MONDAY: Skeletons

BY MADDIE SWENSON

Copyright is held by the author.

THANKSGIVING MORNING is very hot. Many things are cooking, sitting and softening in thick, seasoned fat, dough is rising in bowls. Your fingers pet the wet, scaly potato skin as you peel it for mashed potatoes. Your parents have the crock pots going, three of them, growing in sizes like Russian nesting dolls.

“Don’t peek,” Mom says, like the stuffing is a secret. There’s olive oil greasing up the brussel sprouts crisp in the dented pan. Carrots staying warm and mushy in the oven, rolls steaming up a plastic bag. Whipped cream with sugar folded in is cooling in the fridge with the brie, sitting above the salad with wedges of cucumber and pomegranate seeds. Mom cored the pomegranate last night and you ate them by the handful as you sat on the kitchen floor, palm syrupy and red like slathered lipstick. Gluten-free multigrain crackers on the snack tray for the paleo relatives much to the resentment of everyone. They’re bringing some berry pie or another along with your creepy cousin that majored in Biology and now sings to himself. He has a twin that used to braid your hair, hold your ankles up in handstands. She married a rich man from South Dakota following a degree in Hospitality and began promptly shooting out babies named after biblical figures.

Everyone arrives for dinner.

You sit at the table listening to stories, the sticky lip print on your wine glass catching the light from the candles dripping wax on the table.

You’re the youngest so you get the small chair at the leaf of the table next to Grandpa who is old and actively withering and never remembers to shower anymore. His wife, Grandma Sarah who used to read to you, died of breast cancer and now he can’t remember how to work the coffeemaker. This makes you sadder than anything.

Coming back from college is like going right back into the womb. Sometimes you peek out and answer one question, one you answer well because you answer it all the time: “How’s college?”

Your aunt will ask you about boyfriends and you’ll want to tell her about how many books you read and A’s you get and pairs of sweatpants you own. Aunt Bethany, you’d say, college boys are horny and lame and wildly underwhelming.

When she was your age she’d already birthed two children. A young wife with a hope chest and a husband who wrote copy for the advertising agency downtown. Spent all day ironing and dreaming for the weddings of her babies. She’d probably think you were speaking in tongues.

Later your cool cousin will look at you for about one second and ask about parties. You tell him about how much you love the X-Files and how your peers are alcoholics that binge Malibu in their friend’s sad, cold apartments and then puke.

You have a job as a telemarketer.

You spend most of the afternoon reading your brother’s textbook on school shootings while your parents tell your Grandpa about moving him into assisted living. Tomorrow he’ll forget and ask if he can have his car back. Today he asks for coffee and more pie and makes jokes that make you sad, so you keep reading.

Everyone leaves, slowly, with hugs all around and the ceremonial returning of dishes, warm and dripping from a recent wash.

Mom can finally relax. She lets you sit and takes the clips from your hair. Starts talking about Christmas decorations.

7 comments

  1. Melez Massey

    I like the super descriptive writing and some of the neat images i.e. “shooting out babies”, “actively withering”. For me, a bit too much food and not enough ‘plot’ or action/progression. I understand that the story relies on a human ‘tapestry’ but still I would have liked it to have gone somewhere other than out the door to x-mas. BUT, I really liked reading the piece and would very much like to see others by this writer. Cheers. Mel

  2. Diana Korchynski

    The food part was not my favorite, but once the piece got rolling it was very nicely done. Sharp and poignant. picant? 🙂
    thank you, Dianne

  3. Frank Sikora

    I had a few problems with the piece. It lacked a story. Where’s the conflict? How did the protagonist grow or change? What changed in the story? Furthermore, the lead character lacked empathy, typical of sociopaths or the chronically self-centered, which in itself is not a problem if the lead character was interesting. Finally, stories written in the second person are difficult to read as it further disengages the reader from the character and the story—a showy technique at best.

  4. Mary

    The title made me assume this was going to turn macabre. So, I was queasy with the food references in the beginning because I was expecting something dark. I liked the silent converstions between aunt and niece and the tidbits of family history.

  5. Ellie Batman

    Hilarious and relatable. I liked the food descriptions, because they spoke to the great deal of work people in the U.S. go through for Thanksgiving and this contrasted well will how the actual Thanksgiving meal panned out — a lot of general questions to answer to people who don’t know a lot about you, sometimes sad feelings about your family members, and going through the motions of another family get together. I could totally visualize the entire story. Loved this.

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