Interlude: A story for Thanksgiving, written after reading Jonathan Franzen.
He comes here, comes home, and disrupts everything. Why do we let him? We have a good life mother and I, a safe balanced life. Corrine visits – that’s my sister, three years older – with that insipid husband of hers, and we maintain the essential equilibrium. We don’t upset anything; we stay happy by keeping our private miseries in their own little compartments. We do not need to upset anyone or anything, least of all mother. We continue as we are. So why not him? He comes, a cyclonic force, and blows it all apart. Every time. He has to do it, has to be center of attention, center stage, center everything. Me, me, me. ‘Look at me, listen to me. This is me and I need you to notice.’ He may be our brother – it is because he is our brother, no doubt – but we have come to despise his presence, his showmanship, his ‘look at me and see how damaged I am, take notice of me’ attitude.
Thanksgiving, Christmas, whenever he turns up, our neat, tidy world, our happy world is turned on its head. He’ll do it again this time too because that is what he does. Why he thinks he has any right to say what he says, to criticize with a carefully placed word or to pull at this thread, that loose stitch, to pick apart everything we’ve so patiently knit together, but he does. He thinks he has that right. Or perhaps he doesn’t realize he’s doing it. But no. That’s too naive. Of course he knows. It could only ever be deliberate, pernicious.
And so he comes again with the big pronouncements. The great declarations. Look at me, look at me. He waits till the turkey is being carved, the turkey I have slaved over, each Thanksgiving like the last, because that is how mother likes it.
‘I have something to tell you all,’ he says.
‘We don’t want to know,’ I say, halting the carving, electric knife in mid-air. ‘Please, Frank,’ I implore him, ‘not now. This isn’t about you.’
‘But I must,’ he persists. ‘I have to tell you. If not now, when? I have put it off for too long.’
I know of course what he is about to say and don’t want to hear it. None of us does. We don’t need the fragile peace disturbed by another of his revelations.
‘Don’t,’ I say and resume slicing the meat, mouthing towards him, ‘you’re one sick bastard.’
Mother turns away. ‘We should say grace,’ she says, Corrine and her dull, gray husband bow their heads in compliance. ‘Lord, for this food,’ mother begins.
‘I want to tell you. I need to tell you,’ Frank implores.
‘For this food, we give you, our gracious God and Savior’
I’m… I have been for as long as I’
‘we thank you and praise your holy’
‘We don’t want to know,’ I snap. ‘So shut the fuck up,’ I mime at him.
‘For all good things,’ mother intones. ‘For food, family and’
‘I’m…’ Frank persists.
‘Fellowship, we praise your holy name’
I drop the knife on the table. Corrine jumps, startled. ‘You have to, don’t you,’ I say to him. You have to take over. Be the center of attention. Always. You complete and utter shit!’
‘Language, George, please,’ mother implores, visibly shocked. It is the first time I have ever used a four-letter word in front of her.
‘It’s always the same,’ I plead in mitigation. ‘He always has to take center stage. Well,’ I go on, turning towards him, ‘what is it you have to tell us that cannot wait? What is worth spoiling our happy Thanksgiving for? Come on, let’s hear it.’
Frank bows his head in supplication. ‘I just wanted to tell you,’ he says. ‘Need to tell you. That I’m…’
‘Yes,’ I say, impatient, I admit, to get it over with and get to the meal set before us; to return to normality.
‘I’m,’ he falters, ‘I’m sorry, mother, but… but I am… no longer a believer. I haven’t been since before I left for college. I’ve just never been able to tell you.’
‘Well, I hope you’re happy now,’ I say as mother begins to cry. ‘I hope you’re happy with what you’ve achieved here today.’
‘Oh, Frank,’ mother sobs. ‘Of course you’re not. Once saved, always saved. You remember.’
‘No, mother,’ he begins.
‘That’s enough,’ I say, taking charge. ‘He’s had his histrionics, now let’s all forget it and eat our dinner. Pass the cranberry sauce, Corrine.’