Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2016  Vol. 15 No. 2
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A Thankful Scenario

I am standing, no, I am squatting. An old lady like me in a squat? The ground is right there, the dirt of it against the back of a barn. Coming to in the second between my sobs—mine? I keep wondering—I get the fact of my squatting and crying is a knob I can’t make shiny or cut off. That said—or sobbed—, I flathand myself to standing and wipe my face.

I know my siblings are lined up inside, waiting to order, for this barn is an excuse for a restaurant, the site of slaughter. On my way to the door, I pass potential meals mouthing what looks like mulch. The cows could be eating each other.

The siblings smile to see me. They resemble me in my extreme state, variously affected, not vomiting then sobbing outside the barn—which I do not admit, no, I smile back—but are nonetheless grim in their rictus, in their I’ll have the fries.

For we must eat. No one has it in them to cook or even shop or even leftover-up a meal, but fuel is necessary—someone must call the lawyer or decide not to, someone must make reservations to leave. You can see the flight in all of them: four around the booth and a fifth flown to the bathroom to tidy up. Tears there, too. All triggered not by sadness but anger. Those tears.

No one could have imagined the state of the father, his utter rejection. A former judge, he knows when to fold and how long people can take it.

Fries arrive. No one is supposed to eat them. Diseases of the heart run in the family (isn’t that Dad’s problem?) but now is the self-erasing moment, the tack of pleasure, the tasteless potatoes and grease taken into our mouths like sacraments meant to move us straight to the fires of hell, deep-fat, because what else goes with hell? We are ungrateful and unworthy, Dad has told us, beaming as if he’s just discovered the true meaning of being a parent. At our age he figures we don’t need to be coddled, protected from the truth the way we were in our upbringing, not acknowledging all his years of upbringing-neglect, the truth.

However, he did feed us; we were fed, and that was costly.

But it is not money we bemoan in particular, and I think I can speak for my siblings in this, in our angry despair. Our thin wallets will not expand like an artery, no, the heart is the site of the parent’s withdrawal at this late date, the redrawing of the role that reaches, it seems, all the way back where, as actual children, we thought we were lucky in love, given such a mother. But now he has unveiled his plan to not leave us anything and also to take back even more, and his back-actions tell some fifteen years of his planning. All that time we were puppets charmed into the roles of pie makers, clucking watchmen, and harried caretakers, nay, just co-workers at his mercy, without benefits, in fact, paying his taxes.

He wasn’t Santa either.

Of course we had the vague outlines of these lines that he spoke to us; we speak in the car going back to the house where we grew up and finished this growing, where we are now packing for a hotel or a plane. We are not sniveling adolescents, surprising parents in a bedroom, but the knowledge of someone you’re in love with for so long turning out to be not so enamored of you makes a person rethink herself. Who is, at the heart, at fault? Or even, at baseline, who we are has a crack running through it, a fault, on one side the lovable, on the other some non-Freudian integer or unentangled mitochondrion, some heart, smoking and cracked.

We look at each other standing in the hallway with our bags and our half-made reservations. The airlines can take us but only so far as Minneapolis and the look we have is a question posed: is there among us one with reservations, someone with a similar heartlessness? But we can’t have that kind of fault now or the father will crush us entirely, he will win if we are divided, and there we will be, all of us sobbing behind the barn, less one.

Thanksgiving is what we have gathered to celebrate, and his great age so close to this day of thankfulness, but—Surprise! We have to pay for the whole of our town to feast in his honor, his idea, and just minutes in advance of this fete, he denounces us. When it comes time to sing the required praises, and no other sibling will approach the podium, as shocked as we all are, I stand, because who am I except the eldest and noisiest? All that comes out of my mouth is a story about how, in a blizzard, in an airport without money, I wake him with a call for help and he says get Travelers Aid and I say you are Travelers Aid and he laughs. Made you strong, he says from his seat on the dais but the audience, all of them making up a town where everyone thinks they know everyone, they don’t think the story is so funny, so someone from their ranks replaces me up there, a merchant who stands to gain millions if his anecdote trumps mine by a mile, which it does; it shows my father to be someone with the wit to be even funnier, the trump kind that even in the middle of the night, his child stranded in an airport covered with snow, can appreciate.

Here we are now at the last airport we’ll ever visit for our father. When someone dies, we ask each other, don’t they leave everything behind, including the love of their children? He’s leaving that, pre-burial, anticipating nothing different, refusing in total what happens before the burial part, his coin collection and all his coins plotted for and hoarded, packed in boxes both real and theoretical that he plans to use to insulate himself from us and his dying, via lawyers. Maybe our lack of presence will suggest his dying and what he’s banishing. But just as possible is that all children remind the parent of death. Had we but looked through the scrim of our childlike hope all these years, the way some children can, with a parent in that position—high—, would we have denied over and over the actions that contradicted the whole premise of parenthood? Had we but.

Morons, I guess, all of us, but hungry again. The overpriced snacks hanging on their racks we un-hang before boarding, watching the snow cover our planes that, alas, are going nowhere. Surrounded by so many seemingly fair families with so happy to see you still on their lips, turkey-stuffed and football-fatigued, facing their lives now untethered of both father and mother, with grown children of their own, at least now we have enough credit (we credit ourselves), that none of us will have to phone home.  

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