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Sunday, November 30, 2014

A New Day

The following short story was one that I wrote two years ago.  It is a story born of my own misery. The misery of recalling past holidays in institutions as well as the sadness that comes from living in a very small family that doesn't much care about traditional celebrations.  I'm sorry that I'm a bit late in posting it.  
Thanksgiving by Norman Rockwell

A New Day
Voices filled the entranceway.  The bustle of coats and gloves being stuffed into  the hall closet. Offerings of pies, wine, exchanged hands and seats plopped into with red-cheeked abandon.  Discussions of the frosty cold the nipped noses and fingers competed with questions about the score of the football game muttering from the momentarily neglected TV in the corner.  Men seated in  long legged sprawls, accepting cups of eggnog from hostess hands.
"Gosh it's great to see you!"  Mother and father 's eyes hungrily drank the image of the married-and-gone daughter...The husband who stole her away had his shoulder clapped by paternal hands and cheek kissed from shy mother lips.
"How were the roads?"

News of new snowfall breaking on the holiday scene made her glad to be in a warm house smelling invitingly of turkey and gravy.  She watched the scene  participated when expected to, assisted in  hanging coats and handing out drinks.  The lull of conversation gave rise to thankful prayers.  She was home.

Former Thanksgivings illicited thoughts of industrialized turkey and congealed gravy oozing over the scoop of instant mashed potatoes...served on cardboard trays, of lonely eating...watching visitors arrive for the other inmates, eyes hungrily searching arriving faces....but finding none familiar, no one to visit her.  She pushed aside the cold tray of food that tried but miserably failed to convey holiday cheer....and  stocking feet padded her way back to her room.  She laid down in the bed and stared at the ceiling and prayed for the day to be over.

A far cry from this year.  This year of family noises and shotgun bursts of laughter.  Where were they all in those former years?  The years when she was alone.  Better not to go there.  Better just to be here...sucking in the holiday happiness of family and food.

As she re-entered  the crowded  room someone spoke in her direction. There was a pause...a question mark hung in the ceiling and all eyes were fixed on her. She hurriedly replayed in her mind the question so she might answer it.  "How is work?"  "Any prospects of dating?" 
She sighed a "fine" and then glared the second question away.  Her sister laughed at her discomfiture and ruffled her red hair.  Annoyed, she attempted to fix her hair, oblivious of the Buckwheat cowlick that stood up in the back.   Attempting to change the subject she nodded toward her sister's expansive middle and asked, "Are you ready?  Are you excited?"prompting the production and display of the latest sonogram picture.   Talk shifted safely to nursery colors and baby names.

Sighing she stood and made her way to the kitchen where mom, wiping her perspiring face, stood after closing the oven door where she'd been basting the turkey.  
"Hi everyone happy?  Anyone need a fresh drink?"
She answered in the negative and said, trying and failing to keep the jealousy from her voice. "No, they are all choosing Jess's baby's name."
Her mom patted her shoulder.  "Green eyes don't become you.  Don't worry honey. Your time is coming.  Enjoy your freedom while you have it."
"Well, it will be hard getting pregnant if I can' t get a man to look at me."
"Men do look at you, but they just can't work their way around your growl."
"Oh mom."
"Well, why don' t you take this plate of hors d'oeuvres out and pass them around.  The men will be getting hungry and coming in here to find something to eat at any moment."

She took the tray and raised it over  her head as she navigated the corner, narrowly missing collision with her brother in law.  "THAT's what I was looking for!" said he as he snatched the tray from her hands and turned with it for the living room, brushing a kiss on her nose as he said "Hi sis!"
She followed him and sat on an ottoman while she listened to the conversation rise and swell around her.  It was like listening to the waves of the ocean, she thought.  All she needed was sunscreen.  A hastening in the broadcaster's voice brought a tense silence the room; men's fists clenched.  As the quarterback leapt over the goal line the room erupted into an all male cheer, "YEAH!!!"  Fortunately for family harmony; they all were rooting for the same team and that team had just ascended into the lead. As the men discussed the sheer elegance of the play, she leaned back against a wall, her thoughts drifting to another room....a room where the TV was smaller and was bracketed up into the corner near the ceiling.  A room where two men cheered a touchdown and where maybe twenty others sat silently staring into inner space; a few shuffled around the room asking each person they met for a cigarette, and stopped to dig through an ashtray for a butt that may yet have another drag left on it.  

A jangle of keys so stunned her that for a second she believed she'd traveled back to a moment when a staff member approached, their belted keys clinking.  But instead it was her brother entering the room tossing his handful of keys onto the desk.  All eyes turned to his form and welcomes were called out.  Her little sister rose awkwardly and lurched her way over to Ned, to stand on her tippy toes and perch a kiss on his nose.  Ned hugged her and patted her belly smiling.  Then his eyes lifted and searched coming to land on her face.  He grinned widely and walked, leg weaving and absconding with a cheese topped cracker on his way over to her.  

"Hey little sis.  It's good to see you here.  Nice to know where you are and that you're safe." 
She flushed and then met his eyes with a tremulous smile.  "Good to be here" she said.

Just then the long awaited call came from the kitchen, "Turkey's ready, are you???"
There was a moment of confusion as legs untangled and found the floor and the mob made their way to the burdened table where enough food awaited to feed twice as many people.  There were groans of appreciation and people claimed the seats pointed out to them by mom, the conductor of the show.
She was pointed to a seat between Ned and her father.  Her mom knew her so well.  Even in the seating choice had protected her from barbs and unwelcome questions that the other guests may have had in store.  Ned was as comfortable as bedroom slippers.  He squeezed her hand as they joined hands to say Grace.  As her  father sonorously listed the things they had to be grateful for, she whispered a soft prayer to God, thanking him for her family.  For a home.  For a table with food.  There were times in her life where those things had been absent....and she would never again take them for granted.   

Thoughts came to her of a bridge.  A bridge under which she would huddle for shelter from the wind and rain.  A bridge where once she had climbed to the pinnacle, considered the tatters of her life and leapt.  Plunging into the depths below, she was knocked unconscious by the impact.  She'd opened her eyes and found herself being strapped onto an ambulance gurney...her destination being a one way ticket back to the hospital from which she'd escaped months earlier.  

Now, pulling her thoughts from that moment with difficulty she realized that the "amen" had sounded long seconds ago and that her sweaty palms were still clenching the hands of her father and Ned. 
"Oooh.  Sorry. I got carried away."  Someone said, "To where?" but was shushed by her mom  who proceeded to pass around the tureen of mashed potatoes followed by the giblet gravy. 
"Now " mom said "I don't want to hear another sound aside from chewing and requests for more!"
They all laughed at the thought of a silent meal and the happy banter began as the turkey disappeared one leg at a time.

Cynthia Lott Vogel
Word ct.: 1332  

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