Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Flash Fiction Friday, Week 13: Family
The prompt this week was to write a story that takes place on Thanksgiving Day. I thought I would share a story about one family.
Here we go again. Another Thanksgiving with the family. Getting together at Christmastime was never workable since we all live in areas that get a great deal of snow, so Thanksgiving became our family’s traditional annual jubilee for as far back as I can remember. I know what you’re thinking. What a wonderful opportunity that will be to visit with my relatives who live in other states that I don’t see but once a year. Well, let me clear up that delusion of yours right now. Getting together with my family, even once a year, is the most unpleasant experience you can imagine.
Aunt Sheryl spits when she speaks, and once it occurs to her you’re listening to one of her depressing stories about the old days, she’s on you like a bad penny. Uncle Sebastian has some medical condition that causes him to fall asleep anywhere, at any time, even if he’s in the middle of a sentence. His dinner is served on small plates that are placed on either side of him because there’s no telling when his head will drop down on the table in front of him. He’ll sleep for 10 minutes or so, then wake up and start picking at his food again. Talk about an appetite killer… My cousins Betsy and Delores, unmarried twin sisters in their 80s, live together in the house they grew up in. They are a pain in the ass to spend any time with because all they do is argue over some man they were both in love with 50 years ago who ran away with their best friend.
That’s only the tip of the iceberg. My mom’s third cousin, Suzanne and her husband Danny, do nothing but complain. Their house isn’t big enough and they can’t afford to remodel, their kids keep bad company and are turning into street thugs, his job doesn’t pay enough and if he asks for a raise he will be fired, and on and on. They never bring their kids with them to our Thanksgiving reunion, and for that, I’m grateful. Those two are bad enough. I don’t need to get mugged and carjacked in the driveway by their renegade offspring.
There are others who show up, but I have no idea who they are. They walk in, toss their coats on the guest room bed, grab a glass of cider and plant themselves in a corner. I’ve never made the effort to introduce myself. It’s all I can do to get through the day without having to deal with any of them for very long. If you’re thinking I’m a bastard because of my attitude, so be it. You spend a day surrounded by these oddball characters, and see what kind of an attitude you have by bedtime.
I’ve saved the best for last. Our hostess for the occasion is Gloria. I call her Aunt, but I’m not sure whether she is or not. She’s never taken issue with the title, so I go with it. Doesn’t matter much what I call her though; she never remembers who I am. It’s Aunt Gloria’s home in which we celebrate and eat turkey with all the fixings. I have no idea what goes on after because I make my exit right after the main meal. There’s always several desserts, but I never stay for them. I’ve already had enough of the complaining and being called by eight different names by people I barely know. I slug down one last cup of coffee for the drive home, and head out. By that time, half of them are asleep at the table and the others are busy talking to themselves. Gee. Can’t wait until next year to do it again.
Why do I subject myself to this nightmare year after year, you ask? I promised my mom when she was on her deathbed. My mom. The only normal person I have ever known. Growing up, I had asked her often if she was sure she wasn’t adopted, but she was firm in her assertion that this collection of miscreants she called family was biologically hers. Dad died when I was a baby, so I never knew him, and Mom was all I had. When she was dying, she made me promise I would attend the family’s Thanksgiving festivities without fail, even though some of them may seem peculiar at times. Family was important, she said. Keep them close. You never know how long they’ll be around.
So, here I am. I may be a bastard, but I keep my word. There wasn’t as much holiday traffic as I anticipated, so I was the first to arrive. Oh goody.
“Come in here, David,” Aunt Gloria pulled me into the house, yanked my coat off and threw it on the floor. “Grab some hot cider and have a seat. The rest should be arriving soon. Answer the door when they arrive, will you, Bobby? I’ll be in the kitchen finishing dinner.”
“Sure thing, Auntie,” I responded.
I picked up my coat and went to the guest room and put it on the chair. If I put it on the bed, it will end up on the bottom and it will take me longer to make my escape. By the way, for your information, my name is Stanley.
One by one, my family arrived. Funny what a difference one year can make. Last year, they looked the same as always, but this year, something just wasn’t right. Aunt Sheryl’s son Stuart arrived, but he came in alone.
“Hey, Stu, Happy Thanksgiving.” I’m a considerate bastard. “Where’s your mom?”
“Hi Stan. Happy Thanksgiving. Mom passed a few months ago. I’m sorry I didn’t let you know, but we didn’t have your number.”
Because I deliberately never gave it to you, Stu. Crap. I could have at least sent flowers or a card. She was my aunt, after all.
“Sorry, Stu, I thought I had. Let me give it to you now. Just in case you need to reach me. For anything. So, Stu, have you heard from Uncle Sebastian? He’ll be coming, won’t he?” All at once, I felt frightened, although I wasn’t sure what of.
“Not this year, Stan,” he said. “It was just too dangerous for him to remain at home, what with his narcolepsy. His sister, Marion, you remember her, don’t you? Well, she couldn’t care for him by herself anymore, so she placed him in a nursing home. He’s much safer there. She’s in her 90s and not well, so she won’t be coming this year either.”
“That’s probably best.” I said, thinking, why didn’t I ever notice he came with his sister? Then, the bigger question hit me. Why didn’t I know he even had a sister?
Betsy and Delores arrived. I found myself looking forward to hearing them bicker.
“Hi Betsy and Delores. Happy Holidays. I hope you’re both doing well.” Being polite is normally against my nature, but my fear was growing stronger.
“We’re fine, Jerry,” Betsy said, mopping the drool off her sister’s face with a stained handkerchief. Delores grinned while getting her face wiped, but didn’t speak. “Del had a stroke, and I sold mom and dad’s house so we could get a smaller place; you know, easier to take care of with Del the way she is now. How’s everything with you, Sammy?”
“Great, Betsy. Just great.” I had to get away from them. I went to get another cider. This was bad.
Suzanne came in. Alone. Now what? Damn. I wish I’d brought a bottle of Jim Beam instead of a fruitcake.
“Hi, Suzanne,” I said. “Is Danny parking the car?”
Suzanne screamed, burst into tears and ran into the bathroom. Aren’t I just Prince Charming and a half? What the Hell? Aunt Gloria came running into the living room.
“Was that Suzanne, Phil?” she asked me. “I hope you didn’t mention her husband. He left her. Ran away with his secretary, I think, and left her with those rotten kids. The girl’s knocked up and the boy’s in prison somewhere. She’s having a rough time. Make sure you don’t mention her husband.”
Now she tells me.
“Everyone,” Aunt Gloria announced, putting her arm around me. “Dinner’s ready. Everything’s on the table. Let’s eat because Johnny here has to leave. He’s got a long drive ahead. I’ll get Suzanne.”
Mom’s last words to me about family were coming back - loud and clear.
“Aunt Gloria, Please convince Suzanne to come out, I'll apologize to her. It's all my fault that she's upset. And you don’t have to rush. There’s no one waiting for me at home. I’ve got plenty of time, and I’m looking forward to trying all the desserts.”
A couple I didn’t recognize were making their way to the dining room. I walked over and extended my hand.