Friday, November 27, 2015

Davida's Thanksgiving

Davida's Thanksgiving
Outside, the thick quilt of snow has muted the world. Each time Davida looks out the bay window, it’s snowing harder than it was before, and she can’t shake the feeling that she’s trapped in a giant snow globe. She shivers and turns up the baseboard heat. 
When her son Fred told her that he wasn’t coming home for Thanksgiving because he’d been invited to Ohio to meet his fiancé’s parents, Davida hadn’t batted an eye. She’d figured that she and Wallace would invite Kendra and Jeff over. She’d imagined that the four of them would enjoy a lively Thanksgiving afternoon playing cards. That had been back in August and it feels like a lifetime ago. No, it feels like it happened to another person.  
Davida turns back to the window with a sigh and lowers the shades. Dusk will fall soon and she can’t bear to look at the snow anymore. She needs to distract herself, she decides, and wanders into the dining room where a half completed jigsaw puzzle sits on the table. There’s also a paper plate with a slice of homemade pecan pie, vanilla ice cream melted in a puddle at its base. Davida sits down, shuffles a few puzzle pieces, then takes a bite of pie. The crust is soggy and she grimaces. Why did she even bother baking it? It was Wallace’s favorite, not hers.
Wallace left her three weeks ago. After thirty-two years of marriage, he’d told her he wanted a divorce in the same voice he used to schedule dentist appointments over the phone.  He’d called twice since, still polite. The first call was from Italy, the second from Spain. He and Kendra planned to be in Paris at Christmas he said, and gave Davida a mailing address there so she could forward his mail.
Davida taps a puzzle piece on the table. She feels restless and vaguely guilty, like she’s shirking her duties. She’s always enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving; always enjoyed getting up early to cook and clean. Maybe she would feel better if she cooked herself an early dinner. She taps the puzzle piece against the wooden table again, then sets it down and pushes her chair back. As she rises to her feet the overhead light flickers, dims, and then goes dark. The electricity has gone out.
Two hours later, the power hasn’t come back on and the hushed chill of the outdoors has begun to creep inside. Davida tried working her jigsaw puzzle by candle light, but there are too many shadows. The house is full of quivering shadows and so is she. Now, Davida huddles on the couch, the hood of her parka pulled up over her head and an afghan across her knees. She wonders what she should do if the power doesn’t come back on before bedtime. The snow has stopped and the clouds have begun to clear.
Even through the muffling of her hood, Davida hears laughter from outside. She pushes the window shade aside and peers out. Flashlight beams dance beside the snow banks and she sees that a group has gathered in the street. One flashlight breaks off from the group and bobs towards her neighbor’s yard where it illuminates a snowman under construction. As she watches, the darkness of the night seems to retreat just a bit. With the starlight reflecting off snow, Davida can make out the familiar forms of several of her neighbors. Her doorbell rings and she drops the window shade with a startled squeak.
Seven year old Liza Whitmore is at her door, bundled up in a puffy purple snow suit and wearing a matching hat, scarf, and mitten set. “Mama says to come on over for hot chocolate,” Liza says. The child reaches for Davida’s hand with her mittened one, and tugs. In her slippers and parka, Davida allows herself to be led outside and over to the group where Mrs. Whitmore hands each of them a mug of steaming cocoa, complete with marshmallows on top.
“Kevin wanted to build a snowman so he and Joshua decided to invite all the kids in the neighborhood,” Mrs. Whitmore laughs. “We had a big pot of hot water on the woodstove. Liza and I decided we should make cocoa and turn the evening into a party. After all, it’s Thanksgiving!” Mrs. Whitmore laughs again and ladles another mug full of cocoa from the big stainless steel pot sitting at her feet. She hands this mug to Sig Carstensen who thanks her and then introduces his family from Chicago to Davida. The names slide out of her head before she has the chance to memorize them, but she’s smiling, which feels good, even though her cheeks are stiff and sore as though she hasn’t smiled in years.
Liza finishes her drink and drops Davida’s hand to go make snow angels with Lakshmi Kalawat. The two girls shriek with laughter as they fall backwards into the snow over, and over again. Davida lets the conversation among the adults wash over her. They talk about football, politics, family recipes, and of course how long the power will be out. Davida tilts her head back and gazes up at the stars.
Myrtle Davis sidles up to Davida and lays a hand on her arm. “I’ve been wondering how you’re holding up,” she says in her soft voice. “I heard about Wallace leaving. I’m so sorry.” Myrtle is divorced, Davida remembers.
Soon, the hot chocolate runs low and the Whitmore’s yard is filled with a whole family of snow people. The Whitmore’s urge everyone to come warm up beside their wood stove. Davida’s toes are numb and she is happy to accept the invitation. Twenty people crowd into the Whitmore’s living room and before she can object, one of the older children urges her into a rocking chair by the fire, while a young teenager brings her a guitar and begs her to play. He remembers her playing guitar at his fourth birthday party, he says, and he asks so nicely and so insistently that Davida can’t help but succumb to his pleas.
At first her fingering is a little slow and her voice is rusty, but someone hands her another mug of cocoa, this one with a bit of brandy in it, and it loosens her up just enough to push her past feeling awkward about being out of practice. Two songs later, her fingers are as nimble as ever and both children and adults are crowded around her, singing along. She can hear her blood humming in her veins, her heart thumping along to the rhythm of the music. The fire and the music are waking her up from the nightmare of the past three weeks. Waking her up and heating her up, too. The ice is melting, making her eyes drip, drip, drip, like she’s having a spring thaw. She can feel the air in her lungs again, and takes deep breaths, even between songs.
Nobody notices exactly when the electricity comes back on, they’re too busy singing and clapping with the music. Then, during a brief lull, Mrs. Whitmore disappears to the kitchen and when she comes back, grinning and holding a tray of turkey sandwiches, she flips on the living room lights with a dramatic flourish that makes most of the guests laugh. Davida strums the opening chords of The Light Came On and serenades the small crowd with her son’s favorite childhood song about a little boy fascinated by electricity.
The party runs late into the evening and when Davida awakes late the next day, her throat is sore from singing and the fingertips of her left hand are raw and painful from pressing against the steel guitar strings. She’ll have to grow some calluses, she decides as she climbs into the attic and pulls down her dusty guitar case. She’ll have to grow some calluses, but at least she can feel the raw spots.