It was the typical Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving Day feast—turkey, cornbread dressing, cranberry sauce, giblet gravy, yeast rolls, that frozen pink salad with fruit cocktail Calista made Donnie loved, a sweet potato casserole topped with miniature marshmallows, and a green bean casserole topped with store-bought fried onion rings. Nothing elaborate like I would do, plain plebeian food. Everything was adequately seasoned. Not too tangy or bland. The meat somewhat moist, thank God for pop-up thermometers. Wish she served my wine, picked it out especially, but what she had was okay. A common domestic brand out of California you can buy by the gallon. This was the first substantial meal Donnie had eaten since breakfast Sunday and got overly stuffed. He needed an antacid.
As usual his mother picked at her food and Calista ate modestly while they talked nonthreatening topics. His mother detailed the Alaskan cruise she made with Helen Rhodes the July after his father died; Calista said she hoped to visit her parents this August and ride a mule down into the Grand Canyon. Donnie frowned remembering the Grand Canyon vacation he took with his mother when he was 10-years-old. Of course his father stayed in SummerSound supposedly working.
That might have been the summer of Sherri. Anyway we were less than 20 feet down, when Pedro, my mule, started jerking, weaving back and forth, lifting his left hoof and dangling it off the edge of the trail. Before starting our guide warned about this stressing don’t be afraid. He told us to bond with our mule; one of those 60s things like taking drugs, but refusing to eat red meat. ‘They don’t want to fall anymore than you.’ ‘They’ve been going down this trail a million times and can probably do it blindfolded.’ ‘They just want you have a memorial ride.’ Sure, it scared the hell out of me. No telling the shrinks I’ve seen trying to erase that disaster from my life. I had a panic attack, back then called scared shitless, cried, and peed in my pants. Mother and I immediately got off of our mules, walked back up the trail, and left. She tried making it up with a trip to Disneyland, but that was traumatic too. Threw up on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Still hate high places and my feet off of the ground. Okay, the latter depends on condition. An early shrink said those fears along with the one of sudden loud noises are common, but my others aren’t. Damn, any fool knows the only reason for going through childhood is having a place to dump blame later on.
After dessert, they sat around the table sipping coffee. My crust should’ve been flakier. The pumpkin needed a pinch more nutmeg.
“We could move into the living room where it’s more comfortable if you want,” Calista offered.
“No, Darling, this is fine,” Donnie’s mother said hunching her shoulders, waving her hands, her bracelets jingling like always. “Somehow it seems more homey sitting around a table with dirty dishes, so Southern. Like when I was a little girl. After all, today is about tradition.”
Donnie winced. The dessert dishes were the only ones on the table. If I want a homey fantasy I’ll watch a rerun of ‘The Waltons’. Right now I want a comfortable chair and to undo the top of my pants. He covered his mouth with his napkin, quietly belched. At least she knows better than to use paper. Though sail is a common fold. .
Calista nodded. “Yes, Ma’am, you’re right. I’ve never though of it that way.”
“Now days the world is whirling so fast it seems we’ve forgotten the long held values.”
Oh no, Donnie thought slipping his hand behind his belt unbuttoning his pants. Here it comes again, the ‘How I trudged to school through ten feet of snow’ lecture. All parents no matter where on earth they live grew up during the Ice Age.
His mother picked up her coffee cup, always with her pinkie up. “I know you young people today find it silly, such old-fashioned words as obligation and responsibility, but there are certain requirements every generation must fulfill to preserve the species.”
Donnie squinted. Leaned toward his mother who was sitting between them. Uh? Did I miss something? What is she talking about? She must have forgotten her medicine this morning. “We know there are, Mother, what makes you think we don’t?”
She sipped. Set down her cup, her many rings touching her throat. “Silly Boy, I’m not talking about you and Calista in specific, I’m speaking about the present generation in general.”
His lips pursed together. “Oh.” Every generation says that.
Calista was staring at him nodding. “I agree with your mother. We do tend to take too much for granted, ignore what’s important.”
“I agree with that,” Donnie said his head bobbing like a toy dog’s in a rear car window. “But I’m not sure I understand the other part.”
