Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Very Pancakes Thanksgiving

Emiliano looked up as Pastina pushed open the swinging door from the kitchen and came into the living room where he sat near the fireplace. Her arms were crossed defensively, and she had left the kitchen in such a hurry that she still wore the full apron protecting her holiday dress against the messes involved in helping prepare the holiday meal. The girl looked annoyed, and Emiliano knew, as he often did, that his daughter Pancakes was the cause. “What’s she saying?” he asked.

“She’s on the phone with them right now,” Pastina said. She shook her head. “I had to walk in here before I hit her with a meat tenderizer.”

“She really told them not to come?”

Pastina’s blue eyes widened in momentary exasperation. “Not exactly. I think she knows better. You don’t just tell somebody they’re uninvited for Thanksgiving.”

“So how did she put it?”

Pastina adopted a mock-pleasant tone in imitation of her friend. “Well, they’re perfectly welcome to come to dinner, but she can’t promise there’ll be anything for them to eat.”

“What?” Emiliano knew that his daughter was opinionated and headstrong and sometimes a little bit self-righteous. Plus, she was fifteen now, and she often let her emotions get the best of her. But he liked to believe that she knew better than to be rude. “What does that mean?”

“That’s what she said! ‘I just can’t promise there’ll be anything to eat.’ As if there’s a shortage. As if we’re having to use up ration tickets.” Pastina sat heavily in an armchair and hunched down in passive defiance. It was all too much for her. Pastina’s sense of hospitality was, once again, being trumped by Pancakes’s sense of outraged personal justice. She wondered why she didn’t find herself a new best friend.

“But … but why wouldn’t there be enough to eat? We have plenty of food here.”

“It’s a technicality she came up with. Since she decided she’s mad at Will and doesn’t want him and his friends to come over, she got a couple of the others to agree with her. So now she thinks she’s doing right by everybody.”

Emiliano stepped over to the kitchen door and listened. He could hear Pancakes’s voice. The words weren’t clear, but he recognized the tone. It sounded remarkably like her mother’s when she was mad about something but didn’t want to admit it.

Pastina continued. “I think Pancakes does kind of want Will to come over, but who can tell? They break up so much that I never know if I’m supposed to like him or not. Anyway, the situation in the kitchen is out of control. Thanks to Pancakes, Emily’s decided all of a sudden that she has a backbone. And the first issue she decided to use it on is this holiday stinginess.”

“Emily? What happened to the neurotic we knew?”

Pastina shrugged. “New meds? I don’t know. Even when she’s her normal self, I don’t get her. Or any of Pancakes’s friends from the reading group, really. They’re like her little cheerleaders or something. And now they’ve got Vincent siding with them.” Pastina shook her fist. “Sometimes I just want to punch him in the eye. “He’s the lamest boyfriend on the planet.”

Emiliano tried to think of something fatherly to say, but he came up empty. His daughter was spreading bad holiday cheer, the kitchen was full of Pancakes’s oddball friends, Pastina was uncharacteristically angry and sarcastic, and somewhere in the house his mother-in-law was clucking over the fiasco that the Dunst Thanksgiving was becoming.

Suddenly Pancakes came out of the kitchen, the swinging door nearly hitting Emiliano in the shoulder. She still held the mobile phone loosely in one hand. “I told them that it wasn’t going to happen,” she announced to them both, “so that’s three fewer places we’ll have to set.” She looked at both of them in turn, as if expecting a response. “And I don’t want anybody bugging me about it anymore, okay? I swear, if Torvald in there doesn’t shut up, I’m sending him home without any turkey at all.”

Emiliano adopted his sad-dad look and put a reassuring hand on Pancakes’s shoulder. “Honey, you didn’t really tell those boys not to come over, did you?”

“Dad!” Pancakes yelled, brushing his hand away. “In the first place, I only invited Will! Then last week he said, no, he had these other guys he was hanging out with for Thanksgiving, so fine. And then yesterday they suddenly leave me this message, asking when they should be here. We didn’t plan on their coming.”

“But has there ever been any Thanksgiving meal in your memory where we didn’t have twice as much food as we really wanted?”

Pastina rolled her eyes upward toward the vaulted ceiling. “Does ‘Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown’ mean nothing anymore?”

Pancakes looked at both of them in disbelief. “What? Are you telling me that I’m wrong? I should just let anybody crash our party?”

Emiliano looked troubled. He didn’t want to arbitrate this. He’d told Pancakes she could host Thanksgiving this year. He should have expected a few bumps. “Pancakes,” he said at last, “I’m just saying that it’s Thanksgiving. You’ve seen the TV specials. It’s supposed to be kind of a free-for-all.”

“God, Dad, whatever!” Pancakes yelled, turning on her heels and heading back into the kitchen. “I’m just trying to make everybody happy!”

“Congratulations,” Pastina muttered as the door swung shut.

Emiliano sat down again and picked up his book. “I’m just going to stay out of this,” he said. “There’s no winning with this today. I guess at least we can be thankful that her mother’s not here this year, or then my precious daughter might start throwing giblets at people.”

“The night’s still young,” Pastina said. She stood up reluctantly and followed Pancakes into the kitchen.