I set the table while Mom faffed about the kitchen, mashing potatoes, carving turkey, and stirring the gravy, licking it off of the wooden spoon and muttering to herself, “more pepper.” I joined Dad in the living room. He was watching Family Feud reruns, casting his gaze occasionally out the window toward the end of the farm where the sun set behind the old barn that I had had my first kiss in.
Mom had explained on the phone that Dad was much worse than the last time I’d seen him.
“What are you doing home?” He sounded angry.
“It’s Thanksgiving, Dad.”
He huffed and turned his scrutiny to the window. He sat in a brown leather lounger that cracked and sunk in the middle like the crease in an old shoe. I sat opposite on the sofa, observing the trees. The last of the leaves were left on the ends of branches, fluttering in the wind.
“Dinner,” Mom called. She was at the table pouring wine, laying a cluster of pills next to Dad’s place at the head of the table. “Help your dad up.”
I hooked my arms under his armpits, cupped his shoulder blades. His hands curled around the back of my neck. He felt light in my arms, I could feel the thinness of his torso against mine. Once to his feet, Dad shuffled toward the dining room, swishing his slippers along the wood floor.
Mom laid out plates of carved turkey, sweet potato casserole, balsamic-roasted brussels sprouts, sausage and herb stuffing, green bean and lemon casserole, and a bowl of cranberry sauce. The works. Baking in the oven, still, was her four-flavor sheet pan pie.
She plated a shy helping of turkey, cranberry sauce, and half a spoonful of stuffing for Dad. She spread a napkin over his lap. I piled a heap of food on my plate and sauced it in gravy. I had a mouthful of green beans in before I noticed Mom praying, chin lowered to her chest. The three of us had always prayed before meals and I couldn’t remember when that ceased to be a tradition. I figured Mom did a lot of things alone now.
I cut the pie after dinner and served it in bowls with blobs of half-melted vanilla ice-cream. I played backgammon with Mom on the couch. She had always been sharp at strategy games.
Dad fell asleep in his chair after a while. The sun had burned through the window all day, giving the room a warmth that reminded me of the hot summers I’d spent in that house.
The sun was snuffing into a neat orange stain at the far end of the farm. The temperature in the room began to chill. I lit some candles on the fireplace and placed a blanket over Dad’s lap.
He woke up a while later, opening his eyes slowly. He looked around the room as though he’d been transported somewhere in his sleep.
“I need to go home.”
“Honey, you are home.”
“Yeah, dad. You’re in your chair.”
“Where’s my wife? I’ll be in trouble if I’m not home.”
Mom used my knee as a crutch to get up off the couch. I noticed a frailty in her now that I hadn’t noticed before. Purple blotches swayed over the bones on the back of her hands and her arm shook as she pressed against my leg.
“Come on, Lou. I’ll drive you.”
Dad rose in his chair, clasped his cardigan shut and stuffed a pen back in his chest pocket.
She helped him up, fixing herself to him, her face squeezed against his. She heaved him to his feet and buttoned his cardigan.
“We’ll be back,” she said.
Dad held out a hand. He’d always been a hugger. I had hated it growing up but had begun to appreciate it more recently.
“Nice to meet you, young man.”
I looked to Mom, but her face had no answers. She just looked tired.
I shook it, felt the sharp ends of Dad’s nails poke into my palm. I wanted to cry.
“Nice to meet you too.”
I watched through the window as Mom led Dad down to the car, opening the passenger door, holding his hand while he hunched into the seat. She dragged his seatbelt across his lap. The taillights shrunk as the car slipped into the black of the road.
When they came back a few minutes later, Mom led him up the drive by the arm. I stood up and stepped closer to the window to see through the darkness into the garden. I knocked on it, timidly with a single knuckle at first, then with my whole hand, drumming against the glass.
Dad paused and picked up his eyes, which were fastened to the ground as he walked.
I waved. I felt a little silly doing it. Mom pointed to the window and said something in his ear.
Dad looked puzzled for a moment, looking at Mom, before steering a finger to the window, spreading his lips into a smile, and saying (I was sure of it) “Look who it is!”