The smell, overwhelming, and not the expected, extended their exchanged look at the seating. With only the sisters and their families this year, there was no need for an additional kid’s table. Instead adults and children alternated, parents and siblings split, cousins mixed. But counting it up, a place-setting short. Where was her husband?
Another surprise was that the wine they’d brought never made it to the meal. It wasn’t clear what she’d done with it. He considered the missing husband, his brother-in-law by some definition. Men married to sisters; there was probably a name for it. His not being there seemed less a surprise than the red walls, matching the paint on her thin wrists, a poor job along the baseboard. He sat next to his nephew-in-law or whatever you called it, the youngest and only boy among the cousins, dished out his food, cut up his meat. A fat kid, quiet unlike his Dad (not the worst of them they’d seen her with over the years). Trying to impress him the reason for the expensive wine. No doubt the reason it had been whisked away, connection made and no explanations needed, and he sat there carving half-questions and eating dry turkey, young girls around the table oblivious like chirping birds.
On the way out, he tried to find the wine in the refrigerator crowded with cooling plastic tubs and tin-foiled turkey. On the two hour drive home, they argued while the twins slept in back. Your sister has been through a lot, he said, remembering her moving from the kitchen to the head of the table, her loose pale green dress and tightly-tied paisley head-scarf like something a biker would wear in those states where they didn’t mandate helmets. He imagined her holding onto a guy, arms around his waist, high black boots, the dress blowing back up bare legs; what he couldn’t get around was being that sick, beyond sickness as he’d known it. No symptoms at all—but then the harsh pronouncement after a routine exam, treatments looming like a bully waiting after school. He decided he was okay with the missing thirty dollar Riesling. The turkey was dry, pre-cooked. Without giblets they came to table without his wife’s famous gravy. If I’d known, she said, we could have brought some. But then I suppose that would have disappeared too.
Her sister’s troubles had always trumped hers. She’d hadn’t had it easy either, she reminded him later in the dark, while he pretended to sleep. He’d fantasized about sex with his sister-in-law countless times. In spite of the illness and rigor of the cure she still looked good, although hadn’t had on the perfume he liked. At dawn the next morning, his turn for the dog, pulling on his pants and new sweater bought especially for the holiday, it came back—no turkey cooking, instead that fresh thick paint smell, still in his clothes. Walling them in with her, brick red.
In 2020, Jon Fain’s fiction has appeared in 50 Word Stories, A Story in 100 Words, City.River.Tree., Fleas on the Dog, and Blue Lake Review.