She could almost hear Old Mrs. Grimm talking about how to make the best stuffing as Sarah passed the stuffing-bowl over to her and she piled a little mound on her plate and tasted it with its mix of cheese and a little undertaste of oysters, this bread and that bread, "cured" just long enough, "the only way you can tell when anything's right is instinct, the right consistencies, textures, smells," always like she was writing for a course in critical cookery instead of being just an old (80) retired medical lab tech who was the house-dressed, white-haired incarnation of Kansas City middlewestern sanity.
"So how do you like the dressing?" Sarah asked, her voice suddenly breaking through the clouds of ghost-presences that huddled opaquely around Mildred.
"Good. Just like the old days."
"Not really," said Dolly, still looking sexy, even sixty and overweight, "It's stove-top, store-bought, from a package."
"I don't buy that!" Mildred scoffed.
"Of course with some extra touches," Dolly over-smiled her
Cheshire Cat smile, the way she'd always smiled, even if now a masterwork of wrinkles, her black-tighted legs still looking sexily sausagey.
Mildred hardly believing that Willy's ex-wife (two wives back in fact) was still living with Willy's sister twenty years after their divorce...the same way she could hardly believe that she herself was there with Bill across the table from her, what, fifteen years after their divorce.
Just because their daughter, Sally, was still there in Kansas City, that was what drew them together....but not really....
So I'm old and Bill's new wife is young, she said to herself, so what, give her a few years and she'll catch up....
Hardly believing how old Bill himself looked with the depression in his skull where the tumor(s) (benign) had been.
Charlie, the Rotweiler, coming up to her now under the table and licking at her legs, nuzzling up between her legs, not OK.
""Come on, that's enough!" she said gently, kicking him away.
"You know what he likes!" laughed Dolly passing the turkey now, huge,
ragged, shaggy globs of it.
"What?" asked Bill's wife, Noreen, innocently.
"Don't worry about it," said Bill protectively, as if to imply that Dolly was a real slum-head to say such a thing.
"Brother, this is great turkey," said Mildred, taking and eating a piece in her fingers.
"You're family, you know that, are, were, always will be," said Sarah with a big grin.
"You can't divorce a daughter," said Ally, her daughter, as Mildred got up with a forced smile as if she were going to the John, walked out through the living room to the side yard and cold or no cold, snow or no snow, cried a few muted tears that thanked the Powers for acceptance in a world in which she was generally very unaccepted, and then came back, reached over and took a generous helping of cranberry sauce and steeled herself for a confrontation with its sweet, deep acidity.
"I think it's wonderful we're all together like this," said Bill "I haven't had a suicidal or homocidal impulse all day."
A wide smile. You'd think he was kidding, but, of course, he wasn't.
The room filling with fluttering voices for her again, all the old ladies who had lived there, the one old man, we want back too, exile isn't fair, especially exile this unyieldingly complete and permanent.
Opening his eyes, looking out the window, high pressure, look at those billowy-pillowy clouds, such a classic blue soup, who-what-where am I. Then looking at the mirror on the dresser next to the bed, I'm dead, sepulchral white classic corpse, but I can't be dead, never thought I'd get to this age, whatever it is, it is me, isn't it ? Smiling, and the image smiled back, I don't want it to ever change from this, I want to get inside the clouds, nuages, nuages sounds more like clouds than clouds, dans les nuages, inside the bodies of the sparrows and cardinals and doves and the owls at night, the frogs and ducks and the pines, nothing can not have a beginning, so it has to have begun but what was there before it began, and how could it have begun from nothing, so it can't really be, but it is, and I am, although not for long, and how can there be a soul when I see with my eyes and think with my brain and feel with my skin, as if there were some sort of eyeless, brainless, earless, muscleless thing that just floated around, shalom aleichem, malacai hashareit/Peace be to you, o ministering angels, closing his eyes for a moment, feeling the pressure in his bladder, somehow getting to his feet and urinating in a big plastic jar next to his bed, looking at the pictures in his room for a moment, a drawing of whores in hockey masks by his old pal, Curt Johnson, a collage of photos from all different phases in his life that he'd put together years before, including one photo of himself at age six or seven flanked by his parents, his father dead now almost 25 years, his mother for 5, all his aunts and uncles dead, all his parents' friends dead, whole armies of his own friends, Baruch Atta Adonai, Holy is God, I can't believe the gallbladder emulcifies fat and got attached to the bowel just by chance, or that the ovaries produce eggs and go down special tubes to meet sperm during an act of passion designed just for that...all just by chnce...dear Whoever You Are, give me back a name, or not even that, maybe just more time, Zen Monet, I'll paint the clouds on the canvas of my mind, leaving his body altogether now and projecting out into the sky, his soul curdling up, cottage cheesing into clouds and then pallette-knifing into a delicate, diluted blue, this is what I was made for, for this I came, seeing the door open and someone come in, wife, mother, nurse, angel, demon, he wasn't sure, moving across the sky now, changing shapes from a buffalo to a whale to a stagecoach, then nothing, nothing at all.