is slightly dry, but the mashed potatoes are creamy.  You both like the stuffing.

“How’s the gravy?”  you ask.

“It’s a little thin, but it’s all right,” your son says.

High praise.

Your reheated meal – prepared by the fancy grocery store down the street – is a success.

Your son has come home for two full days and you haven’t seen him for eighty-six.

You identify that feeling you are always trying to cultivate.  Often elusive.  Forever in your memory.  Sweeter than any moments you usually have.  Except  — maybe — this one: joy.

You are relieved that you do not miss the conversations and slights to which you have grown accustomed at past Thanksgivings with your family.  This suits you.

The dog wanders from your son to you, claws tapping on the hardwood floor.  She is too big and scared to allow anyone to clip her claws.  They have ripped holes in many of your sweatshirts and your good, upholstered chair in the living room.

There was a smaller dog before this one.   Your son had just left for college when she died.  You weren’t sure you could replace her.  Your son brought you the yellow lab mix the following summer and you are back in love again.  You will probably always have a dog.

-o-

 

The morning after Thanksgiving, you take your dog for her walk.  You see your neighbor, blue grocery bags in hand, trotting up her front path.

She has a brother visiting — who is single — and she’d told you she wanted you to meet him.   You walked down on Thanksgiving morning and handed one of your apple pies, still warm and wrapped in tinfoil, to her husband, who answered the door in his bathrobe.  But you heard nothing from them.

“Hey!” you shout, the dog leaping in front of you.

She lets the front door slam shut behind her.

You drag your dog by her leash.  She sniffs your neighbor’s door frame.  You ring the bell.

Your neighbor appears behind the large glass framed door.  Her hands are on her face as soon as she sees you.  She opens the door, “Oh my God.  I am so sorry.”

You smile.   The slight you harbored when you marched up her front path has vanished.

“Saul and I had a fight,” she continues in a whisper, closing the front door.  Your dog tries to jump on her, paws out, claws snagging her cable knit sweater.  She grins.  She likes your dog.  One of the reasons why you like her.

“Your pie!  Oh, it was beautiful,” she says.  Looking up.  Stroking your dog’s head.

“Thank you.”

“I am so sorry,” she repeats, ruffling your dog’s ears.  “I never got a chance to eat any of it.  I had so much to do.  Saul followed me around the house.  Do you think he could help me?  We didn’t eat dinner until after nine o’clock.”

You nod and listen.  It has not occurred to you that she might have a problem with her husband.  You’ve never seen them angry at each other.

“He says it was ten thirty by the time we sat down to dinner.  I know it wasn’t that late.”

Your dog leaps up again, paws on your jacket.  “Down,” you say, holding her leash taut as she bounds over the front steps.  She sniffs something in your neighbor’s azalea bushes.

“Oh, he got so mad at me,” she continues.  “Told me he never wanted me to cook Thanksgiving dinner again.  That he would make it very easy for me.  That he never wanted me to cook for him ever again.”

You hold the leash with both hands, unable to think of anything to say, except, “I’m sorry.”

“Oh, it’s fine.  Fine.”

You do not mention her brother, the one you were supposed to meet.  Instead, you take a step down from her porch.

“Oh, we must have you over tonight!  We must!  I am sorry I’ve been so rude.  I’ll call you once we figure out what we’re doing.”

“Ok,” you wave as your dog pulls you down her front path.  The sidewalk is a blur of gray cement.  You follow your dog to the deserted park next to your street.  Walking on frozen lumps of earth, you think of what it would be like to have someone follow you around criticizing the way you keep (or don’t keep) house.

In front of you are empty swings.  Your hands are cold.  You have forgotten your gloves.

-o-

Driving your son back to college, you think of him at five, running up to you from the YMCA field where he attended day care.  You remember the crush of his hug when you came to the “Y” after work each evening.  You relished your reunions.

“Promise you won’t get mad if I tell you something?” he asks.

You look at him.  He has whiskers on his cheek that he has not shaved.  You remember his five-year-old’s face pressing against yours.

“What?” you ask, dreading conversations that start with those words.

“I might not pass my American Lit class.”

“WHAT?”

“I told you not to get mad.”

“You wait until I’m driving you back to tell me this?”  You look at him.  He has his father’s big teeth.  His square jaw.  You are proud of how you haven’t held that against him.

His father was the one you could never refuse.  You would let him in when your son was asleep.  The evening news had ended and David Letterman would come on the television.  You never asked him where his wife thought he was.

For years, no one else interested you.  You focused on him, willing him to love you, your son.  He told you he would leave his wife and marry you.  Instead, he left her to  marry someone else.

-o-

The bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 95 tests your patience as you drive home.   You remember the headaches you used to have.  How they lasted for three days.  Kept you in bed.  Made you nauseous.  You don’t get them anymore.  Three Motrin and this one will fade, too.

The last time your head hurt, your dad had just had a stroke.  He was hospitalized for several weeks, and the day he was supposed to come home, you took off work to get him.

Your mother had finished her coffee.  You were helping her into her coat, when the doorbell buzzed.

Your sister stood on the front porch.  A scowl on her face, her arms crossed.  The two of you had argued about taking care of your mother while your dad was in the hospital.  She wound up moving in for two weeks because you refused.

Your sister had gone home to Delaware, an hour’s drive, the day before.

“What are you doing here?” she asked you before you could ask her.

“I took off work to get Dad.”

“Oh, you and your precious work.  You are so goddamn important.”

“Go home, Sally.  I’ve got this covered.”

“Who is it?” your mother hobbled to the door, her coat half on, half off.  “Oh, Sally.  I didn’t know you were coming.”

“Well, I thought you could use my help.”

“You should have called,” your mother said.  “We’re fine.  You didn’t need to come back.”

Sally had gone home after she checked herself into the same hospital in which your father was staying.   She thought she was having a heart attack.  The hospital had kept her overnight and released her when they could find nothing wrong with her.

“Go back to your big, important job,” Sally spat at you.  “I’ll take care of Dad.”

You didn’t want to say it, but you did, “You need to rest.”

“As if you cared,” your sister pushed past you.  A big woman, her foot landed on yours.

“Oh!” you yelled, slapping at her.

“You see?  You see?”  Sally said to your mother.  “She assaulted me.  Get out, or I’ll have the cops throw you out.”   Your sister disappeared into the back of the house and four police officers were on the front porch in less than five minutes.

Two of them stayed on the porch with you and the others went in to talk to Sally.  Your head pounded and you felt nauseous.  The two who stayed with you asked your mother what happened.

“This one hit my other daughter.”

-o-

Your neighbor doesn’t call you.  You never meet her brother.

Your son does call, three days later, “I passed!  I remembered that poem you read me.  The one by Edna St. Vincent Millay, with the candle burning at both ends.  Remember?”

Your dog has been snoring and she wakes when you replace the phone in its cradle.  You let her join you on the couch.  Together, you watch the logs flaming in your fireplace.


About the author

Caryn Coyle

Caryn Coyle writes about arts, culture and food for the websites CBS Baltimore and Welcome to Baltimore, Hon. Her fiction has been published in a dozen literary journals including Gargoyle, JMWW, The Little Patuxent Review, Loch Raven Review, Midway Journal, The Journal (Santa Fe) and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore from City Lit Press. She won the 2009 Maryland Writers Association Short Fiction Award, third prize in the first Delmarva Review Short Story Contest, 2011 and honorable mentions for her fiction from the Missouri Writer's Guild (2011) and the St. Louis Writer's Guild (2012). Contact the author.
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