Jimmy laughed a unique laugh. People would and always had initially conceived the laugh as charmingly jovial and contagious, a conception proved false by ten minutes in his presence. It was a choppy and terribly frequent din that made others' simultaneous laughter either insult or charity. Finally, he caught his breath and cried out, "Someone parked their jeep in the middle of the road and I think they hit that thing!" He pressed his face against the front door window.
"Do you know anyone with a black jeep?"
"Hmm, maybe it's -" Rod started but was interrupted by The Laugh.
"It's in the middle of the road!" Jimmy clearly had not seen anything quite so hysterical. Only from the shoulders down was he visible as his head was now sticking outside to better gawk at the crazy vehicle doing crazy things.
"It's probably Kim," Jonah said as he walked into the kitchen from the family room. He was slightly taller than average and handsome in a way that could be manipulated by the admirer to fit their particular taste. He entered with the irreproachable elevation of a man who had just accepted the title of "Most Decent, Most Humble, Most Attractive Lad on the Planet." "I'll be back in awhile."
"Nope," his mother corrected so matter-of-factly it was almost nonchalant. She was facing the wall behind the kitchen sink. "She can come in first. I want to meet her." She rotated the faucet knob labeled "H" and began filling the sink. "Preston, honey, could you wrap up the macaroni salad and put it away? We can have it tomorrow." Then she bent one of the plastic blinds down and peered through the window. "Well is she or isn't she coming in?"
Jonah was putting a second arm through a heavy black coat. "She probably didn't plan on a formal introduction on the first date," he said, somewhat begging for her to just let it go. He crossed the tiny kitchen, put a hand on each of her pudgy cheeks and kissed her forehead. "Besides, it's not a date. Please, Marjorie?"
"No!" she pleaded, holding out the "o" for emphasis, "and it's 'Mom' to you, you ingrate." She stuck out her bottom lip and furrowed her brow the best she could fake. "If you're going to deprive your poor mother of her eldest son on Christmas Eve for some blue blooded looker, then I want to meet her."
"Looker? Honestly mom," Preston teased as he closed the refrigerator door.
"Go tell her to come in," Marjorie commanded Jonah, giving him two light slaps on the cheek. She turned toward Preston and pointed her thick finger at him, smiling. "And you shut your mouth." Then she turned around and squeezed liquid soap into the half-full sink.
Rod shouted from the table, "May the grass grow high on the road to Hell for want of use!" He was reading a tiny green book titled "Irish Toasts," and apparently found it necessary to read aloud boomingly any sentence that struck him as clever. He looked up from the book and at his wife. "Why can't you just leave him alone, Marjorie? The man's twenty-six years old." Then he went back to reading.
Nothing in her actions or facial expressions suggested she had heard a word her husband had said. Her hands were now submerged in soapy water amongst forks, spoons, plates and glasses splattered with red sauce and a few stray noodles. She cleared her throat softly, turned her head to the left and coughed into her shoulder. "Jimmy," she addressed to the boy still curiously hanging out the front door, "will you be joining us for Christmas dinner tomorrow?"
He pulled his head into the house and closed the door. "I guess soI don't know, is that okay?" He looked petrified at the thought of her saying "no."
"Well, I don't know how much room we're going to have and if my brother brings his new fling and her brats with him" She smiled at Jimmy's dejectedness. "Of course you'll be here, I'm only kidding." Then as an afterthought she asked, "Why aren't you home for the holidays? Your mother cooks like no one else I know."
"Yeah but I couldn't afford it this year. They moved back to Connecticut and it would've been just too much. So when Preston said you wouldn't mind me I figured hey, a free meal." Then he laughed for ten seconds.
"Don't you dare pin this on me," Preston yelled from the family room. He was sitting in his mother's favorite chair, an overstuffed brown teddy bear of a recliner with cotton protruding from various torn seams, flipping aimlessly through television channels. There had been attempts by every member of the family to oust the chair from existence but they were always defeated by motherly jurisdiction. Secretly, Jonah had been both conceived and born on the chair.
Jonah walked through the front door and into the kitchen, followed by an attractive light haired young woman. Expensive blue jeans and a wool sweatshirt fit closely to her curves. She brushed the already melting snowflakes off of her shoulders and did the same to Jonah's back. Her face was pretty and ostentatiously made up to appear casual. "Is it okay that I park there?" she asked anyone who could answer.
Rod stood up responsively, peered out the door, and turned around. "You'll be fine if it's just for a few minutes which is all we plan to keep you." He smiled at her and extended his hand. "I'm Rod."
Jonah looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry," he said, "this is my dad, Rod. Dad, Kim." After they had shaken hands, he continued, "My mom, Mar-"
"That's so weird!" Kim's eyes had grown wide. "My dad's name is Rod!"
Rod chuckled. "Well, if only I believed in omens."
Marjorie was standing beside her husband with dripping hands, waiting to be introduced. Jonah glanced at her and gave her a little smirk. He tried again, "Kim, this is my-"
"Is your name Roderick?" Kim asked excitedly.
Jonah intercepted the question. "No it's Rodney and-"
"Because my dad's name is Roderick," She clarified.
Before Jonah continued, his father interrupted. "Yeah, it's Rodney," he confirmed, almost apologetically but grinning all the while.
This time Jonah spoke loudly, "and this is my mother, Marjorie." Marjorie and Kim exchanged head nods. "And that's Preston, my brother." Preston raised his right hand to her. He was standing next to Jimmy in the doorway between the family room and kitchen, finding the commotion most amusing.
Then, after four or five seconds of fairly awkward silence, Kim added, "Because that would be so bizarre if your name was Roderick. I've never heard of anyone else named Roderick before." She smiled warmly at Rod. His shoulders jerked upward with silent mirth as he returned to his chair at the table.
