Something in the Gravy


Her mother had made pot roast that year. Not turkey. Not ham. Pot Roast, as if it were any other Sunday. It sat on the platter like a podgy monarch, surrounded by a small court of awkwardly shaped potatoes and carrots, and glistened in its own little pool of congealed fat. Her mother was not a good cook. Given to impatient and scatterbrained behavior, she was much better at coordinating nail lacquers or choosing the right shade of shoes to go with dresses off the rack. Drawing broth for gravy was not high on her skill list. It had been the first Thanksgiving she had been asked to host, and she had not wanted to do it. There had been scenes in the grocery store, scenes in the kitchen. Strung out, Eileen's father had visited the liquor cabinet frequently during the week prior to the meal. In less than seven days, he'd practically worn a path from his lounge chair to the back of the living room, where the cabinet stood.

At the oak dining table, which had been broadened by several leaves, Eileen looked around at the people sitting in front of her. There was Uncle Al, who sat, even as grace was being said, with his eyes open and glassy, already picking his teeth like a champ. Beside him was her Aunt Betty, whose protuberant lower lip, which mimicked the movements of those on a Kodiak Bear (a little loose, flopping from left to right whenever she spoke or breathed) was covered in a layer of frosted Sugarplum lipstick. It was part of the special holiday make-up palate suggested by the clerk at Renaldo's Downtown. She did not yet realize it, but she had accidentally left the tube in the bathroom and Eileen's mother, endowed with better fashion sense, hid it at the bottom of the waste can under a wad of Kleenex. There was no reason why the family had to bear that for the ensuing six weeks of festivity, she had said. Next, there was Eileen's sister Doreen in Fuller-Brush shaped pony tails, which were cinched tight with bright tartan ribbons. Her eyes were open like Uncle Al's, but she was gazing in the general direction of the greenish filling balls, which everyone assumed took their unusual hue from the herbs and celery bits. Eileen imagined that she, true to her habitually gluttonous nature, was waiting to pounce once she heard the concluding "amen." Grandma Tyler was the fervent one. Her eyes were closed, and her head bobbed in assent as Eileen's father continued with the prayer. It did seem endless.

After finally unfolding his hands and picking up the carving knife, Eileen's father began making thin slices of the roast, onto which he delivered, between double-pronged fork and knife tip, to the plates that circulated before him. It was around this time that the family began to realize there was something bizarre in the gravy. Aunt Betty's Sugarplum maw sucked inward when she recognized it. Eileen looked up at her suddenly lipless relative, having heard her sharp intake of breath. Her eyes were trained on her plate and had grown as large and round as the silver-plated charger beneath it. Eileen looked down at her own dish. Wasn't that a tiny arm bone? A furry tibia? The four claw-bound digits of a rodent?

They had pizza for Thanksgiving that year. It was Vegetarian with extra cheese, as no one could, at that point, face the Meat-Lovers Special. No prayer was said before they opened the box, although the words "Deliver us from this meal" did circulate through Uncle Al's mind as Eileen's father slapped a large slice onto the folded paper towel he held. He may even have mumbled the words aloud because Aunt Betty nudged him rather violently in the ribs.

Savannah Schroll's first book, a collection of short stories, titled "The Famous & The Anonymous: The Deep & Darkly Secret" is available from Better Non Sequitur Press.