What We’ve Got Right Now This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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      Vince had said that he couldn’t stand the electric lights in the dining room and that only candles would do, even though Mona could find only four. Consequently, that Thanksgiving dinner was eaten in semi-darkness, which some observed as being historically accurate and others saw as terribly annoying. Only a fellow’s most prominent features could be seen clearly - the table, then, was a parliament of 17 floating noses, chins and foreheads. The children, long bored with cold turkey (Greg had insisted that no one start until everyone was seated) had relocated to the den, where Marissa haltingly teased the first chords of “Blowin’ in the Wind” from Victor’s guitar brought all the way from Nashville.

Someone mentioned that they loved this song, and Katy said it was sung too often and too badly. A murmur of assent circulated, the illuminated chins nodded.

“Well, I like it,” said Jones, the grandfather, hands folded over his swollen paunch like the Great American Buddha. He let a small gust of wind bubble from between his lips. “I can’t eat another bite,” he said.

“Oh, come on, Dad,” said Greg. “I made these turnips just for you!”

“I always knew you’ve been trying to murder me!” said Jones. He burped out a giggle, looked around the table, and then leaned back his head to whoop with laughter. Everyone guffawed appreciatively except Greg, who smiled awkwardly at his turnips and thought, I shouldn’t have called him Dad, I should have called him Jones. I don’t think he likes it when I call him Dad. That was stupid.

Mona put her hand on his knee under the table.

Jones pushed his plate away, nearly overturning the gravy boat. “Mona,” he said. “I don’t know that I like this husband of yours.”

Mona said, “Daddy!” but chuckled along with everyone else. “I don’t know that I like this husband of yours” was what Jones had said when introduced to Greg, brought home as a brand-new husband from Berkeley. Greg had laughed at the time, but the joke was growing old, and hurtful.

“We’re just kidding with ya, buddy,” said Vince holding up his wine glass to Greg. “Right, Scotty? We’re just kidding with your dad, right?”

“Now you just leave Scotty out of this, Vince,” said Mona. “You don’t need to worry him about grown-up things.”

“Relax, Mom,” said Scotty.

“Let’s all relax, right? Right? I’d ruffle your hair but you haven’t got any, it looks like! Where’s all your hair?”

“That is not funny,” said Mona.

“Lay off, Vince,” said Victor.

“Think before you speak,” said Katy.

“Whoa!” Vince threw up his hands. “Whoa! Let’s all attack Vince, right? Scotty, work with me, man!”

“Vince,” said Jones, and the table went quiet. “You are an ass.”

Vince started to laugh but the sound died as he looked around at the half-lighted faces. “Okay,” he said and chuckled sheepishly. “Okay.”

Mona got up from the table, saying she’d help Mama with the pies. Mama was 76 and drumming around the kitchen with the carving knife in her left hand pointing up.

“I can’t find where I put the stupid whipped cream,” she said.

“Did you check in the fridge?” asked Jacqui, bouncing a baby on one hip.

“Yes, I did,” said Mama.

Mama had a back like a wrought-iron gate, with bones curling in on one another and crunching painfully. She had shoulders that rolled much farther ahead of her than was practical and walked with the most ungodly groaning. Her body was like a twisted birdcage. She had not checked in the fridge.

“It’s right here, Mom,” said Mona.

“Well, now I was so sure I - Lord, well - what can you do?”

“Not much, apparently,” said Jacqui.

That was a mean thing to say and Jacqui knew it as soon as she said it. These days, most of the family was busy exhaustively examining and cross-examining each other’s sentences. Even remarks that had nothing to do with Scotty were subject to scrutiny. There were exceptions: Vince was an ass, and didn’t consider the weight of a word or a jibe. Mama never said anything remotely confrontational, and Jones, of course, was above such concern. Everyone else, however, was sure to be very, very careful, which was all anyone could do.

Jacqui left the room abashed and Mona began to gather the dinner plates from the table. Mona had bloated, fishlike lips that stretched to the very borders of her cheeks and cast heavy shadows on her chin. The half-light of the dining room left her face savagely highlighted, reducing her eyes to two angry bruises of shadow. Her disquieting countenance was framed by a crashing jungle of black and gray hair tortured into a bun. Her body seemed laden with some newly acquired gravity. In the kitchen, her face gathered itself into some degree of normality; one could see her eyes in the glare of the electric lights, which was a comfort.

“How’re you feeling, sweetheart?” asked Mama.

“Fine, Mama.”

“Not too tired? You’ve been getting enough sleep?”

“I’m fine.”

“How’s Scotty? He’s not too tired?”

“I don’t really want to talk about this right now,” said Mona, picking up a pie.

“Okay, sweetheart, okay,” said Mama.

Mona went back to the dining room and set the pie on the table.

“... and if you look, I mean really look at stuff with the right attitude, you’ll see that things are getting better already,” Vince was saying. “This is going to be one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve ever had! I mean really, look! Everybody’s here and we’re all getting along just fine. We’re happy and healthy - yeah, well, I mean, we’re all going to be just fine! Just fine!” Vince put an arm around Scotty’s tiny shoulders. “We’ve got to be thankful for everything we’ve got, eh, Scotty? Right?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Mona.

“I just mean that we ought to be thankful for everything ...”

“Why did you say that to Scotty?”

“All I’m saying is that we should be ...”

“But why did you say that to Scotty?”

“This is some kind of merry-go-round we’ve got going here, eh, Jones?” said Greg, elbowing the man in the arm. But Jones didn’t answer.

