In the Deep South, Thanksgiving was usually a pleasant spring-like day. Except with falling leaves and low humidity. Any number under a 100 percent qualified.
That afternoon was mid-to-high 60s—a clear blue sky, slight breeze off the bay. Birds sang. Dinner was projected for one o’clock.
About a quarter after, Donnie and his mother, he warned beforehand she was always fashionably late, walked up the steps of the single-story two-bedroom brick house at the end of Oak Avenue about four blocks north of the Chapel where Calista lived with her pets. (There were pictures on her desk—Hank, a collie; Willy, a chocolate Labrador retriever; Charlotte, Emily, Anne, Persian mixtures; Sam, a yellow and green parakeet; Samson and Delilah, two fantailed goldfish.) Like always whenever Donnie visited Calista parked her tan Nissan Sentra in the driveway and put the cats in the garage. There were wind chimes like icicles dripping off the front porch. There was a string of wooden hearts handing down the front door spelling “Welcome”. There was a chain-linked fence enclosing the backyard bulleted with dog dug holes. Hank and Willy barked a couple of times when Donnie knocked then were quiet.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” Calista said opening the door. “I’m so glad you could made it. Do come in and make yourselves comfortable. Dinner is almost ready.” Cooking smells mingled with scents of eucalyptus, incense, potpourri, and patchouli rushed forward. Hopefully, Donnie thought, there aren’t those occasional wisps of litter box odor which people who harbor cats train themselves to ignore.
“Happy Thanksgiving,” he said holding out two bottles of wine, 1972 Chianti and 1974 Rhenish. Gave Calista a quick kiss on her left cheek that tasted like a blend between a baby’s and an old lady’s. “Thanks for inviting us. There’s also some desserts out in the car.” He quickly nudged his mother forward. “Sorry we’re a little late, but time just got ahead of me.” This of course was another inside joke. “Mother, you remember Calista don’t you?”
“Of course I do, Silly Boy. Just because I’ve been in that old folks’ home doesn’t mean I’ve lost my mind.” His mother grabbed both of Calista’s hands and pecked her on the right cheek. “Happy Thanksgiving, Dear.”
“Happy Thanksgiving, Mrs. Lawrence. When Donnie told me you were coming to live with him I was so exited. My, but you look lovely like always.”
“Thank you, my dear. I’ve had this suit for years. Just something I picked up oh, I’m not even sure where. Just saw it and fell in love, after all turquoise is my color. But remember I want you to call me Adel.”
This was another critical piece of information Donnie passed on to Calista years ago. Even though his mother said that to all of his friends even while he was growing up she expected to be addressed “Mrs. Lawrence”. And I’ve never seen that suit before either. Mother never buys anything off the rack. I bet my BMW there’s an ‘Especially made for’ label in the back. An impressionistic scarf, like a lopsided Boy Scout’s neckerchief, surrounded her head like a cumulus cloud. In addition to her usual rings and bracelets, there were clustered diamonded and jeweled earrings. “Earbobs” Grandmother Sutton called them. A sunburst as big as a child’s fist secured the scarf on her shoulder. Her gold alone is almost a bar. Of course the shoes and the handbag are exotic leather, probably ostrich.
He wore a pink silk shirt, charcoaled colored slacks, and Italian loafers. Calista was wearing a white frilly blouse, a long dark shirt, her hair swept up in the back secured with a leather u-bolt barrette. There were BBs in her ears and pearls around her neck. No endangered animal pin, which today would be a turkey. Donnie credited this occasional juvenile sense of humor to Rodney.
Donnie handed the wine to Calista. “Mother, go on in while I go back to the car and get the desserts.”
“Do you need some help?” Calista asked.
“No, thanks. I can manage.”
Walking down the steps he heard his mother exclaiming, “Oh, Dear, what a lovely room.” Shook his head chuckling to himself. No one can say Mother doesn’t know how to make an entrance. That’s another trait I got from her. Once during an argument Rodney shouted he was a “despairing conceited old queen”, but he knew he wasn’t. He’s vainer than me, can’t pass a bumper without checking his reflection. There’s a world of difference between having pride and being stuck on one’s self. And I’m still in what is generally considered middle age. Ran both hands down his head smoothing his hair.
First he got a cigarette out of the BMW’s glove compartment and lit up. No telling when I’ll get another. That first draw was orgasmic. Even though his mother knew he wasn’t able to smoke in front of her. It’ll be like having sex with her in the next room. The ride over exceeded torture. I’ll probably have to start covering myself with patches and wearing earplugs.
