Who ate steak on Thanksgiving? It was called Turkey Day for a reason. It was the only day of the entire year that turkey was served, unless you counted sandwiches, which did not count. And yes, her mother was also serving turkey — a great, golden, 20-pounder. It was exploding with sage-laced stuffing. The gravy was creamy and mild. There were mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, green beans and carrots and Brussels sprouts. It was a perfect feast. With steak? You could eat steak all summer, one barbecue after another. It didn’t belong at Thanksgiving.
Talia wanted to stab someone with a steak knife — all of them positioned alongside the table knives — each with a heavy wood handle and sharp tip and gleaming serrated edge. They were so obviously out of place among the sterling silver, and the white and gold china.
Her mother was the obvious candidate for a fantasy stabbing, for caving to Anna’s demand. To be fair, it wasn’t really Anna’s demand. It was John’s, delivered through Anna. He wouldn’t come to Thanksgiving dinner unless steak was served. He was a steak guy. Bloody red meat. No birds for him. No green stuff. Just steak. Some mashed potatoes. Of course her mother was weak when it came to Anna. She’d always been that way. Still, Talia adored her mother, even if Anna was the more beloved daughter, or so it seemed each time she came around with a new husband.
John was the second candidate deserving of a steak knife in the gut. Talia hadn’t met him yet, but she imagined greeting him with a polite hug while inserting a knife into his navel. There’s a little bloody meat for you. She laughed and refilled her wine glass.
John was Anna’s fourth husband. At least this one smoked cigarettes instead of pot, so less craziness over Thanksgiving dinner, but more smoke. She knew about the smoking because right this minute Anna was rummaging in the garage for an ashtray that hadn’t been used in ten years. Maybe more.
When Anna returned to the living room carrying the heavy stone ashtray, Talia said, “He really should smoke outside. It’ll stink up the house.”
“It’s cold out.”
“So what? Brad…Byron…what was his name? He smoked outside.”
Anna sneered. “It was Bryce. You know that. And of course he had to smoke a joint outside.”
“Then why can’t John smoke outside? Too much of a wuss?”
“Be nice. I mean it,” Anna said. She left the room.
The sound of running water came from the kitchen. As if it made sense to wash an ashtray that would be filled with bits of tobacco and ash, delicately burned paper and cotton filters. Talia sipped her wine. Let Anna and her mother prepare the meal. She refused to participate in this travesty of a Thanksgiving feast. She probably shouldn’t have come, but then she’d have to spend a year, at least, witnessing her mother’s subtle comments, pretending she was covering hurt that was so enormous it was completely out of proportion. Thanksgiving dinner was everything to her mother — the culmination of the year, the most important holiday, superseding Christmas because it was about gratitude and family. Mostly family. And yet, she was serving steak. Talia supposed that was the family part of it. John was family now, and her mother wanted to make him feel welcome.
He was twenty minutes late. Her mother was beside herself. The turkey sat on the rack, ready to be carved, cooling fast. The steak would be overdone. She was near tears over that.
When the bell rang, Talia put down her wine glass and went to answer the door. She opened it and her first thought was —I know you.
“Nice to meet you,” John said. He reached out and grabbed the hand that hung limply at her side. “Smells good.” He stepped into the foyer. “Nice place.”
A snappy speaker. Phony. Where did she know him from? It wasn’t one of those things where you thought you’d met someone but it was only familiar facial features and gestures you recognized — a type. Or a doppelgänger. She knew this guy. She followed him into the living room. Odd that he seemed to know the way, but he was probably lured in the right direction by the aroma of steak.
The dinner was a predictable disappointment. All Talia could smell was steak. Not a single drop of beef blood touched her plate, but still she tasted it. She stared at the intruder through the entire meal and finally decided she didn’t know him. It was his type, after all. The type that would turn her sister into someone unrecognizable, consume their family, and finally, find a way to get his fingers into their mother’s robust bank account.
While Anna and her mother trotted back and forth, clearing the table. Talia glared at John. “So. I’ve seen you before.”
“I don’t think so.” He stood up. “I’m going out for a smoke. Want to join me?” He winked.
“I saw you on Second Street. With a hooker. Just last week. That’s why it’s fresh in my mind.”
The look on his face confirmed she was a lucky guesser. But with a guy like this, it wasn’t hard to guess.
Talia stood up. “I need to go talk to my sister.”
He grabbed her arm and twisted it. Hard. She bit her tongue to hold the whimper inside.
Fortunately, in the center of his blood-spattered plate was an impressive steak knife — a handy weapon for self defense. She picked up the knife and drove it home.