The Sacrificial Dinner

It was an inherently violent holiday. Centered around a massacre not just of an indigenous people but of the creature served as the primary entree. A giant eviscerated bird stuffed with new “fixings” to make it “come alive” in an entirely more sinister way than when it actually was. For Margot, this tradition had been taken on with a greater weight crushing her shoulders when she married into Lyle’s family. They were Massachusettsans, with a very strong link to their ancestors that came over on the Mayflower. Margot couldn’t understand why it was a link they didn’t want to sever considering the pillaging of land wasn’t really “chic” anymore (unless you did it under the guise of gentrification). But she went along with it for Lyle. And this was the first year they were meant to be hosting the dinner at their house, which instantly put too much pressure on Margot for it meant that if his family commuted all the way to Philadelphia from their palatial Boston mansion and the meal wasn’t up to par with what they usually had a staff of ten help to prepare, then Margot was about as fucked as the “Indians.”

It was with this mindset that Margot entered the grocery store with roughly three days until the doomed Thursday that would amount to her making or breaking it as a true Finneston. But maybe she ought to have kept her own last name or at least hyphenated. Then again, there was something vexingly pretentious about the sound of Margot Reynhart-Finneston. She couldn’t handle the scrutiny that would come with such a name. So she capitulated to being Margot Finneston. It’s not as though her own family seemed to mind, deeply recessed as they were in rural Pennsylvania, telling her that if she wanted to see them, she could “come on out,” but there was no way they were going to venture into her neck of the woods to see her live as a city slicker. It was a wonder they had the “grace” to spell her name with a “t” at the end the more she thought about it.

Tolstoy was the one who said, in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” She figured that was true, and that beneath the “pleasantness” of Lyle’s rapport with his still married parents and his older brother and younger sister, there was likely a spreading crack in the veneer. One that she was responsible for preventing from showing on Thanksgiving, when everyone’s senses were counting on her to make it a “grand” affair. Oh why couldn’t she have married an orphan? Or someone who was from a family accustomed to living on food stamps? What was so great about Lyle, she would sometimes ask herself. And then he would walk into the room and make all her worries melt away. There was something soothing and stolid about his very demeanor. He placated all of her concerns without ever having to say a word. Except that day at the grocery store, when everything already started to fall apart before it could even begin.

She had pre-ordered one of those supposedly “organic,” “free-range” turkeys that were said to taste infinitely superior. She never really noticed the difference. Probably because she only ate one slice of turkey a year and doused it in gravy to ignore the fact that she was eating the very emblem of colonialism. It made her uncomfortable and she honestly didn’t know why people still felt obliged to honor this day when it said nothing about “coming together” so much as the very definition of what it meant to tear people apart. Just as it was about to when the man behind the poultry counter informed her that there was no order placed in her name and that the last turkey had been picked up just moments ago by the woman careening down the produce aisle in a cloche hat. A fucking cloche hat. She glared at the man, wanting to blame the snafu on his incompetence, but knowing that she needed to catch the woman who had ripped the turkey from the womb of her potential good graces among the Finnestons. She wasn’t going to be sly or apologetic about it. She was going to be like Nicolas Cage in Face/Off. And with that inspiration in mind, she whipped the woman around by the shoulder, slapped her across the face to further disorient her, grabbed the turkey out of the cart and ran for the parking lot without looking back. Was shoplifting a stolen on two levels turkey really the best way to start off preparations for her dinner? No. But it was in the spirit of the Thanksgiving narrative.

***

After Lyle bailed her out of jail (which stalled her cooking by a day as he seemed to want to teach her a lesson by keeping her in there), she was in tears. Disheveled and disarrayed, she looked cautiously at Lyle and asked, “Was I on the news?”

“Of course you were. What the fuck were you thinking? If I’m lucky I can keep this off of my parents’ radar. Thank god we don’t live in the same town.”

“Aren’t you going to even ask me how I’m doing?”

He glared at her. “Don’t make this about you. I’ve taken over the reins on this dinner. I bought a shitty turkey and you’ll just have to make it work.”

“They’re going to kill me.”

“They don’t care. They just want to see us. You’re making them out to be bourgeois monsters.”

Margot bit her lip, figuring it best to say nothing to that than to corroborate it. She needed to avoid escalating the argument with her only ally at all costs. She also needed a shower.

***

The hour had arrived when the Finnestons were to pull up. And pull up they did in their silver Bentley. That was just his parents. His brother, Eric, and his wife, Jacinda, followed in a beige Aston Martin, while his sister, Caroline, rounded out the non-imposing colors in a gold Jaguar. They clearly had a thing for Britishness. Hence, their love of Thanksgiving. Lyle was the one to answer the door, while Margot popped another Valium in the kitchen and took a swig of vodka before opening the oven to determine the progress of her bunk turkey. Its small size alone was enough to invoke criticism from the silently judging countenances of the Finnestons. What was she doing? Why was she in a cocktail dress pandering, to boot? She supposed her greatest fear in life was losing Lyle. And if she lost the approval of the family today, she had the suspicion that this would be precisely what would happen.

Steeling her nerves with one more swig, she sashayed into the living room all smiles as she asked for drink orders. One would never guess that she had an M.A. in Philosophy. Instead using her brain to transport all of the beverages with a delicate balance on a silver tray back to her guests, each engrossed in some reminiscence that Caroline was rehashing about Lyle. The cadence and rhythm of the conversation went on like that for some time, with each family member taking the spotlight to tell an inside joke-related anecdote, leaving Margot out of the conversation entirely, for she had no idea who or what they were talking about for the most part. It was fine though. She was swimming serenely on a sea of vodka tonics and no one could rescue her from drowning now. Except that infernal turkey. Beckoning to her–and everyone else–with its smoky alert announcing: I’m burned.

Lyle stared at her incredulously. “Margot, do you want to check on the turkey?”

“Uh…yes. Of course.” She slowly got up so as to avoid teetering with drunkenness, but her intention backfired when the weight of her inebriation made her fall back in the chair. “Oops,” she said. “Must be gaining holiday weight already.” She then essayed once again to rise, succeeding this time and quickly trotting to the kitchen so as to avoid the looks that could kill. She didn’t need to open the oven to know what was happening. And maybe it was self-sabotage anyway. How else would she be able to explain fucking this up? That the girth of the turkey was smaller than expected so she miscalculated the cooking time? That would somehow sound snarky toward Lyle, who had selected the accursed bird. All she could do was stare blankly at the stove to unearth what she already knew, an endless stream of smoke eventually revealing the charred animal with the mounting buildup of giant feathers unveiling a burlesque dancer. Then the smoke detector went off for good “putting her incompetence on blast” measure.

Lyle called out, “Everything okay?” even though she knew that he knew damn well it wasn’t.

“Just a small hiccup!” she shouted back. “Why don’t you all take a seat at the table?” She had to think of something, and fast.

***

She felt much better now. A sense of permanent relief. And in the end, she knew this is what the family really wanted. The kind of meal they had been hoping for all along. As Eric stabbed her leg once more with his fork, cutting off a more generous portion for his seconds, he told Lyle, “Your wife sure can cook. This is the best Thanksgiving feast I’ve ever had.”

 

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