THE GRAVY BOAT – Maggie Claypool

By the time everyone sat down, Nora regretted allowing Luann to bring her new boyfriend to their annual Friendsgiving dinner.

It was a tradition the high school friends started when their oldest member, Annie, turned 40 one year on Thanksgiving.  Annie’s grandmother, Esther, was included because she was present for the first dinner.  In the 15 years since, occasionally husbands attended, and Luann played on that precedent in asking to bring Rob “to meet everyone.”

Nora’s recognition that Rob was a mistake began to form when Luann, who was supposed to help cook, showed up late because Rob made her change from  jeans and a sweater to a dress and heels.  It was apparently lost on Rob, as he stood in Nora’s kitchen telling her how inappropriate it was for Luann to wear jeans to a Friendsgiving dinner, that Nora stood before him in jeans and a sweater.

Then he’d insisted on making the mashed potatoes, criticizing the contents of her refrigerator and the organization of her kitchen, as he did so.  Worse — before Nora realized what he was doing, he’d put sour cream in the potatoes.  That was not going to go over well with Esther. 

But the worst part of Rob was the way he constantly picked apart everything Luann did and said.  No, actually, for Nora, the worst part was that Luann let him do it.   

“Let it go,” Nora told herself, as she carried the rib roast into the dining room.

“That looks delicious!” Gayle exclaimed.  Everyone added their agreement — everyone except Rob, who noted that if you weren’t going to have a traditional turkey, he guessed a rib roast would do. 

Esther replied tersely, “By the time this damn holiday season is done, I’ll have eaten my weight in turkey.  If that roast’s not good enough for you, I’m sure Wawa’s got you covered.”

Annie laughed nervously and shushed her grandmother who waved at her in annoyance.

“Well, since I’m the only person of the male persuasion in attendance, I’ll do the honor of carving the roast,” Rob announced.   With that, he reached for the knife, but Luann grabbed his hand. 

“Before we do that, we have the presentation of the gravy boat,” she said quietly.

“What,” Rob began, but Nora didn’t stick around to hear the rest.  She went  back in the kitchen to fetch the gravy.

When she returned, she held the gravy boat high in front of her as if presenting a sacred relic.  The gravy boat was a hideous green monstrosity.  Annie’s sister, Maribelle, had given it to Annie one year as a joke because it was completely juxtaposed to Annie’s delicate china.  She had said, “Since you never have a gravy boat for Friendsgiving, I thought you could use this,” thinking they’d all get a good laugh at Annie’s discomfort at it being on her perfectly set  table.  It had become a tradition – no matter who hosted their annual meal, gravy was served in the gravy boat.  After Maribelle had passed away seven years before, the friends had taken to calling it the Maribelle Memorial Gravy Boat, and it was always the last item placed on the table, followed by a moment of silence.

After Nora ceremoniously placed the gravy boat in the center of the table, Rob looked around  incredulously, and then said, too loudly, “Okay, now that that’s done . . .” and reached again for the knife.

Esther said under her breath,  “What the hell are you even doing here?”

Luann quickly said, “Gayle, would you please pass me the rolls?”

Rob, knife in hand, turned to Luann and said, “Really?  Do you really think you need to shove bread in your mouth?”

Gayle, twice Luann’s size, pointedly plopped a roll on Luann’s plate, looked Rob in the eye and shoved half a roll in her mouth.  Annie handed Luann the butter.

Nora’s eyes were on Esther, who’d reached for the mashed potatoes.  Esther didn’t give a damn about a turkey, but every meal of the season had to have buttery mashed potatoes. She’d been attending their Friendsgiving celebrations since the first one at Maribelle’s house, and whatever the menu, they always had mashed potatoes for Esther.

“I keep telling you,” Rob was saying, when Esther put the first forkful of potatoes in her mouth. 

“What the hell?” Esther exclaimed.

Everyone went silent, even Rob.

“What  in God’s name did you do to the mashed potatoes?” Esther demanded of Nora.

“You don’t like them?” Rob asked.  “Everyone loves my sour cream and garlic mashed potatoes.”

Everyone assuredly does not,” Esther shot back

“Well, maybe,” Rob began, pointing down the table at Esther just as Luann picket up the gravy to pass to Esther for her potatoes.   He knocked the gravy boat out of Luann’s hands, and, on its way to the floor, it covered Esther in dark brown gravy.

A string of obscenities erupted from Esther’s 94-year old lips – most of them directly aimed at Rob.  Nora ran to get cleaning supplies. Luann used her napkin to try to clean gravy off Esther. Annie walked around the table, to quietly survey the broken remains of the gift from her departed sister.

Rob yelled, “Why the hell is she cussing me out?  Luann’s the one who. . .”

Nora, returning, interrupted Rob with, “Would you shut the fuck up?   I mean, really.  Just. Shut. The Fuck. Up.”

Rob pushed his chair back, stood and said sarcastically, “Thanks so much for a lovely evening.”  Then to Luann, “We’re leaving.”

Head down, Luann followed him first to gather their belongings and then out the front door.

The ladies finished cleaning the mess and had sat down again to eat when they heard the door open.  It was Luann.  She stood before the table and said, “Things are not going to work out with Rob.”

“Thank God!” Nora exclaimed.

Everyone, but Esther, echoed that sentiment. Esther growled, “No shit. But, did I really need to be coated in gravy for you to reach that epiphany?”