“Of course you don’t, Silly Boy,” his mother said flapping her hands, “you’re a man. And even though your sexual preference is different from the norm, you still have trouble comprehending outside your gender.”
Donnie wiggled his tongue against his back teeth. It felt like a piece of nut was wedged between the molars. Something popped loose and he swallowed. Uh, is that supposed to be a compliment? “And I guess women don’t?”
His mother gave her Lauren Bacall laugh. “Don’t be silly, Darling, of course we do. Only we are generally better equipped in handling such matters, can express a wider view.” His mother glanced at Calista. “Don’t you agree, Dear?”
She bit her lips. Nodded. Poked her finger between the lenses of her glasses pushing them to her face. “Yes, Ma’am. Each sex does possess unique advantages and disadvantages over the other on each level of the animal kingdom, but…”
His mother waved her hands. Glanced back at Donnie. “Darling, that’s exactly what I’m saying and we being at the top of the totem pole need to incorporate all of the differences together.”
Uh, okay. The Gospel according to Oprah again. “Yes, I guess so. But I’m sure you have an example.” Of course she does, Silly Boy, and it’s probably illustrated too.
“Certainly the most basic is the want verses need of sex and love.”
Donnie nearly dropped his cup. “Mother!” It’s one thing to have to suffer through this type of conversation with her in private, but I’m not going to do it before somebody else! Especially somebody I work with every day. Even though Calista is one of my oldest and dearest best friends, she is still an employee. And female. “Why don’t we change the topic?” Immediately he wanted to say, ‘How about those Mets,’ but thought better. The only thing I care about in baseball is seeing one of those hunks scratch his crotch.
“Oh, Donnie Darling, don’t be so naïve. Sex is a legitimate topic, that’s the reason you are here.” She turned toward Calista. “I’m not embarrassing you am I, Dear?”
Calista’s voice dropped small. “No, Ma’am, I guess not.”
Donnie shot Calista the evil eye. The one he used at work when the next-of-kin was being especially obnoxious about cost and he wanted to shout, “Okay, just forget it then. Will that be paper or plastic?” He never had though because whenever one was working with the public there was that great euphemism, ‘The customer is always right’. Whoever came up with that I’d like to get on my slab. Drifted back to the current conversation. “Okay, Mother, we know. Biology was required in high school. But it’s not exactly proper after dinner conversation.”
“Why not, Darling? It’s the most essential part of life.”
His lips spluttered. “But so is…” Blurted out the first thing that popped into mind. “Dying.” Damn! Now I’m being morbid. Again belched inside.
“You’re absolutely right, Darling. But hopefully before that happens one has experienced life.”
Calista nodded. Spoke as though thinking out loud. “Unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. The longer I work at the Chapel the more I see…” Her voice faded. Pressed her napkin against her right eye.
Donnie’s mother leaned toward her. Stretched out her hand, but was too far to touch. “I know, Dear. The longer one lives the harder life gets. A person grows weary from seeing too much.”
Donnie nodded. Now we’ve gotten too morbid, too serious. How did we get here? Where are we going? It’s like a maze without an opening. And though he knew it was wrong he said, “Mother, you were talking about experiencing life.” Now I’m encouraging her.
She glanced over toward him. “Yes, I must certainly was. Thank you, Dear. The best way to do that is by leaving footprints to carry on.”
Oh, I see now, another way to get back to the ‘I want a grandchild’ refrain. Same song, different dance. He swallowed. Squeezed the napkin in his lap. Now is as good a chance as any. Things can’t get any worst I hope. Swallowed. “Mother…”
He closed his eyes and blurted out, “About the union ceremony…”
“Donnie Darling,” his mother interrupted, her voice strong like when calling him in for supper long ago, “you don’t have to tell me I know.”
He opened his eyes, gasping for air. “You do? How?” That light and bell warning went off in his head. Before giving out information I better be sure what we’re talking about. She’s tricked me before. His voice became syrupy nice. Fingertips touched, “What do you know?”
“That you and Rodney aren’t exactly a couple. That your relationship is mostly, how should I phrase it, physically functional.”
