"May we be forgiven," an incantation, a prayer,
the hope that somehow I come out of this alive. Was there ever a time
you thought — I am doing this on purpose, I am fucking up and I don't
Do you want my recipe for disaster?
warning sign: last year, Thanksgiving at their house. Twenty or thirty
people were at tables spreading from the dining room into the living
room and stopping abruptly at the piano bench. He was at the head of the
big table, picking turkey out of his teeth, talking about himself. I
kept watching him as I went back and forth carrying plates into the
kitchen — the edges of my fingers dipping into unnameable goo —
cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, a cold pearl onion, gristle. With every
trip back and forth from the dining room to the kitchen, I hated him
more. Every sin of our childhood, beginning with his birth, came back.
He entered the world eleven months after me, sickly at first, not enough
oxygen along the way, and was given far too much attention. And then,
despite what I repeatedly tried to tell him about how horrible he was,
he acted as though he believed he was a gift of the gods. They named him
George. Geo, he liked to be called, like that was something cool,
something scientific, mathematical, analytical. Geode, I called him —
like a sedimentary rock. His preternatural confidence, his divinely
arrogant head dappled with blond threads of hair lifted high drew the
attention of others, gave the impression that he knew something. People
solicited his opinions, his participation, while I never saw the charm.
By the time we were ten and eleven, he was taller than me, broader,
stronger. "You sure he's not the butcher's boy?" my father would ask
jokingly. And no one laughed.
I was bringing in heavy
plates and platters, casseroles caked with the debris of dinner, and no
one noticed that help was needed — not George, not his two children, not
his ridiculous friends, who were in fact in his employ, among them a
weather girl and assorted spare anchormen and -women who sat
stiff-backed and hair-sprayed like Ken and Barbie, not my
Chinese-American wife, Claire, who hated turkey and never failed to
remind us that her family used to celebrate with roast duck and sticky
rice. George's wife, Jane, had been at it all day, cooking and cleaning,
serving, and now scraping bones and slop into a giant trash bin.
scoured the plates, piling dirty dishes one atop another and dropping
the slimy silver into a sink of steamy soapy water. Glancing at me, she
brushed her hair away with the back of her hand and smiled. I went back
for more. I looked at their children and imagined them dressed as
Pilgrims, in black buckle-shoes, doing Pilgrim children chores, carrying
buckets of milk like human oxen. Nathaniel, twelve, and Ashley, eleven,
sat like lumps at the table, hunched, or more like curled, as if poured
into their chairs, truly spineless, eyes focused on their small
screens, the only thing in motion their thumbs — one texting friends no
one has ever seen and the other killing digitized terrorists. They were
absent children, absent of personality, absent of presence, and, except
for holidays, largely absent from the house. They had been sent away to
boarding schools at an age others might have deemed too young but which
Jane had once confessed was out of a certain kind of necessity — there
were allusions to nonspecific learning issues, failure to bloom, and the
subtle implication that the unpredictable shifts in George's mood made
living at home less than ideal.
In the background, two
televisions loudly competed among themselves for no one's attention —
one featuring football and the other the film Mighty Joe Young.
"I'm a company man, heart and soul," George says. "The network's President of Entertainment. I am ever aware, 24/ 7."
There is a television in every room; fact is, George can't bear to be alone, not even in the bathroom.
also apparently can't bear to be without constant confirmation of his
success. His dozen-plus Emmys have seeped out of his office and are now
scattered around the house, along with various other awards and
citations rendered in cut crystal, each one celebrating George's ability
to parse popular culture, to deliver us back to ourselves — ever so
slightly mockingly, in the format best known as the half-hour sitcom or
the news hour.
The turkey platter was in the center of
the table. I reached over my wife's shoulder and lifted — the tray was
heavy and wobbled. I willed myself to stay strong and was able to carry
out the mission while balancing a casserole of Brussels sprouts and
bacon in the crook of my other arm.
The turkey, an
"heirloom bird," whatever that means, had been rubbed, relaxed, herbed
into submission, into thinking it wasn't so bad to be decapitated, to be
stuffed up the ass with breadcrumbs and cranberries in some annual
rite. The bird had been raised with a goal in mind, an actual date when
his number would come up.
I stood in their kitchen
picking at the carcass while Jane did the dishes, bright-blue gloves on,
up to her elbows in suds. My fingers were deep in the bird, the hollow
body still warm, the best bits of stuffing packed in. I dug with my
fingers and brought stuffing to my lips. She looked at me — my mouth
moist, greasy, my fingers curled into what would have been the turkey's
g-spot if they had such things — lifted her hands out of the water and
came towards me, to plant one on me. Not friendly. The kiss was serious,
wet, and full of desire. It was terrifying and unexpected. She did it,
then snapped off her gloves and walked out of the room. I was holding
the counter, gripping it with greasy fingers. Hard.
Dessert was served. Jane asked if anyone wanted coffee and went back into the kitchen. I followed her like a dog, wanting more.
She ignored me.
"Are you ignoring me?" I asked.
said nothing and then handed me the coffee. "Could you let me have a
little pleasure, a little something that's just for myself?" She paused.
"Cream and sugar?"