— Alice Munro, Forgiveness in Families
Worst Best Thanksgiving Feast Ever
[If you’re unfamiliar with Annie, start here: http://ratpetunia.tumblr.com/post/17006819416/i-love-annie-really-i-do-but-when-i-came]
Saturday evening, Thanksgiving Break, doing my damnedest to stay “grateful” while cleaning a newly-discovered mound of partially-dried, electric-yellow bile crusting over the back right corner of the non-removable wool seat cushion. I marvel, between reluctant dabs and cursed mutterings, at Annie’s stamina. Even at death’s door, barely able to lift her own head, she’d hauled herself onto a pricey armchair before voiding the contents of her stomach.
“At least she’s alive” I tell myself, ignoring my brain’s smartass rejoinder: “Too bad about sending the kids to college!” Indeed, the vet assured us Annie will recover, as the front desk receptionist swiped a four digit fee onto my Visa.
We’d spent all Thanksgiving morning cooking and cleaning, prepping for an evening feast at Rick’s mother’s. I won’t point fingers, but RICK accidentally left out an overflowing trash can when we left for the suburbs. If you made up a list of “Most Toxic Items For Dogs” it would look a whole lot like this trash bag — raw turkey skin, splintering bones, damp coffee grounds, razor-edged cans, powdery chocolate wrappers, and so on.
When we returned after dark, it was like turning on the lights in some grisly detective drama; there’d been a violent struggle throughout the downstairs, but the villain had prevailed, devouring nearly everything in the can, including packaging. Floyd and Bobo cowered in the corner like traumatized witnesses in the back of an ambulance. Annie, on the other hand, lay stretched and sated on her side, Jabba the Hutt in an opium den. We decided to wing it, cleaning the floors and bidding her goodnight.
Predictably, the next morning presented a fresh new crime scene, with strategically-spaced land mines of vomit on hardwoods, beneath tables, under chairs, over the sides of dog beds, and camouflaged in busy rug patterns. Outside, at least, was gorgeous, so we opened up the house and cleaned again, leaving the dogs to the front yard. Annie lounged all afternoon, sleeping it off we hoped. She’s never been one for exercise, but as day bled into night and her lethargy didn’t lift, a creeping worry set in. Then the unthinkable happened: she did not eat dinner.
I lay awake half the night, checking on her several times. By morning I admitted defeat, slamming a cup of coffee and driving her up the highway to the emergency clinic. It was really no surprise, as our kids and dogs years ago held a secret meeting where they swore to demand urgent medical attention exclusively on holidays and weekends.
I learned several interesting things during our visit. First, Annie’d put on 10 pounds since her last weigh-in, roughly the equivalent of a human gaining 70 pounds in five minutes. I knew she was rotund in her wormlike way, but I wasn’t prepared for the technician to shout, “SERIOUSLY? Is that even POSSIBLE?” when reading the scales. In our defense, Annie’s been on the same sensible diet since we got her, but it’s hard to control for variables like large pepperoni jalapeño pizzas stolen off kitchen counters or generous slices of chocolate layer cake snatched on self-initiated “walks”.
More fascinating still was when the vet, who looked all of 15, came in to discuss Annie’s x-rays. “Of course you’ll know about the air rifle, then?” he asked in a lilting Irish accent, nodding encouragingly. “Excuse me?” I said. “You REALLY don’t know? ” he said, suddenly animated. “Why, she’s been shot by an air rifle — TWICE — look here! They’re still inside her!” He tapped the film for emphasis, drawing finger circles around the pellets. “Nasty ones, too!” he added, folding arms across his scrubs and swaying foot to foot.
I felt it first in my eyes, then my cheeks, and before I knew it I was laughing, so hard it came out silent, so hard the vet crinkled his eyes and laughed too. I gave his back an awkward pat and wiped my eyes, apologizing, though in truth I wasn’t all that sorry. I just couldn’t stop imagining Annie, in a tight little Peter Rabbit coat, rooting around a garden, lifting a pie off a windowsill, sliding a steak off a grill, while some bearded, overalled crabapple of a man chased her with a hoe, or in this case an air rifle, zeroing in on her ample rear as it disappeared under chicken-wire.
For some crazy reason it made me proud — “I like your lapdog. My dog’s been shot.” I laughed for the old-fashioned dogness of her, unrepentant in her roaming and snuffling and gorging and scrounging ways. I laughed because Annie never has and never will give a shit, and she’ll outlive any old Mr. McGregor, maybe outlive us all. And I laughed because I got to bring her home, and just this once, put her to bed without any supper.
