I sunk all my money into this business called Heavy Metal for Kids. Sales went well, better than expected at first. Even people not into hardcore metal get a smile on their face listening to a guy bellow out, “The wheels on the bus go round and round,” sounding like he’s got stage three throat cancer, and god willing maybe he can scream it out. If nothing else, CDs sold as a joke. And I never really cared why anyone bought them so long as the green flowed. Then one day the lawsuits started.
Never underestimate the painfully low level of the national I.Q. “Severe hearing loss,” is what the lawyers claimed, and I’m not saying they were wrong, but fuck-all, how is it my fault some asshole thought, “Yeah, Ima put this baby death metal on my kid’s headphones, and crank that shit to 13.” Sitting in court watching ambulance chasers roll out pics of toddlers crying, blood running out their ears… anyway, since the packaging lacked any disclaimers warning people against the obvious stupid the business got sued for every penny.
So it was I found myself home again, standing on the sidewalk wearing all I owned, what little else remained in my various pockets. Lighting a cigarette, I sighed a cloud greyer than the iron sky overhead, and rang the doorbell.
Mom answered the door. Her face glowing she placed a hand on my cheek, “You came.”
“Of course I did,” I said, hiding my confusion.
Dad walked passed, a beer in each hand, safe to assume both his.
Mom called over shoulder, “He came.”
Dad grumbled something without glancing my way. I heard the rustle of people inside. The static of several conversations carried on at once. Hearing plates clacking against one another, the aroma of warm bread drifting out the door, I nodded. Realization dawned like the sun.
I’ve never been good with the concept of time. Weeks vanish, especially while spending most of the hours on a mission to avoid the realities of being penniless, and however indirectly, responsible for 57 deaf kids. After the repo men cleared me out, I took whatever trivial bits they left behind, sold them for cheap liquor, and… apparently made my way home for Thanksgiving.
Waving me inside Mom said, “Come in, come in. We’re about to get started. I just have to make sure the bird isn’t wired.”
She shuffled off to the kitchen as if that statement needed no more elaboration. I followed her inside. A veritable homemaker ninja, she vanished in a flash, literally throwing down a smoke bomb in case some CIA spook slipped in behind me. Ever since childhood she warned me about the invisible people stalking the streets. I closed the door quick as I could. Not seeing something that’s invisible is no proof it doesn’t exist.
In the living room I found my Dad in his usual throne, a green easy chair held together with duct tape and the old man’s force of will. Sure enough he drank two fisted, while swearing at the TV. My cousins lurked on the couch, three ducks in a row. They smiled. I nodded. They waved. I left the room. In the dining room I found my brother already in position. He sat at the table using two chairs to support his orca load. He shook my hand as I passed him, autopilot guiding me straight to the liquor cabinet. I filled a rocks glass with whiskey, drained it, and reloaded.
Aunt Judy, latest in a long line of women who married my Uncle Steve, burst out of the kitchen. She looked like an ad for the bright side of meth. I’d heard of her, though we’d yet to meet in person.
She threw her arms around my neck, “I’m so happy you made it. You know I heard you might not come, and I was like that would be awful considering we’ve never met, but then I was looking at the stars the other night, and I knew, I just knew, you would be here. We were meant to meet today, let me tell you.”
“Okay,” I smiled. It passed for genuine. She patted me on the neck.
Shoving two sticks of gum in her mouth she started chewing loudly and nodding. The half grin on her face deteriorated into a frown, “What you got nothing to say to me? I ain’t worth your fucking time, huh hot shit?”
“Sorry, I just -- how are you?”
She cast a dismissive wave, “Oh, I’m as good as I need to get. But don’t worry so much what to say. I’m real easy going.”
Aunt Judy grabbed me by the nose, and gave it little shake. Then she danced back to the kitchen singing Dona Summer off key, “‘Love to love ya baby. When you’re laying so close to me there’s no place I’d rather you be...’” She bumped the door open with her ample back end. Step slide, she floated into the kitchen before the door swung shut.
“Sonuvabitch,” Dad swore, followed by the shattering of a thrown bottle. Mom materialized carrying a dust pan. The cousins streamed into the dining room.
Cousin Myra said, “He really should not watch certain movies.”
Storming into the dining room Dad announced, “True story my ass. Let’s eat.”
The family gathered. Dad shredded the turkey with the grace and zeal of an experienced serial killer. Mom kept hauling dishes out of the kitchen until she covered the whole table. Each overflowed with various sides. My cousins uncorked a few bottles of wine, while asking me what I’d been up to these days.
“Yeah, fill us in with your exploits,” Uncle Steve said.
“Just trying on a few hats here and there. Last didn’t fit as well as I’d like, so I’m – I guess, looking for a new haberdasher.” I chugged wine to get the taste of that gibberish off my tongue.
“What does that mean?” my brother scoffed.
Hoping to change subjects I jabbed, “Where’s the wife and kids?”
He shook his head, “Wife can’t fit out the house no more. Kids stayed behind to look after her.”
These remarks in no way slowed him down as he piled a virtual mountain of Thanksgiving treats onto his plate. He then took his customary stance. Setting his chins on the table he scooted the plate near his mouth then using a small trowel he shoveled in mouthfuls. Dad gave me the glance we share every holiday, a look of disgust and resignation, and we left my brother to gorge in peace. Some wars can’t be won.
Mom said grace, “Oh Lord, dear Lord, and we hope the only Lord, but if we’re wrong don’t let the others hold it against us; thank you for this meal, and for bringing our family together.”
Everyone raised a glass to the sentiment.
Slapping Aunt Judy’s foot away from my crotch – she kept alternating between rubbing and mashing – I probed Uncle Steve, “How’s the blood sucking Steve?”
He cleared his throat, “If you mean my legal practice, it’s doing alright. Could be better.”
“Maybe if you were licensed,” Dad said. He signaled me. I turned in my seat, close enough to liquor cabinet to fetch the old man a dinner scotch. I topped myself off as well before passing him his pint.
Uncle Steve said, “I inform all my clients in advance I am not legally an attorney, but that’s only because it’s the only way I can give them illegal advice. Regular sort of lawyer would have to turn a client in if they asked how to get to away with murder. Me, I can tell anybody anything I damn well please. Fuck the Man.”
“That’s how we met,” Aunt Judy beamed. Her foot finally retreated. She went on, “I needed to get rid of these marine iguanas, and I mean quickly. Well, long story short, Chinatown. There’s just all kinds of helpful people down there.”
Following that dinner conversation never risked getting towards anything serious. It’s a testament to a good time being had by all that no one even tries to bring up anything awkward. Smile, nod, and pass the dishes when your brother asks for his fourth helping. Let Dad’s grumbling slide, even when you can hear what he said under his breath. Never mind that creepy telepathy the cousins seem to have, no matter how paranoid it makes you; or the fact no one invited them this year. And at the end of the meal, be kind enough to at least carry the dishes into the kitchen. Sure, Mom will wave you off as usual – “I don’t need any help.” But she loves the offer just the same. Give her a hug before grabbing a chair in the living room. It doesn’t matter what’s about to be on TV, so long as the drinks keep flowing. All too soon the tides’ll shift, and the family will flood out the door; and though their departure makes the house seem bigger, it’s also clearly emptier.
When Dad heads to bed, Mom following him, forever caught in his gravitational pull, feel free to turn the lights down low. Keep the volume on the television to a minimum. Stretch out on the couch, and relax. Drink in hand all thoughts turn to: it’s easy to start over in a place you can’t wait to escape, alongside that old gem, there’s no place like home.