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General

               The equipment was not old. It was, in fact, brand new just five or six years ago. The slide, although bleached from the sun, was sturdy and free of cracks. The swing set chains were not rusted nor pitted, but the ruts underneath from little feet were deep and there was water filling them. The grass had been cut at least somewhat recently. Mike took all of this in as he sat watching his little boy play. This was the same park his mom had brought him to play some twenty odd years ago. It all seemed the same. But something was nagging at him. It was like an itch between his shoulder blades that he just could not reach. He knew the only thing to do was just ignore it.

               He watched as Junior inched closer to the pavilion on the far side of the playground. He called for him to come back closer. Mike did not think the homeless man organizing all of his belongings under the pavilion would cause any problems. The man was not raving or cussing. He did not have a crazy eye or a hunchback. As far as homeless guys go this one seemed similar to the park, just tired and a little rough around the edges. As he watched Junior waddle back towards him, he thought, “But why risk it?”

               Waddling… Mike knew his mom, Junior’s grandmother, would have something to say about that at dinner. Sure, Junior was a little chunky, but he was only five years old. He did not even have the baby fat worked off after all. It did not matter. His mom would find some excuse to “humble you” as she put it. BEEP!!!! BEEP!!!! Mike looked down at his phone as the alarm sang on. It was time to go eat with the family.

               They arrived just as everyone was sitting down at the large, dark walnut dining table. Only five of the twelve seats were occupied. The table was crammed with all the Thanksgiving favorites. There was the giant bird that could easily have fed twenty people. There was mashed potatoes topped with a large chunk of butter next to the green beans freshly snapped. There was corn on the cob next to the sesame salad. The sweet yams were next to large platter of mom’s Sunday rolls. There was much more. It was a ridiculous amount of food that his mom had prepared. He expected to hear about how much trouble it had been and how long she had labored on it no less than a dozen times before the day was over. When Mike and Junior sat down, he received a warm smile from her as Uncle Jacob said grace.

               The conversation was surprisingly light and pleasant with Uncle Jacob telling stories whenever his mouth was not full. The cousins, Cindy and Ashley, laughing at all the punchlines they had heard many times before. Cindy’s new husband complimented each dish he sampled and seemed to be on a mission to have at least two servings of everything. Despite himself, Mike found he was feeling quite relaxed. He might even have been enjoying it just a bit.  That nagging feeling that had started in the park persisted however.  Then he saw his mother watching Junior eat another roll after another yam and braced for it. But it didn’t come. There was no snide comment, no jab that even if Junior didn’t understand he was being bullied, Mike would. Instead his mom just smiled and reveled in the joy of having what was left of her family together for the holiday.

               Dessert was the family tradition of chocolate pie with red wine. Uncle Jacob scurried to retrieve the glasses as Ashley recounted the story of Mike spilling the gravy on Aunt Margie so many years ago. Everyone laughed including Mike and Junior although Junior just laughed because everyone else had. As the wine was poured out, mom made a toast to the family and everyone clinked their glasses together and took polite sips. Well everyone except Uncle Jacob who decided to pour himself another glass right after the toast, his being empty already somehow. Mike’s mom gave Uncle Jacob an uncharacteristic wink.

               After dessert, Cindy and her husband offered to play with Junior in the backyard. Mike started clearing up the table taking loads of dirty dishes and empty serving plates to the kitchen. As he took the last load, he stopped in the doorway. There was his mom watching Junior through the small kitchen window play in a giant pile of leaves. Without turning around she said, “Thank you for bringing him today. I didn’t know if you would.”

“We went to the park first and worked up an appetite,” Mike replied warily.

“Well thank you anyway. I know my table has not always been the most welcoming of places for you.”

               That nagging feeling that had begun at the park and persisted through dinner finally melted away. The park was old but the equipment was maintained. It was still a beautiful park. The dinner table was as ornate and laden with food as every other Thanksgiving. The nagging feeling was the emptiness. It was not just the lack of kids at the park or lack of family in the seats. It was the emptiness of his own heart. It was the emptiness yearning to be filled by meaningful connection. And there watching her watch his son, he felt it for the first time in a very long time in that house.

               Mom died about four months later. It was cancer. Mike didn’t know if mom was aware of it at Thanksgiving, but he was sure she knew something was different. Mike rarely drives by the house he grew up in. Most times he will take another route just to avoid it, but Junior frequently askes to go to that park now.  Mike takes him more often than not. Every time as Mike watches Junior on the old slide or swing set, he sees his mom watching her grandson through the kitchen window.  She was thankful for her family in the end, and Mike was thankful for that. 

November 26, 2019 17:22

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3 comments

Yoomi Ari
21:53 Dec 04, 2019

This story based on Mike is clever as it provides a thought track and lets you experience. It cuts into you like a sharp yet numb blade.

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Craig S
21:58 Dec 04, 2019

Thank you. I feel like everyone knows a Mike, ya know?

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Yoomi Ari
22:34 Dec 04, 2019

Exactly. I feel like I grew up with everyone being called Mike. You get me? LITERALLY, NO SARCASM!

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