"Jonah, are you gonna have dessert before you two elude?" Marjorie asked quietly from across the room, her hands back in the now discolored dishwater. The tone of discouragement her voice had taken on was anything but unintentional. She pulled her hands from the sink and violently shook the water from them. Then she walked forcefully to the refrigerator and pulled out a pumpkin pie.
"Ugh, mom, I'm tearing at the seams. I couldn't eat more if I wanted to," Jonah apologized.
Marjorie wasn't surprised, but nonetheless disappointed. "Kim?" she asked as if Kim were the only person in the world to whom she hadn't yet offered. Without waiting for an answer she began cutting a considerably large slice.
"I already had pie before I left," Kim explained, "but thanks anyway, Mrs. Abbot."
"What, is there a law that says you can only have one piece of pie a day?" Marjorie joked aggressively. Rod shifted his eyes nervously from his wife to Kim and back to his wife. Jonah grabbed his date's arm and put his hand on the door knob. But before he made it any further, his mother spoke again. "I made it from scratch. Please just try it." She transferred the giant slice onto a Styrofoam plate and carried it to the table. "Sit."
Nobody moved. In the entryway, Preston's lips were pursed and Jimmy was trying his hardest to suppress an eruption of laughter. Kim reluctantly pulled away from Jonah's grip and slowly made her way to the table. She sat down in the chair Marjorie had pulled out and picked up the plastic fork adjacent to the plate.
With her head down, she rolled her eyes upward at Jonah and gave a nervous smile. Rod held his little green book in front of him but his gaze was on Kim. She cut delicately into the pie and carried the morsel to her lips. Her eyes shifted from Jonah to Marjorie when she finally placed the pie on her tongue. She chewed quietly and then commented, "Mmm." The pressure in the room seemed to plummet. "That is good."
Rod's eyes returned to his reading and Preston and Jimmy walked back into the family room. Jonah sighed reproachfully at his mother, "Alright, we need to get going."
Marjorie wasn't quite finished with them. "We can't exactly put a half-eaten piece of pie back in the fridge, can we? Give her a few minutes, will you?" She pulled a rag from a drawer and dipped it in the sink. Then she began to wipe the countertops clean.
Jonah let go of the door knob, rubbed his eyes with his palms, and walked to the table in submission. He pulled out the chair beside his father's and across from Kim's and settled onto it. Kim's anxiety and terror made her seem much more obtrusive in the tiny kitchen, like a speck of food on a pearly white incisor. She ate slowly and hesitantly, maybe even a little suspiciously.
"So Kim," Marjorie started, still wiping away at the surfaces, "it is Kim, right?" Jonah glared at his mother's condescension.
"Mhmm," Kim confirmed with her mouth closed and full.
"So how does your mother feel about your skipping out on Christmas Eve?" Marjorie's tone of voice was playful but nobody heard it that way. Rod's head jerked up and Jonah's glare intensified.
Kim swallowed her fourth mouthful. "What do you mean?" she asked politely but nervously.
"I just mean Jonah's ditching me on Christmas Eve your mother probably feels the same way as I do," Marjorie explained as she carried the rag to the trash can to shake out the crumbs she had gathered. "Would you like some milk?"
Kim appeared to be pondering which question to answer first. But before she decided, Marjorie had already filled a glass to its brim with milk and was setting it on the table. Kim stared at the tall, white glass, daunted. "Actually I'm at my dad's for Christmas this year," she finally answered, her eyes still glued to the glass of milk. "And I'll be surprised if he even notices my absence." She gripped the glass and brought it to her lips. After the first taste it was obvious this was going to take her some time. She glanced over at the carton still sitting on the counter and saw that it was soy milk.
Jonah watched Kim's face as she forced the liquid down her throat and realized the situation. "My sister's lactose intolerant," he told her. "We've been drinking soy milk as far back as I can remember."
"She's also wasting her life," Marjorie added as she finished the last of her evening chores, "doing absolutely nothing on the west coast. I wish she would at least take some college courses or something. She's been there for two years." She walked to the table and occupied the remaining chair. "She doesn't even tell us what's going on anymore. For all I know she's killed herself, or probably tried to again anyway."
Jonah reached across the table, stole the glass from in front of Kim, and quickly gulped the milk down. "Time to go," he declared.
Rod sat silently at the kitchen table. He had set the book on the surface and was staring at his reflection in the lime green vase in the center of the table. He studied his drooping cheeks and predominantly bald head. He closed his eyes, lowered his head and reopened them. A blood vessel bulged from the top of his left hand and he followed it from the base of his middle finger to its disappearing point at the top of his forearm. With his left index finger he pushed down on the vein and watched it slip out from beneath his fingertip and slide easily under his hand's loose, discolored skin. Then, lifting his finger, he observed it slowly fall back into place.
"I can't believe you," Rod finally said disdainfully, breaking the silence. He had noticed a piece of noodle on the leg of his pants and was picking it off.
"What?" Marjorie asked in an exaggeratedly innocent voice. She rolled her eyes slowly and opened the refrigerator door to set the pumpkin pie atop a box of soda. Then she stood upright and looked downward at her husband. "I'm sorry if I ruined your little date, but remember dear, Jonah saw her first."
Even though five or six seconds had passed since Marjorie's last statement, Rod's head jerked up reflexively. "Just shuddup for a second just one goddamn millisecond, would you?" As the words shot out of his mouth, his face suddenly reddened and tears flooded his eyes. Looking away from his wife, he bit through the skin of his bottom lip and squeezed the noodle between his thumb and forefinger. His mouth opened but nothing came out. Defeated, Rod dropped his head.