This wasn’t exactly going as planned.
“Oh, it’ll be fine,” she reassured me as she smoothed down my hair, all perfect teeth and girly perfume. And I believed her. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I should have known better to invite her. Her. Over to my house. When she knocked that Thursday morning, I should never have let her in. But there she was, beaming on the three concrete blocks we call our “front porch,” holding some foil-covered pie.
Phil, my older brother—the one who opened the door—just stood there, gawking. She hadn’t even knocked; he opened the door to step outside for a smoke, and there she was. Perfect teeth. Girly perfume. The unlit cigarette dangled in his mouth. I try, now, to picture him the way she did: stained undershirt hanging on his bony frame, a bit of scruff, unruly hair. Mole on his right cheek. He leaned against the door frame and dropped an irreverent, “How you doin’?” She giggled, shivering in the November air.
I’d been in the kitchen, you see. Momma stepped out to buy some more eggs, and I’d been put in charge of the cooking. Over the sound of the steam and flames and boiling water, I couldn’t hear Jenny’s, “Is, um, Walter here?”
The next thing I knew, Phil was strolling into the kitchen, opening the fridge and taking a swig from the milk carton. “Seriously?” I asked, “Don’t you even stop to think, at all?”
“Why should I? You’re the one that’s goin’ places, bro.” He smiled. “Pop always said you were the golden one, so why should I even bother?” He put the milk back. “Oh, by the way. Some girl was askin’ for you.”
By this time, the water was boiling over. I bolted out of the kitchen, pulling on a sweater, not bothering with shoes. “JENNY!!!!” Oh. She was still on the porch. “Here, here, let’s get you inside.” Perfect teeth. Girly perfume.
Inside, burning turkey. Melted butter. Old cigarette ash and my brother, in his stained undershirt. He smirked and offered to take her pie.
Thirty minutes later, the three of us were seated around the card table; me, still scarlet with embarrassment, Jenny still smiling serenely, and Phil. Still smelling of cigarette smoke, wearing a stained undershirt. Walter’s mom brought the turkey over to the table, and opened her mouth to give a toast….
When Phil interjected with his, “Well, in the American tradition of stepping on the backs of others in the name of progress… I wish to thank the Indians, who may or may not have brought this food to a group of starving English settlers, who celebrated with them for a week and then killed them off a year later.”
My mother, smiling valiantly, was the first to break the silence with a “hear, hear!” and they burst into a tinkling of plastic glasses and Styrofoam cups.