Thanksgiving. I spent most of last night at the Tonk taking in most of my calories and sleep agents from a bottle. Came back to the library to finish off the same.
It’s not because I don’t like the holiday. I have nothing against turkey and stuffing. You can keep the cranberry sauce, though. I don’t eat things that quiver.
I slept in and nursed my hangover and enjoyed just hearing the building creak and groan as the downtown was quiet, closed for the holiday. That may be my favorite part, that the town breaks down around me and scurry’s inside at the slightest chance. I am currently praying for a snow day, if anyone up there is listening, to really get a day of rest and quiet.
“Come on,” Imp said, “We’re going over to Susan’s. For lunch. And we need the chair.”
I begged off, but they insisted. For such a flighty and strange bird that never lands, my cousin Imp has a need for the nest, for family. She is the first in the family to line up the board games and the buffet tables and organize the Easter egg hunt and the last to fire off a firework at 4th of July. It is because of people like her, people who get in trouble and smile and live that families are created. Without them, who would we worry about and who would hold us together?
She struggled the chair out of the library and into the car and then again out of the car and into the restaurant. Other customers said nothing about it, but stared.
“So, I hear you call Ilene ‘Imp’” Ben Tobias said as we settled down at the restaurant in the comfy red chair at Lazy Susan’s. Lazy Susan’s has never to my knowledge employed anyone named Susan. The name comes from the fixtures of the restaurant. There are only twenty-four place settings, eight on three tables that contain lazy susans in the center of each. The food is the same on each table and you pay your seven dollars and have a seat wherever is empty. Eat your fill and the next person gets your seat.
“Evan only calls me that cause he’s mean,” Imp said from across the table. A police officer I did not know well, a very pretty blonde woman about my age and an older couple sat at the table with us. Lazy Susan’s is never empty, especially on holidays.
“I call her that because of my aunt,” I said, pointing at Imp, “Her mom. Goofy lady that married into the family and brought Imp with her.”
“So you are not really cousins?” Ben said.
“Name only. And cause she’s special and nobody wants to tell her that.”
The older gentleman poked his wife in the ribs, “That’s what we say about her.”
The table laughed and I thought I recognized the man. From the local news, maybe. The blonde woman, too.
“So we have this big extended family. Well, did. Lots of aunts and uncles on my dad’s side have passed on, but there’s still a ton of cousins like Imp here,” I said.
“None like me,” Imp said.
“You got that right,” I said, “So every year when we got together we would write our names on our cups, so you didn't just pick up somebody’s red solo cup and get surprised.”
“Ha, remember when Taylor picked up Uncle Croach’s glass of his ‘special Coca-cola,’” Imp said, “Ran around yelling about how Uncle Crow drank gasoline!”
The table laughed again.
“So we would write our names on the cups. You get the idea,” I said, smiling at my cousin, “One year Imp’s mama decides to make up all the cups. Preemptive naming so the soda line goes faster at lunch. But she doesn’t just wanna write down ‘Evan’ and ‘Mike,’ you get it? She wants to put adjectives to describe everybody.”
“And everybody gets these goofy names, like ‘Enthusiastic Evan’ except me,” Imp said.
“Yep, right there on the cup reads ‘Impish Ilene.’ Funniest damn thing I ever saw and I called her that til right now.”
“All that’s making me miss my own family,” Ben said, “They’re back in Tennessee, up in the hills.”
Ben took out pictures then and handed them around. Old pictures, folded and torn from time in his wallet and the clothes and hair styles looked dated. I wondered how long Ben Tobias had been away from home. He did not look old, not old enough to have that many regrets, but I guess that’s relative.
After dinner I went back to the library. Imp followed me with the chair and Ben went back to his hotel. In the library I poured drinks and Imp sat in the comfy chair after she dragged it into the building.
A few drinks in and she was telling me to leave Bannville, step away from the library. She does that every time we drink.
“There’s no possibility in this town, Evan. You know, day to day, what’s gonna happen every moment. Like Groundhog Day, the one with Bill Murray. I mean, where do you even go to meet people? New people? There’s never any new people. Never any new possibility. You gotta get out. Like today at Susan’s. How long do you think Craig Phelps has been having Thanksgiving there?”
“Who?” I asked.
“Or the Jacobs's . The old people. Hell, he’s on the damn news, him and that Weathers girl with them. How long do you think he’s been thanking Jesus he doesn't have to sit through her cooking and go to that damn place? And he’s on the damn news, Evan! How long, every year, over and over? Every day. The same goddamn day, same goddamn year. You’re gonna wake up one day, Evan, gonna wake up and fzzzzzt.”
She stood up and walked over to the big black box. Her hand rubbed the side of it, fingers danced along the granite. She leaned down and put her ear against it.
“What do you think it’s a replica of?” she said.
“Better not put your drink on it,” I said, thinking about Ben Tobias so far from home getting mad at a drink ring on his scary ass black box.
“Yeah,” she said, “Hey, you remember when your daddy set off that mortar shell over the goat pen?”
“It wasn't a mortar shell. It was an artillery simulator. For practice. Best damn New Year’s ever.”
And on it went. We talked about family, friends, places we’d been. She stopped trying to get me to go as her eyes grew big and wet with the whiskey and we talked about the past. About the dead.
Later when I had a dream, when the Man in Red shook the ground and splattered crimson blood and horror in my face, when I woke up with a start and had to remember where I was, my small cousin held herself against me. I broke from her embrace and gave her the heavy quilt. She burrowed a pocket of warmth and slept on.
I am thankful for my family and friends. I am thankful for the people in my life. I am thankful that the Man in Red stays in my head, in my dreams, where he belongs.