My father sits at the breakfast table the next morning, relaxing for a minute before the long drive back to Dallas. He eyes the sports section, opens his mouth for another forkful of pancakes with turkey gravy. My mother and sister fly about the kitchen like bees, collecting gloves and scarves to pack into the already bulging bags my father will load into the Buick’s trunk. Memphis’ November sun shines through the kitchen window, haloing my father as I pour him more coffee.
The depression in the wall just above his head was not there yesterday, and I notice a few flakes of paint flecking the parquet floor.
“Tom? Do you have the car keys?” my mother asks.
“…in my jacket pocket.”
I pull the trash bag from the metal kitchen can. The sound of glass bottles knocking together fills the room. I set the bag on the floor and walk to the table, pull out a chair next to him, and sit down.
“Hmmm?” Spooning sugar into his coffee, not looking up from the stats.
“Dad? You need to quit drinking,” I say. “You aren’t the person I know when you drink…”
The room stills. I glance around, sure the other women here will support me. Mentally, I tick off all the rules for an intervention I have read so many times: Say nothing when the drinker is on his binge. Wait until he is sober to talk. Don’t accuse. Use gentle, loving words…
I know this is the right moment, that they will both put down their things and come over to sit at the table with me, back me up. The problem is escalating, worse this year than ever. He is their family, too. No one could have missed the yelling from the guestroom last night, the thump, my father’s late-night rummaging in the kitchen for a highball glass, more ice. Yet there my mother stands, legs locked, purse dangling from its leather strap clutched in her hand, a small smile slashed across her face.
My sister turns her back, hands scrubbing hard at some errant food clinging to dishes in the sink. The clock ticks. I open my mouth to speak, shut it again. The fingerprint bruises on my mother’s wrist are poorly concealed with make-up. My father’s knuckles are scabbed, his eyes red and puffy.
I fold the cloth napkin I find in my hands, slide a finger down the crease, place it on the striped tablecloth. I turn in my chair, try to get my mother’s attention, but she’s suddenly busy, a red fingernail picking a gravy spot from the counter. My sister concentrates on getting every water droplet polished from the wine glass she grips. I am the only person in the room with my father.
His chair scrapes against the wood floor as he rises. It bangs against the chair rail. My father glares at my mother.
“Jane–get your stuff. We’re leaving. Now. Anna? Let’s go.”
My father’s blue eyes have taken on that bulging, mad bull look he gets, his face scarlet. He grabs his golf jacket from the back of the chair, twists from the table, and stomps out the back door, slamming it behind him.
I hear the Buick cough to life as my mother and sister give me a perfunctory hug, mouthing thanks for the great weekend and the wonderful turkey dinner. They each pick up a bag, lug it down the concrete garage stairs out to the car and lift them into the open trunk before belting in for the trip.
The car screeches up the driveway and turns south, disappearing down the morning street. Red and yellow leaves spiral behind like signal flags. I gaze out the dining room window. Hand lifted, I wave goodbye to my retreating family. Thanksgiving is over.
Photo by Tim Hamilton
Nice job on this essay! It could have gone into a holier-than-thou sort of a tone and story, but you do a great job showing the events and the real human reactions. And while it is a short essay and the women in the family are only mentioned a few times, you still are able to bring out their characters quite well. Nice work!
damn, this is brutal. strong writing, joani.
The tension is palpable in this essay, Joani! “I fold the cloth napkin I find in my hands, slide a finger down the crease, place it on the striped tablecloth. I turn in my chair, try to get my mother’s attention, but she’s suddenly busy, a red fingernail picking a gravy spot from the counter. My sister concentrates on getting every water droplet polished from the wine glass she grips. I am the only person in the room with my father.” WOW! In that one paragraph we know she is on her own. The truth teller in the family. Exceptional! LOVE!