“Look, I didn’t mean anything by it,” Vince said. “I didn’t mean a thing.”

“He didn’t mean anything, Mona,” said Victor.

“It was a stupid thing to say, Vince,” said Jacqui.

“Maybe we should just all forget it, eh, Jones?” said Greg.

“I haven’t said a damn thing,” said Jones.

“Why do you all have to over-dramatize everything, huh? It’s not such a big deal!” said Vince.

“So now it’s not a big deal? Are you crazy? You don’t think Scotty being sick is a big deal?” said Katy.

“Look! Look!” said Vince, standing. “Scotty is - I mean why shouldn’t we enjoy our time while we’ve got it, right?”

“You idiot!” screamed Mona. “Why are you talking like that? Why do you say things like that? You’re an idiot, you know that? He’s my son! He’s going to be just fine! We’re all going to be just fine!”

“That’s what I said!”

“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Jone’s thundered to his feet. “For Pete’s sake.”

Vince abruptly sat. Mona braced herself against the table. In the darkness of the candles, now melted to the quick, Jones looked menacing. The darkness of his eyes, the same darkness he had given to Mona, drowned the room. All a fellow could hear was Mama humming “Honolulu Bay” from the kitchen.

“I have only one question to ask of you people,” said Jones. “I’m going to say what I’ve got to say and then I’m going to bed. I just want to know what in the hell is the problem with being thankful, huh? It’s Thanksgiving, for Pete’s sake! The damned government created the damned holiday so that people like you could get a chance to show a little gratitude! Scotty’s sick. We know that. It’s not fair, because kids shouldn’t be sick. But Scotty’s going to get better. We know that, too. So, yes, let’s be thankful. We’ve got a lovely pie here so let’s be thankful. But not stupid. Because if you think it’s going to go back to the way it was, it won’t. Things don’t just go back to the way they were. Not ever! Not in war, not in life and especially not in the kind of love that we’ve got here, and I know all three. So what we’ve got to do is live and love what we’ve got right now. Love whom we’ve got right now. Love and be thankful for it, dammit!”

“All I was trying to say ...”

“Don’t think about what you’re trying to say, Vince!” said Jones. “Think about what you’re saying.”

Scotty left the room.

Vince made a move to follow him but Jones said, “Sit down, Vince!”

And he did.

Mona was in bed. The family had decided to let her rest. They would do the cleaning up. She had just taken a shower. Her heavy legs sprawled on the sheets as she leaned against the headboard. She stared at the closet door, one finger drawing lazy circles on her leg.

Greg, wiping turkey grease from his hands, lumbered into the room. He stopped warily when he saw Mona lying there, looking dangerously vacant. Carefully, he lay down next to her and let his finger run down the ridge of her collarbone, spiraling into the divot at the base of her neck.

“We should have made it just the three of us,” she said. “It should have been just you, me and Scotty for this holiday.”

He pressed his lips against her shoulder. “We wanted to make it normal,” he said. “Like any other year.”

“We shouldn’t have invited them.”

“They’re family. They’d have come anyway. It’s going to be okay, you know,” he said. He settled back into the pillow, closing his eyes. “They’ll cut the tumor out on Thursday and it’ll be just fine. Just like it used to be.”

He looked up at her. “We could even try for another baby,” he said.

She was quiet for a long time. Then Mona kissed his hair and brushed her finger over his eyebrow. “I’ll be back in a minute,” she said.

The house was quiet now. Vince and Katy were sleeping on the futon in the basement. Victor and Jacqui were in the den on the blow-up mattress. The kids were scattered throughout the house in sleeping bags; Jones was in the guest room. Mona walked through the cold house in her bare feet and nightgown looking for Scotty. She wished, with a hushed desperation, that she could live this day over again because she knew she’d missed it, but things don’t just go back to the way they were.

She walked past the kitchen. She heard voices: Mama’s and Scotty’s.

“Did you have a lot of things?” Scotty asked.

“No,” said Mama. “We didn’t have many toys or things like that. We played outside a lot. A lot more than you kids do. We didn’t have a TV. We didn’t have many books. But that’s okay.”

“No toys?”

“1 didn’t say no toys. I had a little doll that the church ladies gave me.”

“That was nice of them.”

“That was nice. They were very nice ladies.”

“Are you a church lady?

“I try to be. But churching isn’t easy like it used to be. Now you have to drive to church and I can’t drive anymore.”

“Oh,” said Scotty. “How did you used to get to church?”

“We walked. In the summer, you know, we never wore shoes except on Sundays, so church days were special ’cause we got to wear our shoes.”

“Why did you not wear shoes on the other days?”

“We didn’t want to wear them out before winter. If we needed to go someplace where there were a lot of thorns and bushes and things, we cut little squares from old tires and tied them around our feet.”

Scotty laughed, “That’s funny!”

“It was. We waddled around like black-footed ducks!” They both laughed. Scotty was sitting on Mama’s lap and they were rocking, his white head resting on her front. She held him and stroked his wax-paper skin.

“We have lots of stuff, don’t we?” he asked.

“We certainly do,” she said. “And isn’t it funny how so often we forget all the things we have that they have to assign a special day to remind us?”

“I guess.”

“Yeah, I like Thanksgiving.”

“I like Christmas better.”

“Really?”

“Yeah.”

“Isn’t it time you go to bed?” she asked.

“I guess so.”

“We can sit here a little longer if you like.”

“Yeah. Let’s sit here.”

“That would be nice.”

“Yeah.”

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the December 2006 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.






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