We didn’t know how we were going to spend Thanksgiving.
Dad called Mom the weekend before and I didn’t hear everything, just a few bits and pieces:
‘I thought you wanted him to spend the holiday -‘
‘No, we can’t just -‘
‘- being a total -‘
There was a lot of yelling, and then quiet, and then sobs, low and hard and pained. Dad emerged with a blotchy face and a too-large smile that didn’t fit right on his face.
“Looks like it’s just us, sport!” He said. “We’ll get everything Wednesday afternoon when I pick you up from school. Start thinking about your perfect Thanksgiving dinner.”
I didn’t want to tell him that it would mean Mom would come back and make it, and Aunt Linda and the cousins would come, too; that Dad and I would play football in the front yard.
“Anything?” I asked. I tried to smile but I bet it was a too-large smile, too, because Dad looked a little sad.
“Anything I can make!” He laughed.
When he picked me up on Wednesday, Miss Little asked him how he was doing and what our plans were, and if she could have places set for us. I spoke before Dad could answer.
“No,” I said, “we’re having a special Thanksgiving! Whatever I want!”
“Oh,” Miss Little gave Dad’s arm a squeeze and although their voices were low I could hear her say something about “keeping a brave face,” which seemed silly since it wasn’t baseball season.
When we went to the store, we were the only ones buying ingredients for pasta. Dad let me pick out crazy shapes with weird names I couldn’t pronounce.
On Thanksgiving Day, Dad swore and got mad because he realized we didn’t have any garlic powder. Then he started to cry and he sat down at the table and kept sayng he was sorry, and I kept asking why. He stayed silent for a while before answering, “Because you can’t make good pasta without garlic, sport.”
We went to a bunch of different stores until we found one still open. We bought the garlic powder and headed back home. He locked the doors when we got in the car, and he never does that. At the first stop light, a woman with a big coat crossed in front of us. We drove for a couple seconds and then Dad did a big turn in the street, which he said I should never do but was okay this time because there wasn’t anyone else around. He pulled up next to the woman and got out of the car. I rolled down the window to listen.
“Hi,” he said. The woman stared at him and he stuck out his hand. “I’m Jason. My son and I are having a small Thanksgiving – ”
“Special Thanksgiving!” I corrected.
“- a special Thanksgiving. Just pasta – ”
“Crazy pasta!” I called out.
“Just crazy pasta,” Dad said. “Would you like to join us?”
“Not dressed for Thanksgiving dinner, even with crazy pasta.” The woman smiled at us.
“Uh, my wife, she – she isn’t spending Thanksgiving with us. Got plenty of old clothes.”
“Oh,” the woman looked scared and angry, “I see. No thank you, sir.”
“No – I didn’t mean that!” Dad looked back at me and his face was red.
“Got plenty of clothes,” the woman nodded, “and plenty of space at your table, sounds like.”
“Yes ma’am!” I said. She came over to me and looked me over. Her eyes got sad.
“Your Daddy’s a kind man,” she said as she got in the car.
We spent Thanksgiving with Rita, who was really funny and told made-up stories about trolls under bridges and dragons in caves. We all had three servings of the pasta and then Dad brought out a surprise chocolate cake with something Rita called “confetti frosting.” We watched a movie where Iron Man threw a turkey at a lady. Rita slept in our guest bedroom, but didn’t want to listen to Dad’s bedtime story.
In the morning, Rita was gone. She left a note but Dad wouldn’t let me read it, even though he always let me try to read anything I wanted.
From that day forward, every time I drove past that street corner, I thought of her.
This piece was written for the speakeasy #137 challenge. Word count is 711, just under the 750-word max. As always, feedback is appreciated!