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White walls with gray-brown stains. Different size cupboards, as if a carpenter made them without measuring first. A stove that can boil a cup of water in just under 45 minutes. This is her kitchen–if you can even call it that. It’s really just one corner of a long room that contains living, eating, and cooking space. Still she seems content.
I’m spread out uncomfortably on the red loveseat—its maroon, green, and yellow squares like those of a modern painting placed in no particular order every few inches—an under-stuffed arm digging into my back, another pushing my legs into an awkward crunched position. I’m watching her. Technically I should be studying for a test in biology. I’m distracted though. She looks like a modern dancer as she glides across the kitchen moving her hands and legs, synchronized to a beat only she can hear. And scents of a Turkish bazaar—peaches, cinnamon, caramelizing onions, and roasting poultry—permeate the apartment. That mixed with the yelling, laughing, crying, and fighting of my younger sisters and the pounding of the heavy metal coming from my older brother’s room make it almost impossible to stay focused.
The kitchen timer’s abrasive buzz brings me out of my daydreaming. I startle as if it’s the Monday after staying up late to finish some homework assignment I kept telling myself I’d do later. I shake off sleepiness and watch as she steps toward the stove, opens the oven door, ready to wrestle with the sizzling turkey. A backdraft of air forces its way out of the oven powerfully enough to make her jump.
I look up quickly. Did she burn herself? She turns around and gives me a gentle smile to say she’s okay. She turns back to the oven, grabs her oven-mitts, and pulls out the seventeen-pound turkey, placing it carefully on the stove. Next she chooses a white, porcelain, serving dish with an intricately carved border of tomatoes, carrots, and beans. The vegetables twist and turn along the edge, luscious vines trying to break free from the platter’s confines. She carries the crispy turkey, the buttery mashed potatoes, the herb-laced stuffing, and the caramelized pearl onions into the dining room.
We are already seated at the dining room table, watching her expectantly as she brings in the food.
She reaches for the carving knife and the meat fork. Like a medical resident making an incision, she slices off the first piece as if to prove to us she knows how to do this, can do this.
The sudden crash of the chair as it hits the ground makes us all start. We look up to see my brother run from the room, hear his bare feet across the wood floor followed by a muffled pounding as he bolts up the carpeted stairs. His door slams against its frame. She flinches as if it is meant for her, as if he were slamming it in her face. The smile she’s been wearing since she announced dinner drains from her face.
“Lets forget about the turkey,” she says, her voice devoid of emotion. “Mia, pass the mashed potatoes, please,” she tells my youngest sister as an afterthought. Other than the scooping of food onto plates, there is no sound.
“I’ll take a plate of food to Jesse,” I say quickly picking up his plate and adding potatoes, green beans, stuffing, and gravy, trying to leave the heavy silence as soon as possible.
I knock on the door. There is no response.
I wasn’t expecting one.
“Jess, I’m just going to leave your food outside the door, okay?“ I say placing the plate outside the door. “I’m leaving now.”
I go downstairs. Nothing has changed. My mom and sisters are staring down at their plates, each one overwhelmed by their own thoughts, their own memories. I sit down and take a bite of the meal I couldn’t wait to eat. I can’t taste it. I take another bite, but it is no better. I swallow the lump of sadness and put my fork down.
Why did there have to be ice on the road?
I pick up my plate and put it on the counter. My sisters do the same and we go up the stairs. On the way to my room I see Jesse’s plate untouched. I take it downstairs and put it on the counter. As I pass the living room I see her. She’s holding his picture.
A tear runs down her face, like a single raindrop down a window. She catches me looking at her, quickly brushes it away, and smiles reassuringly. She heads for the kitchen and starts washing the dishes by hand, throwing away the leftover food so it won’t be a reminder.
We were fine yesterday; we were fine today until dinner. It’s the moments we used to spend together that are hard to get through.
I’ll go to sleep and tonight will be forgotten or at least not mentioned. I can take comfort in that thought. The wound that was reopened today by her carving the turkey—he always cut the turkey; that was his job¬—the wound reminding us that unlike last Thanksgiving he is not with us this year will heal. Only to be reopened again in a month, on Christmas.