Banquet

by Adrian Shirk

The turkey was bone dry, but aunt Robin continued to carve. The skin
on her forearms sagged, and she threw them over her head, muttering
and cursing the fowl. My grandfather hobbled into the kitchen to give
it a go, edging Robin out of the way. He leaned into his cane and
began to saw. Goddammit, we heard him say from our tight, seated row
in the slump of Robin's sofa. Across from us, my grandmother sat on
one of two mismatched chairs that Robin had arranged beside a table on
which she'd cleared enough space to place a cranberry-carrot salad and
a bowl of lukewarm yams.
       Robin's apartment was the size of most people's bathrooms. The walls
were lined with bookshelves that she'd packed two titles deep,
rendering them inaccessible if she ever planned to read them. Small
tables held of box tops, dictionaries, pencil cans. There were wads of
colorful construction paper cut in the shapes of greeting cards. On
each one was a Xeroxed family photo from an array of eras. The five by
five foot radius we sat in was the only open space.
       Aunt Robin had convinced herself to host Thanksgiving, equipped with
a Welfare turkey and food stamp produce. Ok, we had all said. We will
make this happen. And it was now the day-after-Thanksgiving. We'd
eaten at a restaurant the night before because she hadn't been ready.
She was panicking in her kitchenette, repeating herself, clutching her
thighs and deep breathing. My mother had said, "This place just isn't
organized, Robin," in her glazed doughnut voice and we pulled Robin
out the door, saying, "We'll all stay another night in our hotels so
you can cook tomorrow."
Now we all sat, knee to knee, balancing plates on our laps. My
parents, my sister, my cousins, my aunts and uncles, their new dog.
And my mom looked at her siblings knowingly, and said, "It's a
banquet!" This was something they used to say at meals with their late
grandmother. Robin was deep breathing. My family carried on with their
conversation, as though we were sitting at a large oak parlor table,
drinking from crystal. I crouched by a battery-operated boom box. I
put on an Arlo Guthrie album. I'd been waiting to do this all night.
Arlo started to talk:
Now it all started two Thanksgivings ago... two years ago, on
Thanksgiving, when my friend and I went up to visit Alice at the
restaurant. But Alice doesn't live in the restaurant, she lives in the
church nearby the restaurant, in the bell tower with her husband Ray
and Facha, the dog.
No one notices, so I turn it up a louder. Somehow we managed to fit us
in here and it feels okay that Robin is crying. This song always makes
my mom tell this certain story. Arlo sang: You can get anything you
want at Alice's restaurant. She smiles and says, Robin, remember that
time you and I went to go see 'Alice's Restaurant?' We were probably
twelve and we asked this couple in line if they'd pretend to be our
parents. And we got in! We felt so bad and wild." My mom puts her hand
on aunt Robin's back. "Remember?" Robin is staring at her empty plate.
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