In truth, Thanksgiving started at 8:27 pm, Wednesday evening, with a call to my cell from a payphone in Trenton. I keep my cell in my back pocket and I have a beefy ass. I didn’t hear it the first two times it rang. I did hear it on the third ring, at 8:36.
“I went to New York today.”
“Then why are you calling from New Jersey?” The number had come through on caller-ID and I had looked up the area code after missing the first two calls.
“Funny story. I’ll tell you later. I’m not calling because I need you to get me. I’m just bored.”
“Why did you go to New York?”
“A conference. It was fun. Now I’m just waiting for the train. Could you do me a favor? I need to know when the next one leaves for Wilmington.”
I looked it up. “About half an hour ago. Do you need me to get you?”
“I’ll see if the shuttle is running. I’ll call if I need you.”
I waited an hour then went to bed. The bird was set to go on at 2am. It was my first time and Dad was going wake me up in the middle of the night to walk me through the family recipe. I had asked him to.
I was down for 2 ½ hours. The phone rang at midnight.
“I took the shuttle to Norristown. The morning train runs in a few hours. I’ll wait at the McDick’s. I talked to the Indian guy that runs the place and he’s cool with it.”
The McDonald’s on Markley. The same one that was held-up last week. It had been in the paper.
I pulled up to the curb at 12:30.
“One guy offered to give me a ride. Another tried chatting me up. Another one offered me $40. That would be giving it away.”
I agreed. No less than $100, on sale. We hit the highway, headed for Wilmington. The conversation was nice. I was already on the road and it was wet and being upset now wouldn’t do any good.
We were there, she was through the door, and I was going north again by 1:30. There was no chance of getting back on time, but I wouldn’t be more than a few minutes late.
I came up to the onramp.
I’d never been through a sobriety checkpoint before. The cop asked me two questions that took less than a minute, but the ramp was backed up for a quarter mile.
“Fuck me. It’s still frozen.” I was 20 minutes behind, but Dad was still wrist-deep in the turkey when I came in. The first thing was to get the bird thawed.
I have a problem with drains. Not a phobia; a disgust. There are other things I’d rather do than get close to one. Like my taxes. The lower to the ground, the worse it gets. Floor drains and tub drains are not even safe to look at. The drains by a pool or in a locker room, mounted by a wad of bubble gum, corroded and hairy, perhaps with the cover of a safety razor stuck in the grill; these are the worst. Laundry basins and bathroom sinks are not as bad, but not much better. Of all the types, kitchen sink drains are almost the least offensive. With them, I only have to hold my fingers under hot water for a minute or two.
Unfortunately, the most efficient way to quick-thaw a turkey is a warm-water bath. There is no consideration for his sensitive son’s issues. Fuck that—and he’s right. No dispensation for pussies.
But my food was still touching the drain. It was being manhandled by maniacs, grappled and mauled and hosed down. Every single part of it rubbed against the bottom of the sink. If I had not known that it would be purified in fire, if I could not be sure, if I wasn’t going to do it personally, I would have had the ham.
By the end, I was falling asleep standing up.
Anne was over and everyone downstairs was talking too loudly and I’d left my bedroom door open and I’d only gotten five hours of sleep and I wasn’t going to be able to shut my eyes again.
“Etta’s in the hospital.”
It wasn’t yet noon and the dinner table was set with all the fine china and the white table cloth and the yellow napkins Mom had spent half an hour ironing last night.
“Jean said she was having trouble breathing. They’ve admitted her and they’re going to intubate.”
The table was set beautifully. I’d slept through the parade, of course. I haven’t seen the Spider-Man float since I was 11.
Dinner was held at 3, then Dad and I were on our way to the hospital. Jean had been with her all day. Every few minutes, she had to gently push Etta back down onto the bed. Etta was trying to cough up the intubation tube. Eventually, the nurses had to restrain her.
I can feel the family’s cruelty. It is a disease of selfishness that lies dormant most of the time. It only erupts like a boil on the neck when enough of us come together for something like Thanksgiving dinner. Or it could come when someone is sick. We milk our concerns for our sister or aunt or mother, and then we turn and curse one another and blame one another and tell anyone who’ll listen how no-good all of ‘them’ are. I can feel it, and I spread it all the same as any of us. Today, I hated Etta’s worthless daughters; one for being a junkie and a convict, the other for being an ingrate who could not come to see her mother until her dinner guests had left. They disgust me more than the kitchen drain.
But her daughters are what she made them.
We sat by Etta’s bedside for a few hours until her unincarcerated daughter showed up. Then Mom and Dad and Jean and I went home for coffee.
My phone buzzed on the table. I pressed the ‘silence’ button and returned to the conversation and a piece of cherry pie.
“Someone’s trying to get a hold of you.”
“Thanks. I heard.” I silenced it again. I wanted to at least get a start on my pie before going to another room to answer it. I usually went outside, but it was still raining.
Buzz. I couldn’t ignore it again since no one else was. I tried to get up, but my shoe caught for a moment between the table leg and the chair.
“Thanks for taking me home.” I went into the bathroom and shut the door. She sounded less confident than last night when she said she’d wait all night alone. She was quieter.
“How was Thanksgiving?” I was hoping for ‘good’.
“Uneventful. A fight with my mom.” I sat on the closed toilet lid. This would take a while.
Skip to the punch line; “Tell me that you don’t care.”
“I don’t care.”
“Do you mean it?” “It’s been a long day.” I didn’t want to tell her why it had been a long day, that it hadn’t been just her. I didn’t want to commit myself to participate any more than I already had by picking up.
“Do you mean it?” She liked to hit me with the hard ones when I was tired.
I told her to have a good night and I’d talk to her soon.
I went downstairs and Jean had the eggnog out. I wanted a few belts, but I never had a taste for liquor and I was done with it before I had the first glass down. Jean cleaned up the rest.
“Did you see the parade?”
She told me she hadn’t. She’d wanted to, but she was already headed for the hospital by the time it started.
“Of course, we had our own little parade here, didn’t we?” She smiled at me and it felt like she’d been sitting there beside me since the first phone call the night before. It felt nice to imagine that she knew everything.
“I guess we did.”
I decided to give the eggnog another try as Mom walked into the kitchen to bag up what was left of the turkey. My phone buzzed in my back pocket, but I ignored it.
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