On the back seat in a picnic basket were a fruit parfait, assorted pastries, bite-sized pumpkin, mincemeat, and pecan pies. There were also éclairs, tortes, petit fours, and a chocolate soufflé at home. Okay, I also cook when I’m anxious and tend to overdo.
Monday and Tuesday nights, he slept a little better. Maybe five hours each. (Okay, I took a pill.) But last night around nine, Rodney called. As usual Donnie thought he sounded like a hunk from a 1-900 number. Okay, so I’ve tried it a couple of times, but only as a joke. Besides it’s damn expensive when you can do the same thing over the Internet for free.
“Hey, I got your messages, Big Boy. What’s up? Hope it’s you.”
“Where have you been? Why didn’t you answer your cell phone?” Donnie hoped he sounded flustered, but like always was getting turned on.
“I told you last week I had to fly down to Miami for a few days to close a deal. I forgot my charger so I only answered the really important calls.”
He grunted. I’ve heard that before. “Like the ones off of bathroom walls?”
“No need to get huffy, it’s so unbecoming.”
“You know I wouldn’t call unless it was an extreme emergency.”
“Like what socks to wear?”
“I only did that once.” He swallowed. Brought up his serious voice. “Rodney, this is important.”
“Want to come over and scrump? We can talk about it then. I’m sure we can find something to be thankful for. We could play pilgrim and…”
Donnie felt himself swelling, quivering, remembering. On Halloween they played mummy wrapping and unwrapping each other in gauze. Suddenly that voice inside shouted, ‘Stop!’ His lips spluttered. “Mother’s here.”
“Well, put her to bed and come over here for a few hours. I’ve got…” Rodney’s house, a two-story pink stucco with stained glass, a loft bedroom, marbled lions guarding the front door, almost as fabulous as his, was maybe ten minutes away at the other end of the bay. Of course there’s not a fountain out front.
“Rodney, listen I want to, but…”
“Ah, come on. Mr. Waggle’s waiting…”
Donnie sighed. That’s another of Rodney’s juvenile characteristics, giving his penis a name. Plus there was that time he dressed it up. Shaving is one thing, but glow in the dark body paint another. “Please, this is important.”
Rodney’s voice became businesslike. “Okay, spoilsport, since you don’t want to play ‘Hide the Gobbler’ it better be earth shattering.”
“Don’t worry,” he said, “it is. Then if you want…”
It took awhile, but Donnie finally dragged the story out.
Rodney immediately hung up. No ‘kiss my ass’, though we’ve done that, or nothing. He can be so infantile. That was why Donnie spent most of last night cooking. He tried calling again about a dozen times this morning, but always got Rodney’s answering machine. Damn caller ID. Oprah probably invented it.
Took another deep drawl. Blew smoke. Of course Rodney has every right to be upset, but he doesn’t have to be so rude about it. I tried to tell him it was all a joke. Does he think I’m not good enough for him? Well, he’s not such a prize himself. There is a bit of a potbelly. He belches loudly, leaves the toilet seat up, never picks up after himself. But there is that hairy chest and…damn, why did I ever lie to Mother? Why couldn’t she just accept me for myself? Why do those who don’t have relationships want them and those who do don’t? God, this has to work. Mother must know the truth. I’ve got to get some sleep and stop cooking or I’ll balloon up to half-ton pickup size. I am going on a diet after the holidays. Sweat to the oldies, eat nothing except lettuce and carrot sticks. Calista will help me explain to Mother and my life will get back to normal. Next Thanksgiving, we’ll look back on this and have a good laugh. At least I hope so.
Took a final puff. Flicked the cigarette butt into some azalea bushes. Usually he didn’t litter, but there wasn’t a drain opening nearby and he didn’t want to put it into the BMW’s ashtray because of his mother. Popped a couple of breath mints into his mouth. Grabbed the basket. Headed toward the house. Inside followed the voices through the living/dining room into the back. It’s always been easy tracking Mother.
They were in the kitchen, almost as large as his bedroom. Bright like the yellow lines down a highway with flowers on the curtains, baskets on the walls, animal magnets on the refrigerator, herbs growing above the sink. Damn, I’ll hate facing this cheerfulness every morning, enough to make you blind. He once made the mistake of having silver foil wallpaper hung in his bathroom, but after a week ripped it out. The only good thing about the whole ordeal was the two guys who did it had great bodies, were usually shirtless and had bubble butts.
Calista was at the stove wearing a ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron stirring something in a pot and his mother was perched on a stool at the counter sipping a glass of wine. Like every waking moment since Sunday, she was discussing the coming nuptials. A hand, the bracelets jingling, summonsed him over. “Oh, here’s one of the handsome grooms now. Calista told me she thought Rodney was coming.”
