Authors: Jennifer Weiner
She lifted one of the sandwich quarters, feeling its warmth, the yielding melted cheese between the buttery slices of bread. She knew how it would feel when her teeth shattered the crisp crust, when the warm cheese poured over her tongue, how it would feel to chew a mouthful, and swallow, and how her mouth would pucker when she took a bite of sweet, briny pickle and felt it crunch against her teeth. It would be so good. She wouldn’t be able to stop.
She put the sandwich down and wiped the butter off her fingers. “Jo, I’m sorry, but I’m just not hungry.” She could wait it out. In a few minutes, the bread would cool, the butter and cheese would congeal, the sandwich would stop looking so delicious and smelling so good. “Besides, aren’t we having dinner soon?”
Without answering, Jo turned back toward the stove. She turned the flame on under the pan, added more butter, pulled two more slices of bread out of the package, and spread more butter on them. When the second sandwich was set in front of her, Jo looked at her again and said, “Please.” With a crooked smile, she added, “I feel like you’re going to disappear.”
That’s what I want
, Bethie thought.
Don’t you understand?
But Jo was looking at her with stubborn insistence, and Bethie
knew her sister well enough to understand that Jo wouldn’t let up, that she’d make another ten sandwiches, sit here all night and into the morning until Bethie gave in.
Gingerly, she used her fingertips to lift a quarter of the sandwich. With the very edges of her teeth, she took the tiniest nibble. The bread crunched, the cheese oozed, the butter flooded her mouth with its taste of uncomplicated goodness. Bethie took another nibble, and another, then a bite, and when she’d finished the first quarter, she ate a pickle, and sipped from the glass of juice that Jo had poured.
“Okay?” she asked.
Jo shook her head. With great ceremony, she removed the last four cans of Metrecal from the cupboard and poured them, one after another, down the sink. “I don’t want you going anywhere,” she told her sister.
“Fine,” said Bethie. Her belly was unsettled, she felt uncomfortably full, and her throat ached as she watched Jo pour her diet shakes down the sink, one can after another, until every last drop had swirled down the drain and disappeared.
hanksgiving had always been her father’s favorite holiday. He’d liked the Jewish holidays, eating apples and honey on Rosh Hashana, leading the Passover Seders, but he had cherished holidays where the Kaufmans were the same as everyone else in Detroit and America, not the ones that only underlined their difference. He’d hang an American flag by the front door for the Fourth of July and Memorial Day and Veterans Day. They were always the first family with a pumpkin on their stoop in October, and every November, Ken would pull the steps down from the attic and retrieve, from a cardboard box marked
, the paper-plate turkey centerpieces that the girls had made in kindergarten. Her father did not cook, but on Thanksgiving, he would take charge of the turkey, putting it in to roast at just after six o’clock in the morning, crouching in front of the oven’s open door to baste it every fifteen minutes with his secret marinade that Jo knew was made of melted margarine, orange juice, and teriyaki sauce. The house would fill with the smells of roasting turkey, nutmeg and ginger and cinnamon, and Sarah’s famous Parker House rolls. At ten o’clock, Jo and Bethie would be bundled into their winter coats, even if it was still warm outside, and their father would take them to Woodward Avenue to see the Thanksgiving Day Parade. He’d lift Bethie onto his shoulders, and Jo would hold his hand. They’d stand as close to the curb as they could get
and watch the procession of bands, baton twirlers, balloons, and the Big Heads, marchers wearing giant heads made from papier-mâché. At two o’clock, the turkey would emerge from the oven and sit on the counter to rest. Jo would stare, wondering if anyone would notice if she broke off a wing tip to nibble, while her mother began to heat the side dishes she’d spent all week making, deftly sliding dishes in and out of the hot oven, shifting the plates and platters to make space. Her dad would drive into Detroit to pick up Bubbe and Zayde, and at four o’clock they would sit down for a feast.
Now, everything was different. Hudson’s was closed on Thanksgiving Day, but staffers who wanted to earn overtime could come in, starting at seven a.m., preparing the floor for the holiday shoppers who would show up first thing Friday morning, lists in hand.
Just so they could lord it over the last-minute people
, was Sarah’s opinion. She couldn’t afford to turn down time-and-a-half pay, so she’d signed up for an eight-hour shift. Jo thought about going to the parade—she could invite Lynnette, who had two younger brothers—but the thought of being there without her father made her feel like crying. Going to their uncle’s house was out of the question. So, together, the sisters came up with a plan.