His arms fell. Got that fish look again. “How did you know?” You make it sound so cheap, so dirty, so…wonderful.
She swished her hands. Sighed. “Darling, you’ve never been able to lie. You just can’t pull it off, though God knows you carry the gene. It is a must in social life. In that way you’re exactly like your father. Everything from your voice to your face to your movements gives you away. I can always tell.”
Okay, so that explains a number of things from smoking to why I always lose in Vegas. Frowned. “But if you knew…”
“Why did I play along? Make all of those elaborate wedding plans? To let you know, Darling, it could happen.”
Coughed as though he’d swallowed wrong. “Of course it could happen I guess. But you’re aware of my lifestyle.”
“And I’m trying to show you it doesn’t matter. Relationships aren’t the same for everyone. Sex isn’t the same. Most women view it as a necessity to reproduce, as the first step in nurturing. With men it’s usually a hunger.”
“Mother, you make us sound so crude, so Neanderthal. There are women who enjoy it too.” Stopped before adding, I’ve heard there are videos. “There are men who are monogamist in relationships, homosexual and heterosexual.” Though I don’t know any personally. Read they exist somewhere.
His mother swished a finger. “Of course there are, Darling. People are never the same. Still the two sexes are needed to make another.”
Except in a test tube. “Okay, I agree. It is and will always be that way. But what’s your point?” Damn, I’m beginning to sound like Oprah. It’s contagious.
Donnie’s mother’s hands fell into her lap. Flashed her wonderful smile, gums showing. “You and Calista should be married.”
This time Calista almost dropped her cup and he nearly flopped over on the table. Both hands flew up into the air. “What? Mother you know that’s impossible!”
“Why? You’re both of legal age.”
“Mother, please. Calista knows I’m a homosexual.”
Calista nodded. “Yes, Ma’am, I do.”
“Good, so there won’t be much of a problem.”
He waved his arms and hands signaling no. That’s the only umpire call I know. My rare football viewing like any sports watching is for lusty reasons. Even golf has its moments. “What do you mean there won’t be much of a problem? Homosexuality means I’m sexually attractive to men, which Calista is not.” It’s not just the size of the plumbing; it’s how it is arranged.
“So? Sex is such a small part of the big picture. Aren’t you both compatible in every other way?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Calista answered this time louder.
“Of course,” he agreed.
“And neither wishes to end up alone?”
“No,” they both answered at once.
Donnie’s mother again flashed her extra wide wonderful smile. “So, Darlings, it makes perfectly logical sense that you be married.”
Whoa! He shook his head fast. Rubbed his brow, another headache brewing. “Mother, please, it doesn’t. It’s perfectly illogical. What you’re suggesting is a cosmetic wedding, which neither of us wants. If I’m not mistaken marriage is supposed to be more than that.”
His mother shrugged, waved a hand. “Supposed to be is seldom reality. People who are far less compatible get married for less reasons every day.”
“And, Mother, what exactly would our reason be?”
“Darling Silly Boy, to have children of course.”
Of course, the ‘Leave a Legacy’ guilt trip—ruin somebody else’s life. Donnie bit his bottom lip. “But what if Calista doesn’t want children? Some people don’t you know.” Not even for tax deductions.
“I want children.” Calista’s voice was small.
His mother leaned toward him and flashed another smile. “See? This way everything is all legal and proper and everybody gets what they want.”
“Especially you with a grandchild.”
“Of course, Darling. I’ll make an excellent grandmother.” She glanced at the ceiling, put her forefinger to her chin. “No, I think I want to be called ‘Nana’. It sounds so continental.”
He crossed his eyes. Shook his head no. “Mother, don’t you think that’s a wee bit selfish? Children aren’t a commodity you acquire like everything else. You don’t just order them from Saks. We’re talking about a living breathing human with constant demanding needs.” Mumbled inside. Maybe more than you.
Her bracelets jingled. “Of course I know that, Silly Boy, Didn’t I nurture you in a wonderful manner? Of course with Eloise’s assistance. It’s a shame she isn’t living to help. You, Calista, and me are more than capable of giving a child plenty of love.”