Donnie set the basket beside his mother. Casually cupped a hand over his mouth checking his breath and decided it was okay. Started taking the desserts out. “Well, uh, he called last night after you were in your room and said he was eating with her parents.” Okay, another lie. But he hung up before I could ask. Besides his parents are divorced living in separate parts of the country somewhere. Damn, I’m becoming a habitual liar. That’s another seven-step program to go through.
“So you two did finally get in touch. Have you finalize a date? Anytime is all right with me. Although June is the month for weddings, I’m hoping you can make it earlier.”
He almost dropped the parfait. “Well, uh, not exactly. Rodney just got back from Miami after closing a deal so there wasn’t much time to talk.”
His mother nodded. Whirled the wine around in her glass. Fluffed her hair. “A savvy businessman, I like that in a future son-in-law. I was telling Calista how lucky I am while you were out there smoking.”
Damn! He cupped his hand over his mouth again and breathed. I knew those mints wouldn’t work. I should sue the company. “Where do you want me to put these?” Please say, ‘Another state’, so I can leave.
Calista tapped the spoon against the top of the pot, put it down and walked over. “Oh, Donnie, that looks so delicious! And there’s so much, enough to feed an army.”
“I know, sometimes I get carried away.” One night a couple of years ago while entangled in an affair with what he later discovered was a married man, he started flipping though a cookbook making recipes. My God, I even baked a cake with mayonnaise! Which actually didn’t taste half bad. Of course when I’m upset I’ll eat anything. That’s my major problem. That highly original name he gave me ‘John’ was probably a lie like everything else. Probably has a covey of kids. I know that white band of skin around his left ring finger should’ve been a clue, but sometimes the little head takes over and does the thinking. Live and learn I guess while being screwed in-between.
Calista picked up the tray of pastries. “We’ll set them on the sideboard in the dining room. Excuse us, Mrs. Lawrence, we’ll only be a minute.”
Donnie’s mother waved the wine glass in her hand. “Of course, Darlings. Go do whatever you must. I don’t need to be entertained every moment.”
Donnie glared at his mother. Of course you do. And watched. He followed with the pies and parfait.
After they were in the next room, the swaying swinging door nearly still, the cloth covered table set with a cornucopia of fake fruit and leaves in the center, Calista whispered, “So I guess you haven’t told her yet.”
He shook his head. Sneered. “No.” They haven’t made a clock with the right time yet.
“But you did finally talk to Rodney?”
Nodded again, also sneered. “Yes.” Talked at is a better description.
“And?” They set the desserts down.
Donnie sighed. Started arranging the pies on the sterling silver tray again. Maybe I should alternate instead of putting each group together? “Well, to paraphrase, Rodney wasn’t exactly thrilled with the situation.” Naw, just leave them alone. But the croissants need to be pointed into each other in the middle. He almost touched one then decided to leave them alone.
Calista picked up the fourth plate, silverware and napkin from the table and put them back inside a drawer. “Well, I’m not exactly surprised. Not too many people want a wedding sprung on them without warning.”
“Union ceremony,” he said automatically putting the fourth glass into the china cabinet. It was crystal, a medium weight, though he didn’t recognize the pattern. Neither did he know the china, a blue-pink-silver flowered border on a white dish, or the silver, little scrolls on either side of the handle between a scripted S. The china is probably one of those grocery store promotions and the utensils silver-plated. The glasses were probably bought in bulk. Very middle-class. “Damn, why did I let it get this far?”
“Don’t worry, after we eat we’ll get everything straightened out.” Calista smiled. Walked back into the kitchen and he followed.
His mother was still at the counter sipping her wine. There was another glass near the bottle, not one of his, and Donnie helped himself. Actually he felt like swigging from the bottle. It was a 1997 white Bordeaux, a tad sweet. At this point in time I’ll drink Mad Dog 20-20 from a brown paper bag.
Calista quickly peeked into the oven.
“Is there anything else I may help you with?” he asked after taking another sip. He wanted to go around tasting, making sure she put enough seasoning in everything, but knew that would be rude.
“Yes,” Calista said pouring gravy into a boat, “help me get the food on the table then we’ll be ready to eat.”
“It all smells just heavenly,” Donnie’s mother exclaimed. “Dear, you’ll make a wonderful catch for some man one day.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Lawrence.”
Donnie took the turkey out to the table. Bet my BMW it’s a Butterball.
from Dearly Beloved in Duo: Two Novels