Neither Meyer Rothstein nor Moishe Feingold were going to the Thanksgiving dinner at Sheila’s this year.
The in-laws. More like COVID outlaws this year. Exclusions by necessity. Accepted exceptions.
They were not un-invited, exactly. Not really.
‘No. Dad, please, I hope you don’t think that.”
‘No. No. Of course not.’
‘Oh my god, Dad, I can’t believe how careful you’ve been. You should be an example for everyone. I mean it. A man your age. I wish I could be so careful. Even Rona, who used to be a nurse said so.’
‘Look. It’s the right thing. The only real alternative. Considering the virus and all. The vulnerability.’
‘And you shouldn’t be driving all that distance alone. What if it rains? And you know how it is always so noisy with the TV and the kids under the table and the dogs who don’t get along and that little one with only one eye who jumped up on the sideboard and tipped the plate of pigs-in-blankets onto the floor and ate them all last year. Remember that? Chomping away with his one eye so wide and wary.’
‘Yes, of course, I remember. He ran under my chair and vomited them all up. You don’t have to remind me.’
‘And you know how the conversation goes sometimes with you and Moishe. Politics. Not saying it’s anyone’s fault. And him with his food allergies. He’s not coming. Too bad. We’ll really miss you both so much. It’s so good you understand.
‘I do. I do. You shouldn’t worry. The traffic and where would I sleep anyway? Don’t give it a second thought. It’s the right thing. Don’t worry. Me? I can take care of myself.’
‘Maybe we’ll all do Christmas and Hanukah together. Who knows? We could Zoom.’
‘Ok Dad, miss you.’
‘Miss you, too. Say hi to everyone for me.’
‘I will. Don’t forget to play Alice’s Restaurant… You can get anything you want at…’
A moment later, Rothstein picked up the phone and called Feingold. ‘So, you heard?’
They arranged to meet at the Black Creek Inn in Poughkeepsie, halfway, give-or-take, between Binghamton and Waterbury.
Separate rooms. Non-smoking. Rothstein brought a fine Cohiba cigar with him. It was good to have a nice smoke once in a while, when no one else was around to say how can you smoke that awful thing? He brought duct tape for the smoke alarm. He’d blow the smoke out the window.
Feingold brought a Henning Mankell mystery he was reading and a half-bottle of Glenlivet. Single malt.
‘So, Meyer. Here we are.’
‘Here we are indeed, Moishe. Who would have thought? At opposite ends of the table once again.’
‘Yes. But at a much smaller one. An unusual but welcome intimacy we are never afforded under the normal November rules of engagement.’
‘I will have the 2018 Morgon Beaujolais, and he will have the 2014 Chambolle Burgundy
‘Excellent. And for dinner?’
‘I will have the, one moment, (Meyer adjusted his glasses) the local heritage turkey braised with mirepoix and the chanterelle mushroom and sage dressing, with the wood-roasted autumn vegetable gremolata.’
‘Very nice. And you sir?’
‘I’ll have the same except with the apple sausage, fennel, and caramelized onion dressing and can I have the garlic potato purée instead of the autumn vegetables?’
They ordered two more glasses of wine.
‘How do you figure they can serve everything at the same time steaming hot? Unlike when the turkey comes out hot and the candied sweet potatoes and green beans are already cold and the children are bored silly.’
‘No idea, myself. How’s the stuffing?’
‘Superb. All of it. Every bite.’
‘So glad we came here.’
‘I don’t think I can eat all of this.’
‘Don’t even try, Moishe. We’ll ask for some bread now and we take the leftovers’ back to our rooms and have sandwiches later.’
‘That’s what I do every year.’
‘Meyer. Thank you for calling me. I appreciate it.’
‘No buts. I know I can be argumentative. It’s in my blood. Not in my heart. I hope you know that. The others see argument and they think animosity. I don’t hate you or even what you believe. I don’t.’
‘I know that Moishe. We have our disagreements. What thoughtful well-meaning people don’t? But maybe not anymore when we get together as family, yes? Are we good?’
‘We’re good, Meyer. We’re never too old for argument. I just don’t want to be discounted simply as a disgruntled, stubborn, old man.’
‘Agreed, and I promise I will never again say that you have the brain of an axolotl.’
‘Some desert, gentlemen?’
‘We’ll share the warmed apple and cranberry galette and the chocolate and walnut tart.’
‘Why do you think they always say perfect? As if we might normally make a hideous choice?
‘Who knows? But what does it matter?
‘It doesn’t. I was just trying to make conversation. Why are you always like this? You’re sitting there with, what is the right word, with a morose puss on you like it’s your last meal.
‘Coffee or tea, gentlemen?’
‘In a minute. We’re talking here.’
‘I am a little morose. You’re right. I am. I’m disturbed that I didn’t put up a fuss about not going to Sheila’s. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as concerned about infection as Fauci, but to just meekly acquiesce? I don’t feel good about that.’
‘What do you want, to walk into a roomful, casting your fate to the breeze created by a ceiling fan? I’m glad Sheila called me. I was relieved I wouldn’t have to make a decision. It was taken out of my hands. And when I knew you would not be there, I felt a certain relief that I wouldn’t been shown up by you, the martyr.’
‘What martyr? It would be martyrdom to be near my family? I would wear an N-95, two, and I’d sit in the hallway. I’d feel the energy from the table, the children.’
‘You astound me, Moishe. Here we sit, in peace, eating the most sumptuous meal we’ve ever had and you only feel guilt. You are not letting them down. They love you and it’s the best and smartest thing to do. You’re making me out to be an ogre.’
‘And, what, Meyer, you have no guilt? The money we’ll spend on this clandestine feast while your daughter, if I know Sheila, is feeling terrible that she convinced you not to be with her. She will be looking around the room and seeing you not there.’
‘Listen to me, she’d feel ten times more terrible if by some small chance I would catch the virus at her house. That she caused me harm, risked my life for her own fleeting pleasure. No. If I were there, she would be worried to death.’
‘Gentlemen, gentlemen, please. There are…’
‘I know, I know. We’ll be quiet. Bring us two coffees.
‘I’m sorry, Meyer. I apologize. You’re not an ogre.’
‘And maybe you’re not a martyr.’
‘I think of our relationship as a Venn diagram, it has two circles that overlap a lot.’
‘But where they do not overlap, there are the kings, to mix a metaphor, that we must defend on the board. And that is where the battles lie.’
‘Again, no question. There are always at least two sides. Neither is all wrong or all right. Moishe, let’s get some rest.’
‘Good. And so, sandwiches at eleven?’
‘By the fire?’
‘I said it first.’