Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas Dinner

In the neighbor’s kitchen on Christmas Eve, nine-year-old Kevin kept a finger through his father’s belt loop as strangers kept introducing themselves.

“Tom, is it?” they would say to the father. “So glad Jenn asked you and your boy to come over,” they would say. They would
Photo: Craig Sanders, Flickr, Creative Commons
introduce themselves as Jenn’s brother, or one of her sisters, as Jenn’s mom or Jenn’s aunt. Kevin glanced up to see his father shaking their hands politely. The boy couldn’t keep track of all the names. He kept hold of his father’s belt.




“You must be Kevin,” they would turn to the boy and speak in voices intended to be light. “Merry Christmas, young man.” They would pat his shoulder and then say things with words like “so sorry” or “your mother.” Kevin looked at his shoes and pulled himself closer his father.

Tom made small talk with Jenn and her husband Alan. Various aunts opened and closed oven doors and the smell of roast turkey and warm bread filled the space. Cousins chased each other through the kitchen, laughing, and parents admonished them to take it downstairs, that’s what the playroom is there for. Kevin watched the kids file down to the basement. He took a step toward the door but reconsidered and stuck by his father’s side.

Alan asked Tom if he got his leaves raked before the snow last week. He asked Tom whether he thought the Colts would fire Pagano before next season. Jenn asked Tom’s opinion on the proposed homeowner’s dues increase. Tom answered their questions with few words, and sipped his bourbon.

Alan looked to the boy, who seemed not to be listening. So he asked what he really wanted to know. “So, Tom… how are you? I mean, this is the first Christmas for you since Linda…” His voice trailed off.

Tom sipped his bourbon and drew an arm around Kevin. “I’ll be square with you, Alan. And thanks for asking. Christmas was always her time of year.” He looked down to his son, who was still looking at his shoes. “I think it’s especially hard for the boy. He…”

“Daddy,” Kevin said, “I forgot something in my room. Can I go home and get it?”

Tom’s head cocked as if he’d been asked some other question, and was trying to figure what, exactly, that question was. “Yeah, boy,” he said. “Front door’s unlocked. Stay out of the street.”

Kevin nodded and let himself out of Jenn and Alan’s house.

“Dinner’ll be ready in 10 or 15 minutes,” Jenn said. “Would you like iced tea or water, Tom?”

Alan and Tom picked up where they’d left off. Linda had fought a good fight, Tom said. He’d taken a leave of absence from work so he could stay with her. Hospice had been a blessing, he said.

“I think we’re ready to sit down,” Jenn said. “Want to wash up, Tom?”

Tom looked at his watch and looked at the front door and looked at his watch again. “I’ll be right back,” he said, setting his glass on the table. “Let me go see what’s keeping the boy.”

He pulled the front door closed behind him.

Alan looked at Jenn. “I don’t think they’re coming back,” he said. Another ten minutes passed and Alan’s cell buzzed. He answered. “Hi, Tom.” Alan walked back to the laundry room and pulled the door shut behind him.

Family was moving to the dinner table as Alan came back into the kitchen. He looked at his wife and shook his head in a gentle “no.”

******

Tom’s doorbell rang. He ignored it. He sat the couch next to Kevin and rested a hand on his son’s shoulder as the boy keened and sobbed. The doorbell rang again. Tom got up to answer it.

He opened his front door to find Jenn standing there with two foil-covered plates in her hands.

“There’s lasagna and turkey here,” she said. “Roasted carrots in a brown sugar glaze. Mashed russets with giblet gravy.” She paused.

“Linda and I traded recipes sometimes. She gave me her recipe for stuffing with sage and watercress and smoked duck confit. She said it was the only kind of stuffing that Kevin would eat. She said it was your favorite, too.”

Jenn offered the plates to Tom. “I’m sure I didn’t make it as good as she did.”

Tom took the plates. He opened his mouth to speak. No words would come. He tried again. Still nothing. He settled for a tight smile and a slow nod, and Jenn understood.

She turned to go. As Tom closed the door, she could hear him clear his throat and say, “Boy? You remember Mom’s duck meat stuffing?”

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