Thanksgiving morning, Fudge pads in, early. He plops down on my sleeping body, sniffling and situating until most of his weight rests on my bladder, coughing into my face and settling in. He guides my limp arm over his back and bottom, squeezing my hand to signal I should rub. Rick sighs and rolls out of bed as Sadie wanders in, rubbing her eyes and trailing a queen-size blanket, a mound of stuffed animals spilling over her arms.
She climbs up and stage whispers “HAPPY THANKSGIVING” in a way that’s louder than her normal voice, and Fudge rolls over to tell her he said it first. Sadie wants to know how I responded, insisting I committed at some point last night to saying “Same to you” but not “Happy Thanksgiving” to anyone who got to me before her.
I pretend to be sleeping, even though my pillow has vanished and the middle of the bed inexplicably no longer has covers. The first hint of coffee mingles with dust mites in the light sliver above me, and Sadie gasps and sits up, pounding the night light on the clock, worried we’ll miss the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
I give up, getting up to pee, and I can tell by the sound Rick’s feet make in the hallway he’s trying not to slop mugs of hot coffee. I brush my teeth and they all disappear downstairs, then Rick’s yelling back up, asking where I’ve put the bag of bandaids I bought the other day — a Saran wrap accident I can’t quite follow. I check in on Audrey, curled in headphones over her iPhone, already immersed in text chatter with friends. Brooks will sleep for hours. Fudge rushes in, wild-haired and chapped-lipped, to announce the parade’s start. The dogs lift hopeful heads as I enter the kitchen, but it’s not my job to feed them, and it’s too cold to walk just yet.
Rick will build a fire, and we’ll cook and putter and sip and lounge until Sadie gets bored and Fudge falls off the back of the couch, until Aud picks a fight and Brooks turns cynical, until Rick claims I’m not helping and I get mad over dirty dishes. Until we forget why we’re thankful, a luxury we can afford, because we’ve got it all.
We could debate the merits of “Silly Love Songs” (though we’re probably on the same side), but for anyone who’d argue the value of the arts, name one thing lovelier than the instant sound of a diving board’s bounce, the shouts and whistles and muffled pitches of summertime chatter; the smell of chlorine and suntans and vinyl-strapped poolside chairs; the sight of smooth, artificially-tinged water parting then folding back on itself to the rhythmic rise and fall of your dad’s submerged shoulders, as you cling to his neck, delighted, commanding him to ferry you faster, faster, into the deep end.
Today is our 19th wedding anniversary, the sort of milestone where I go ahead and schedule wisdom teeth removal, because it’s the only time available, and we just got back from a big family trip, and we recently redid the house, and we can always just celebrate another day, right?
I laugh at my own lameness, but lying here, in my velcroed icepack headband, with Brando-gauzed cheeks and pill-muddled brain, I’m halfway convinced it’s our most romantic anniversary yet.
My husband drove me to my appointment, distracting me in the waiting room with inappropriate texts concerning the abrasive, head-to-toe purple woman on the couch opposite. When I woke up from surgery, he stood above me, smiling like he’d told a joke, arms folded across his chest. Once he got me situated back home in bed, he brought me up a smoothie I didn’t want, parenting over me until I’d drunk enough to take medications without a stomachache. He refilled ice packs and brought fresh water, grocery shopped and carted kids. He fixed me a vanilla milkshake and instructed me on changing my gauze. Right as the pain pill began to wear off, he appeared at my side with another for me to swallow.
And here’s the smell of minced garlic in olive oil; the thunk of lids lifted and replaced and the thud of chopping leeks and carrots; the mind’s eye of bay leaves and beans and chicken stock being added to cast iron. He’s working on soup, prepared from scratch, with only me in mind. And even if I can’t really eat it, I know that it tastes of a love that most decidedly no longer hinges on personal appearance, but runs to the heart of even these aching, newly empty sockets, until it hits bone.
It’s Saturday night and the babysitter comes and we’re heading out, The Desoto Hour blaring Big Band on WREK. The Glenn Miller Orchestra fills the car, flooding my senses so instantly that I smell him, ever-clean, Old Spice when Old Spice was still the thing a kid might clumsily wrap up for Father’s Day, and I see him, sidling up behind my mother in the kitchen, and I can tell he’s feeling romantic as he hums and wraps his arms around her, reaching for her hands, but she’s working and shoos him off, irritated but not really. He whistles, swaying along with the band, and I feel her softening, trying not to smile, and he feels it too, and begins rowing her arms back and forth until she gives in and they’re dancing on the faux brick tile, one circle, then two, ‘til she’s had enough nonsense and pushes away, “alright, alright,” turning back to the stove, affecting nonchalance, but the moment fills the room, and now the car, and still my heart, eclipsing death like saxophones swelling around a clarinet, transcending melody.