“How would it be if we invited some people for Thanksgiving?” Jo asked on a Friday night in early November. The Shabbat dinners they’d once enjoyed had turned into makeshift affairs, with Bethie preparing the chicken, Jo setting the table, and Sarah picking up bakery challah on her way home from work. The store-bought bread was never as good as the bread Zayde had made, but Zayde had finally retired.
Her mother stared at her across the kitchen table, a vertical line cutting a groove between her eyebrows. “People like who?”
“Maybe the Steins. And the Simoneaux could come.”
Sarah looked from one daughter to the other. Jo was dressed in her Bellwood High sweatshirt and her long cotton basketball shorts; Bethie had on a blue-and-gold kilt that used to
be Jo’s, a blue blouse with a pointed collar, saddle shoes, and a dark-blue rayon cardigan, bought on sale and already pilling. Sarah had on her green faille wool dress and a leather belt. She had taken off the pumps she wore to work, the ones that left a red line across her instep, and was rubbing one foot with her thumb, sighing as she sat at the kitchen table, with a notebook and a nubbly plastic box of recipes, written in her large, looping handwriting on index cards, in front of her. The dress’s dark fabric absorbed the light, emphasizing Sarah’s pallor and the circles under her eyes.
“We’ll be eating leftover turkey for a month if it’s just us,” said Bethie.
“We could ask Henry Sheshevsky,” Jo said.
Sarah looked startled, then thoughtful. “Henry Sheshevsky. Now there’s a name from the past.”
“Come on, Mom,” said Bethie. “It’ll be fun!”
“And we’ll do the inviting,” said Jo, who thought appealing to Sarah’s sense of, or appetite for, fun was a losing battle. “And clean up when it’s over.”
“I can’t afford to stay home and cook . . .” Sarah said, but Jo could see that her mother was wavering.
“We’ll cook,” said Bethie. Sarah gave them an incredulous look. “I’ll cook,” Bethie amended.
“Hey! I can cook!” said Jo. Her mother and sister both looked at her with identical expressions of disbelief. Jo bit her lip. It was true that she’d endured some notable failures during the home economics classes that all girls at Bellwood High were required to take. In her defense, Lynnette had been distracting her the day she’d left the eggs out of a pound cake, and she was pretty sure that she’d been tripped the time she’d dropped a pan full of unbaked popover dough on the floor a few weeks later.
“How about Jell-O?” Bethie suggested.
Jo bit her lip. They’d always had Jell-O on the Thanksgiving table. Jo remembered how her father would plop a slice on his plate and perform the jingle. “Watch it wiggle, see it jiggle,” he’d sing.
The girls had loved it when they were little, but they had gotten increasingly embarrassed by the singing as the years had gone on. Jo cringed, remembering how, last year she’d rolled her eyes when he began. What she’d give to hear his voice again, she thought, even if he was singing a silly Jell-O ditty.
“Do you think you can handle that?” Sarah asked, giving Jo a hard look. “And be home at four o’clock? In a dress?”
“So can we ask some people?”
Sarah heaved another sigh. “As long as it doesn’t end up being more work for me,” she said. “You’ll have to help cook, and clean, and set the table.”
“We will,” Jo and Bethie promised, and Sarah finally, wearily, nodded her assent.
* * *
On Thanksgiving morning, the Kaufman ladies got up early. Sarah put an apron on over the skirt and blouse she was wearing to work that day and spooned Bethie’s stuffing into the turkey. Bethie, who was wearing her own apron, began sifting flour, salt, and baking soda for the rolls, while Jo set up the ironing board in the living room. She ironed their good white tablecloth and draped it over the three folding tables that they’d borrowed from the Steins. There would be fifteen at the table this year, the three of them, Bubbe and Zayde and Henry Sheshevsky, who would drive Sarah’s parents; their neighbors Don and Beverly Stein and Tim, Pat, and Donald Junior; and Mr. and Mrs. Simoneaux, with Bethie’s friend Barbara and Barb’s brother, Andy. Jo was looking forward to the crowd, conversation, and laughter, not long silences and bad memories. The Steins were bringing desserts, three kinds of pie and fresh whipped cream, and Henry Sheshevsky was bringing wine and schnapps, and the Simoneaux were bringing a cheese ball and crackers. Jo only wished that Lynnette could be there, but Lynnette hadn’t been able to convince her parents to forgo their annual trip to Grand Rapids.
