This week, I challenged Jen at My Tornado Alley with the prompt, "Write about the last time you saw him."
I was challenged by Xander. His prompt was:
I was told there would be pie!
Here's my response.
photo by jeffryw
How long had we been putting ourselves through this? I lost track of how old the girls were a long time ago. All I know is that, every year, the table is more crowded, the house gets hotter and louder, and I can barely hear myself think. When we had four girls, I pictured that when they were grown, they would move somewhere far away. Maybe Sarah and I could take turns visiting each of the four them on alternating years. Instead, they planted roots practically in our back yard and took turns popping out a bunch of fat little kids.
My oldest daughter's kids were all blonde with red cheeks and were always wearing turtlenecks and sweaters that constricted their neck blubber and made them all look like they had boiled hams instead of heads. The youngest, a boy, I think, was seated at my elbow. He was wearing a giant plastic bib, fastened tightly around the turtleneck that was already threatening to strangle him. I thought to lean over and warn him that he better keep his sticky little hands out of my way while I was carving the turkey, but before I got a chance, my daughter's husband came walking out of the kitchen holding the electric slicing knife!
"What's he doing with that?" I said, but nobody answered.
My Sarah and our oldest girl followed him, hefting the aluminum pan with the turkey between them, shuffling sideways and shouting out things like, "Get out of the way, honey!" and "Jonathan, make sure he's out of our way. I don't want to scald my child with boiling gravy."
"Christ, you two," I said and stood up to help. Sarah was pushing seventy years old and she shouldn't be doing this kind of heavy lifting. The idiots my children married were busy sticking their fingers into the plate of mashed potatoes and filling their glasses with wine to notice that two women were carrying something heavy across the room. I couldn't get past the boiled ham brothers, their chairs were pushed almost against the wall.
"Sit down, dad," my daughter said.
"I'm sitting," I said, as the turkey was placed with a thunk on the table in front of my son-in-law. He was a small man with tiny girlish hands. Since when was it his job to carve my turkey in my house?
"What's your poison?" he said after a moment, smiling stupidly at me.
"Huh?" I asked, unsure of whether or not he was speaking to me.
"Pick your poison," he said louder, the carving knife and a fork suspended in his hands above the carved plate of meat.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said, realizing that everybody had stopped talking and was looking at me.
My daughter sighed and said, "Just give him white meat."
The bird was dry and by the time the potatoes reached me, they were cold. The slab of turtlenecked grandson sitting next to me spit a blob of cranberries onto the tablecloth.
"What are you doing?" I asked. "Eat! Don't spit things out. This is Thanksgiving dinner."
All around the table, my children and their mother were talking about television and things they'd seen in store flyers that might make good Christmas presents. The gaggle of husbands were arrogantly discussing numbers and projections of something or other. Nobody bothered to look in my direction even once. When we had four children, I assumed that I would have somebody to talk to all my life. What those girls did was band together, take all my money and leave me to form a dry crust in the corner of their lives. Not that I minded that much. They seemed okay and maybe even happy, in their own ways.
Soon enough, Sarah and our oldest daughter were swooping around removing our plates. My grandchildren, despite what their girth might suggest about their appetites, collectively ate a single bite of cranberry sauce, and even that was choked up onto the table.
"I want some!" one of the children yelled as a beautiful pumpkin pie covered in little puffs of whipped cream was placed on the table. "I want some!" he squawked again.
"Hold on!" my daughter said.
"Now!" he screamed. "I want some now!"
A huge piece of pie was placed unceremoniously in front of him. He dipped the tines of his fork into the white topping and tasted it. His face wrinkled up and he shook his head a little bit in disgust.
"What are you talking about?" I said to him. "Eat that, it's pie. How can a kid not like pie?"
"I don't like it," he said.
"You've got to be kidding me," I muttered.
I watched as everybody was served a piece of the beautiful pie. Not paying attention to the rapidly emptying pan, I picked up my fork and wiped it clean on my festive orange napkin. Since he wasn't going to use it, I took Boiled Ham's napkin and tucked it neatly into the neck of my shirt. This whole experience was pure torture, but at least there would be pie.
"Eat up, everyone," Sarah said, whisking the empty pie plate from the table and twirling it into the kitchen.
"What?" I said in disbelief. "Sarah, is the pie gone?"
She didn't hear me from the kitchen and no one else was paying attention. Everyone hunched happily over their plates, except the ungrateful little meatball next to me.
"Give me your pie," I whispered to him.
He blinked at me, slack-jawed. I reached to move his plate closer to me, but his pudgy little hands shot out in front of him and he gripped that plate with all his might.
"What are you doing?" I said. "You're not even eating it!"
"No!" he yelled at me.
"Let go!" I yelled back.
"No!" he said.
"Dad, what are you doing?" my daughter said, suddenly. I looked up from the barely touched piece of pie to find a table full of faces staring at me.
"He's taking it!" the little ham snitched on me.
"Dad, let go of his plate!" she said, her voice rising.
"He's not eating it," I said. "He doesn't even like it. He doesn't like anything."
"He's a kid, dad," she said, moving to our end of the table to pry the plate out of my hands. "What kind of a kid doesn't like pie?"
"Exactly!" I yelled. I could feel my face turning red with frustration and the fact that it was exactly nine thousand degrees in this room. "That's exactly what I said!"
The Boiled Ham looked at me with his cold, watery eyes and then splatted his germ ridden palm right into the middle of the immaculately arranged whipped cream, and stuffed a handful of pie into his mouth.
"This is exactly what I'm talking about!" I hollered, too aware that the room was silent and still. "This kid doesn't care about pie! He's ungrateful! Where is the rest of pie? I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE PIE!"
For a moment, nobody breathed. The children stared at me with their transparent blond eyebrows shooting up under their hairline. My daughters glanced at one another and rolled their eyes. The idiot husbands froze in place, their forkfuls of pie hanging in the air between their plates and open mouths. And then my wife broke the silence by saying, "Jesus, Karl. Nobody told you there would be pie."
"Try to act like an adult, Dad," my daughter said and the fat little ham broke out in tears. He started bawling with his mouth hanging open, bits of whipped cream and sugary crust spraying all over everything like a fine mist of rain.
"I'm going out," I said only barely succeeding to push the metal folding chair out from beneath me and standing.
"Oh please. Where are you going?" my daughter asked.
"To buy a pie," I said.
I attempted to squeeze past the porky children who had me blocked into the corner. The Ham was still bawling as my daughter scooped a blob of pumpkin out of his mouth and wiped his tears with a wet wipe.
"For Christ's sake, Karl. There is a nutroll on the porch," my wife said. "I put it out there to set. Bring it in and have a piece."
A nutroll. Forty-five years of marriage and almost that many of fatherhood, and this is where I found myself on Thanksgiving Day, in my own goddamned house of all places. Sitting at the kitchen counter with a fork and a nutroll.