Hard Holidays — Laying the Table
We were late getting out of LA, what with traffic and a not-so quickie in the truck stop rest room outside Los Banos. The paper towel dispenser was empty. We took the slow lane, didn’t zip down the highway. Why rush? he said and I agreed, air drying my hands out the window.
By the time we landed on his mother’s doorstep last night, blankets and bags in hand, the family’s faces were blurry, blank. I gushed about his mother’s amazing flat, the hardwood floors, the view of San Francisco Bay, the double glass doors separating the living and dining room, skipped over mention of her now gone husband, his photo in the place of honor on the mantle, surrounded by candles and plastic holly.
I fluttered, not finding a suitable perch. She said I had beautiful hands asked me to sit, patted the place beside her. His brother talked about flying in from the East Coast, the lines, the luggage, and how the guy next to him blew snot on the airline blanket and then spread it over his chest. He said the kids get up early, an unapologetic warning, and slouched off to the back bedroom to check on his wife’s migraine. We got the living room fold-out couch without much padding, the inflexible frame now cutting into my spine.
At first light, she began setting the holiday table at a dogged pace. I watched with one eye, riding my attention up over the bunched pillow like a sneaker wave, spying on her fondling each dish. I felt the memories, but couldn’t see them.
She flapped a white table cloth, bent and smoothed it with veiny hands, pulled brown napkin rings from a drawer in the battered sideboard, held a gravy boat up to the dim light, set it down, stood hunched before the dining room windows, wiping her eyes, twisting the wedding band around her boney finger, alone in the first hints of sunrise.
I ignored the warmth coming from behind, his knucklehead nosing my thigh. Clearly, his mother, lost in reverie, wasn’t blind. I nudged him away, suspecting her hearing was pretty good, too. Relenting, I arched my back, leaked tears, guided with my hand, succumbed to her grief.
From “Hard Holidays” flash fiction collection in progress, because holiday tables sometimes provide food for thought.