A Happy Thanksgiving

Alison Gerads

John grips the steering wheel of his old, rusted out blue Buick. He breathes in and exhales; his breath freezes in front of his face. He looked out at the ravine in front of him. It was beautiful during summer days—perfect for taking his hikes. A fluttery laugh haunts him through the harsh wind outside. A wind that beats against the car now and then, making it rock.

The lush greens of the trees and vegetation, along with the skittering animals, filled the forest with a residue of cheer left on those days that he took Kyle fishing at the river at the bottom of the crevice. The ravine is beginning to get harder to see through the powdery snow pilling up on the windshield.

Everything had been fine just an hour ago. Just fine. Just as fine as had been since… Well, he didn't want to think about it. He has done enough thinking.

Just like this forest has seen so many happier days, but now? It has turned into the lifeless husk of land before him. His lower eye lids raise as his brow tightens. God damn, he hates this car.

Winter brought snow. Winter brought ice. Winter brought car trouble. Winter brought car wrecks. Worse of all, winter brought holidays. John hated holidays even more than winter. It was all he could think as he sat at the table with his parents. He stole a look at a picture sitting on the cabinet. John of the past smiled out, his gray eyes weren't lined with wrinkles and his hair had significantly less pepper than he does now. He was also significantly more overweight than he is now. He beamed over his wife and son.

His wife, Jillian, had the most brilliant blue eyes John had ever seen—a trait that his son, Kyle, had inherited from her. Her wavy brown hair curled around her shoulders and framed her round face. Kyle was grinning up at them in that way that John knew he was up to no good. He was such a rascal.

A small smile was allowed to show upon his desperate lips. It faded as soon as he turned back to his food: cut turkey, corn, and his mother's homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. This used to be his favorite. His stomach gave a quiver and he put a hand over his mouth. He heaved his body up from his chair and took a few steps away from the table.

"Dear, you need to eat something," his mother, Emma, said.

"Not hungry," John said, taking a moment to touch his flat stomach, feeling his ribs poke his fingertips.

John felt the glare of his father as he said, "Now, boy, you listen to your mother. She knows what's best for you."

"I said..." John turned his body rigidly and returned his glare. "I'm fine."

"So that's what every Thanksgiving is going to be like for you now?" The old man slammed his hands down against the table, dishes clattering, as he stood up. He threw a finger out at him. "It's been five years, move on!"

"Jack!" Emma said, gasping in a high pitched way that was almost cartoonish.

"Move on?" John felt rage thundering through his veins, the tendons in his neck grew taught. "Move on?! How?"

He jabbed a finger toward the front door. "By gettin' out there! Maybe try getting with a girl for once!"

"Jack!" Emma yelled that time, grabbing his father's shoulder. "This hasn't been easy for him."

"Easy for him?" Jack turned to look at her, raising a single eyebrow. "He hasn't been easy on us. That time has come and gone for him. It's well time he go on with his life. Nothin' he can do now."

John could feel his fingernails digging into his palm as his fists grew tighter. His cheeks were blazing furiously, but instead he turned and walked into the living room. "Maybe I should just go."

"Yeah, get away wit' ya." His father said, waving his hand over his head as if he is throwing away nothing more than garbage. "Where's the son I raised? The man I was proud of? You're nothin' but a sentimental coward."

Emma rushed after John, but he was already sliding his feet into his shoes. "You know he doesn't mean that, right?"

"See ya, Ma," he said as he threw on his coat and left, slamming the door for emphasis.

He just stood there. It was long enough for his hands to grow numb and the skin under his fingernails to grow blue. Thrusting his hands into the pockets of his coat, he looked up at the cloudy sky, accented by falling snowflakes.

Frowning, he said, "This was how the weather was right before it happened… So gentle… How was I supposed to know?" He paused and lowered his gaze to his Buick with the fender nearly falling off. "I should have known."

None of that matters now. How can it? This will be the first happy Thanksgiving that John will have had in five years. How can anyone be sad at this perfect moment?

Turning the key, John hears the roar of the ignition and the old sputter of the muffler. Jamming his foot down on the accelerator, his elderly car shoots forward with all the force its four cylinders could muster. It truly is perfect. That beautiful weightlessness. He can feel all the pain, worry, and sadness being torn away from him. That baggage will stay here.

"I'm on my way, Jillian."