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Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Family Dinner

Helen hung up the phone and tried to hold back the tears gathering around her eyes. One, only one, slid free as her second to youngest daughter stepped up and put her arm on Helen’s shoulder.
“What is it?” Sara frowned in concern. “Don’t be sad, mom.”

Helen brushed away the solitary tear and smiled at her ever faithful daughter. “It’s nothing,” she said, the smile brittle. “Your brother Tommy won’t be making it after all.”

“Oh that rat bastard,” Sara breathed.


“Well he is. He’s been promising since August that they’d come today and now he cancels at the last minute? He’s an asshat.”

“Yes dear, but he’s our asshat, and we’ll miss him.”

Together the two women walked towards the kitchen. The entire house was redolent with smells of turkey, pies, homemade cranberry sauce and fresh baked bread. Helen and her husband, God rest his soul, had bought this big house with its huge kitchen, giant dining area, and spare bedrooms so that all of their children and, when they came along, grandchildren could visit for the holidays.

But it just never seemed to  work out.

Her eldest son, Tommy, was not coming because he and his wife were going to her father’s house. Her second oldest, Donald, was not coming because he had work. Julia was eating out with the partners from her firm, Sara was here with her, but even her youngest daughter, Emily, was not in the house, choosing to spend Thanksgiving with friends rather than family.

And Helen had let her go.

She did not want to force anyone to attend a family dinner. They should come home because they wanted to, because coming home should be a desire of the heart, not an obligation of the conscience.

That left the Uncles, Aunts, and a small smattering of cousins who still lived in town.

The doorbell rang. In short order cousin Al had arrived, wincing as Sara took his coat. A bandage wrapped his left arm, an accident at work, or so he claimed. Albert was a paramedic, usually he fixed accidents, he did not participate in them. Aunt Clara, Helen’s sister-in-law, and Helen’s own brother, Uncle Terry, arrived together with their spouses. Terry was sick and so was his wife; Clara’s husband, Gary, kept asking for the Lysol and then laughing as though he were funnier than a bucktoothed alligator juggling knock-kneed midgets—his own words, in fact.

Helen kept her smile fixed in place and began seating everyone. She was halfway through carving the turkey, much to the appreciative murmurs of her family, when the doorbell rang again. Helen wiped her hands on her apron (it was spotted here and there with token samples of everything they had cooked; she had never understood women who wore aprons but did not sully them, nor did she understand women who wore aprons and treated them like surgical scrub rags), and took a step towards the front door.

“I’ll get it, Helen,” her brother-in-law said. “Give me a chance to hose off with that Lysol again, eh? Eh? Eh?” Guffawing, Gary stood and went to answer the door.

His initial happy, surprised cry, calling out Helen’s second oldest son’s name, made Helen’s heart leap with joy. Donald was here? He CAME? But Gary’s happy greeting tapered off into confused, muffled speech that quickly escalated into cries of terror.

And then pain.

The guests exchanged confused glances in the moment of silence following.

And then Gary dragged himself into the dining room, one hand clamped to the spurting, torn wound in his neck, the other reaching for help even as he collapsed onto the ivory carpet, insensate.

Donald staggered into the room and the carving knife dropped from Helen’s numb fingers to clatter upon the sliver serving tray.

Her son, her baby boy, was…

Well, dead.

Donald’s head hung at an impossible angle, his eyes were fogged over with white, his flesh hung in a precarious condition of accelerated rot that no ordinary cadaver could achieve and he was dragging a leg behind him that had been broken in three obvious places. With a guttural moan, Donald dropped down to the floor and began to eat Gary’s still warm body.

Clara shrieked.

Sara grabbed the knife her mother had dropped, Helen’s brother Terry fell out of his chair after spewing forth a gout of black vomit over the Thanksgiving feast, and Helen realized that cousin Albert had not moved since sitting down beside Clara, his eyes were closed, and his chest was not moving.

Then the doorbell rang again, and things began happening rather quickly.

In due order, all of Helen’s children arrived at the large house in various states of animation. A stray cousin or two as well. And before it was all over, even her dearly departed husband managed to show up, the gravedirt still clinging here and there to his worn, backless tuxedo. Helen huddled behind the overturned “children’s table” with Sara, holding her second youngest to her chest and weeping while what was left of Gary dragged itself across the now offal stained carpet to grab at Tommy’s ankle. Tommy was using a carving fork to fend off Terry and Albert was chewing on Aunt Clara where she still sat at her place at the table. Emily was eating brains from Julia’s caved in skull and her long-dead husband was about to tackle Tommy in what would be the fatal stroke.

Helen’s  apron was tied around the bites on Sara’s arm, but there were more on her daughter’s legs and already Helen could see tendrils of green-black infection spreading from the wounds. Tears ran down her cheeks unchecked. Sara reached up with her unbound free hand, and, trembling, tried to wipe away the tears.

“Oh mom,” she whispered, “don’t cry. Don’t be sad.”

Helen mopped at her eyes and smiled through the still flowing tears. “Oh but sweetie… I’m not sad!” She looked up to where her husband and Terry were consuming Tommy, to where Albert dined on Aunt Clara and Emily nommed on Julia’s neck. Helen beamed out at the blood and gore splattering her home, at the cousins devouring brains and flesh, the turkey, pies, dressing and green beans quite ignored. Helen kissed Sara’s head as her daughter lost consciousness, holding her child close and speaking to no one as she waited for her to wake as the others had woken.

“Don’t you see?” She smiled with delight through the tears, through the blood splattered on her face. “We’re all finally going to eat together for Thanksgiving!”

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