“I agree, but still…”
“But still what, Darling?”
Sighed. Stared at his coffee cup. “It’s just not right. Marriages aren’t arranged anymore.”
“Really? Maybe not with a dowry like in the olden days, but in a sense aren’t good and services still exchanged in a marketplace?”
“Well, maybe. But still…”
“Don’t tell me you didn’t know gays and straights sometimes marry each other? The correct term is mixed-orientation marriage.”
Donnie rolled his eyes. Learned from Oprah no doubt.
His mother twirled her hand into the air. “There are thousands of other reasons for saying “I do” then sex you know. Maybe the straight partner doesn’t know about the gay partner’s lifestyle, but sometimes it does. And they can be happy.”
“And also not. Homosexuals don’t march for equal rights just because they need the exercise. I know plenty of miserable married homosexual men trapped in a marriage living a lie.”
She swished her hands like shooing flies. “But it doesn’t have to be that way not if the gay partner is honest in the beginning and the straight partner is accepting. It can be a union beneficial for both.”
He stared at this mother without seeing. So basically you have two people of different sexes and orientations living together. A business arrangement between glorified roommates with tax advantages who can share a health plan. Which is permissible because it’s legal. That, boys and girls, is how the game is played. Swallowed and replied, “But what if one of the partners meets a third parts in the future and the union is destroyed? Don’t you think that would hurt the other and the child if there is one?”
His mother blinked. Sighed. Nodded. “Of course it will, Darling. But again people divorce for far less reasons everyday. Still that doesn’t end obligations. And responsibility. The child, the purpose of the union, is what’s important.”
“I still believe that’s wrong. What will the child think when it gets older? When it finds out its parents only got married so it could be born? That’s as bad as a child finding out it was the reason the parents got married. Now that’s not a liable option, science has progressed too far. Single women have children without being labeled outcast like in the past. In some states homosexual couples can adopt. The definition of what constitutes family just isn’t black and white anymore.” Donnie stepped down from his soapbox. At least I’m positive there are more than nine months between my parents’ marriage and the time I was born.
His mother’s bracelets jingled. “Of course I know all that, Darling. Again, as I told you, I watch Oprah. I’m totally aware of the current trends. But no matter how we like to play outside the rules, it still takes an x and a y to conceive.”
“I know, again I took biology.” Even cut up a frog, which I never understood has to do with living unless you’re going to eat its legs. Sighed. “Mother, I know you want me to be happy, see me settled down with someone, but I can’t do it that way. It’s not fair even asking Calista. The whole thing will be a sham.” Also the union ceremony with Rodney wouldn’t be much better. Although we get along great sexually, we don’t in everyday ordinary life. Sometimes I wonder if the two will ever unite?
Calista sat silent in her chair.
His mother waved her hands. Shrugged her shoulders. “Well, Darlings, maybe it wasn’t my most wonderful suggestion. Still I guess you can’t blame a mother for trying. I guess I could blame it on this wonderful wine. I’ve never been much of a drinker, but this is a special occasion.”
They both nodded. Donnie smiled. Brought up his happy voice. “Mother, that’s okay. We’ll just pretend this conversation never took place.” See? Anybody, even my mother, will give into firm, precise reasoning.
Donnie’s mother flashed her smile. “Calista Darling, everything has been lovely, but I do feel a headache coming on. Maybe it’s from all my senseless chatter? I know it’s terribly rude of me to eat and run, but I really do need to get back and rest. Donnie Darling, why don’t you drive me to your place then come back and help Calista clean up?” His mother pushed back in her chair. Folded her napkin by her plate. Stood up.
“I’m sorry,” Calista said rising, “of course I understand. Go home and rest. But Donnie doesn’t need to come back. It isn’t much.”
Donnie stood after rebuttoning his pants. Folded his napkin, in the French fold, and placed it by his plate. “Of course I do, I insist.”
Calista nodded. “Well, okay.” She walked over and put her arm around the older woman. “Mrs. Lawrence, I hope you soon start feeling better.”
Donnie’s mother kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you, my dear. I’m sure I will. It was a wonderful meal.”
From Dearly Beloved in Duo: Two Novels