Jo folded the ironed napkins at each place and set out the
white china plates and the crystal wine and water glasses Sarah had purchased with her Hudson’s discount. The previous afternoon had been a half-day at school, and, on her way home, Jo had purchased a bunch of yellow and orange gerbera daisies from a florist on 10 Mile Road. The guy behind the counter had flirted with her and thrown in some ferns and baby’s breath, and Jo turned the bouquet into three small arrangements, each in a cleaned glass jar that had once held mustard or honey. She set them on the table with a satisfied smile.
Maybe I can’t cook
, she imagined telling Lynnette,
but not all of the womanly arts are lost on me.
In the kitchen, the green beans and the sweet potatoes sat on the counter in their baking dishes, coming to room temperature before they went back into the oven. The rolls were rising, the turkey had been stuffed and trussed, and Sarah was off to Hudson’s.
“If it’s okay, I’m going to go to Lynnette’s for a while. I’ll make the Jell-O there,” Jo said.
“We’re starting at four,” Sarah reminded them. “Put the turkey in at ten, take it out at three to rest.” She gave Bethie a kiss, gave Jo a hard look, picked up her handbag, and walked out the door.
Pedaling to Lynnette’s, Jo thought about Thanksgiving and why it mattered to her mother. Maybe Sarah would never have a four-bedroom house in Southfield or Bloomfield Hills, or a colored girl in a uniform to help serve and clear; maybe she no longer had a husband and had to spend her days on her feet, cruising through the dressing rooms, calling, “Can I get anyone a different size?” or patiently telling women that even if a garment still had its tags attached, it could not be returned for a refund with visible perspiration stains underneath the armpits. In spite of it all, the Kaufman ladies could still get Thanksgiving dinner on the table; they could offer their guests a delicious meal; they could dish out turkey and stuffing and Parker House rolls and look like every other family in America.
Jo rode along, enjoying the exertion, the feeling of the muscles in her thighs working as she pedaled. Lynnette’s parents were leaving early for Grand Rapids, and Lynnie was going to drive herself and the boys at three, thus minimizing the amount of time that rowdy, clumsy, big-handed Randy and Gary Bobeck would spend in her grandmother’s house, which was full of fragile china figurines, breakable
, and white wall-to-wall carpeting. “Besides,” Lynnette had told Mrs. Bobeck, “Jo needs help with her cooking.”
She parked her bike by the garage and knocked on the door, and Lynnette opened it, wearing her soft pink bathrobe, with her hair still damp and her skin still pink from the shower. “Come on,” Lynnette whispered, grabbing Jo’s hand. She smelled like Camay soap and Prell shampoo, and Jo wanted to kiss every bit of her, from her little toes to the crown of her head. They’d hurried, giggling, through the house, which smelled, as always, of floor polish and pickling spices, through the living room, where the new sofa, with its skinny gold legs and turquoise-blue upholstery, sat in front of an enormous wood-paneled television set, proceeding straight to Lynnie’s bedroom.
Isn’t this better than it is with him?
Jo wanted to ask, as she nibbled the pale skin of Lynnette’s throat and brushed her fingertips against Lynnette’s breasts. Lynnette hadn’t told her much about what had happened with Bobby Carver, but Jo felt as if Lynnette’s lost virginity had turned their bedroom activities from pure delight into a contest every bit as competitive as a volleyball match or a basketball game. Hearing Lynnette sigh, seeing the rosy flush that suffused her chest and neck, watching her hips arch off the bed as her heels pushed against her pink-and-white flowered sheets, Jo would think,
Isn’t this better than it is with him?
But she never let herself ask, instead applying herself wholeheartedly to Lynnette’s delight, hoping her friend would come to that realization all by herself.
And what if she does?
Jo thought, as she cupped Lynnette’s head and kissed her.
She’ll break up with Bobby and run away with me?
It would never happen. Lynnette wasn’t built for that kind of life. Jo
wasn’t entirely certain that she herself was, either.
“Stop teasing,” Lynnette said, as Jo brushed her fingers, ever so lightly, over the curls between Lynnette’s legs. Ignoring her, Jo moved her hands down to Lynnette’s plump and quivering thighs, caressing until they fell open, revealing her most secret place. Jo bent her head, using just the tip of her tongue, as Lynnette squirmed and sighed, rocking her hips from side to side, grabbing for Jo’s hair, trying to pull Jo’s face more firmly against her. “Oh, God, oh, God, ohGod,” she chanted, as Jo slipped one finger inside of her, flicking her tongue, keeping her free hand pressed on Lynnette’s belly to keep her in place, wishing that she could stay there forever, in that bedroom, in that bed, with Lynnette warm and sweet and willing underneath her.