With delicate skill, Roger Compish pulled the wishbone out of the wreck of the turkey and set it on the windowsill to dry out. He’d wanted to use his theatrical knife to cut this superstitious bone out, but resisted. The knife was his gift. The temptation to share it with Sally and Morton remained. Sally would’ve laughed if he’d said something silly and acted like he was attacking the fine bird she’d brought to her table. Her two kids would’ve been afraid though and that’s what kept him from his worst instinct to always play the jester. This was the old Roger.
One of Roger’s first questions of the holiday: “Did you both finish reading the play?”
“It’s a marvel,” Morton said.
“I can’t believe the subtext, what’s going on behind the scenes is every bit as important as what’s playing out front and center. Why was this play ever forgotten?”
“I’ll never understand that,” said Roger, “but at least our company has the chance to resurrect it.”
“There are several parts I want to audition for. I imagine whoever is hired to direct the play—sorry Roger. You deserve a shot—will be captivated by Denisov and Leonora and won’t even consider thinking outside the box for the queen’s role.”
“You’d make a complex queen,” Morton said.
Roger, ever since sitting down with Morton, Sally, and her two kids, Miles and Carter, saying a short grace and then demolishing the feast on the table, including Roger’s sausage stuffing, had observed something odd between his two friends. They were up to something. Morton deferred his harsher opinions about today’s politics, the proposed property tax hike that would hit him hard. Roger thought: Shouldn’t have bought then, sucker. (I’m happy to be a renter with a kind landlord who takes off some of my rent because of killer handyman skills. Next up? Cleaning out a chimney in another rental home and sealing a roof where some shingles had blown off in the last wind storm.)
Carter and Miles treated Morton with childlike obliviousness though, which made Roger second-guess his intuition. If his good buddy Morton was seeing Sally for more than simple play rehearsals, Roger would know it, and they’d tell him. Complete blankness prevailed, and he continued to observe.
Carole had thought about the seating arrangement for more time than she would ever admit. She began with Gabby. Out of all the dinner guests, she could do without the chatty Cathy’s baby-girl gibberish (the drunker Gabby became the higher-pitched and more childlike her blather). She can have the place of honor to the right of her husband, who could stare at Gabby’s pulchritudinous chest all evening and forgive her inane conversational skills. Yes, Carole was jealous of Gabby’s beauty, her youthful vigor and figure, and this secret she would take to her grave, among many other secrets—she loathed jealousy in all forms. In the theater, it was easy to spot, a want, a need, a jealousy forcing the less skilled to act in unforeseen ways.
Since she believed in splitting up couples for a more harmonious table, she placed Mack on her husband’s left. He could stare at Gabby too, and this would make him lick his lips with increasing frequency, this already one of his physical tics. Peggy next to Mack, someone who could handle Mack’s loutish sense of humor, and Ivy next to Peggy and on Carole’s right. To her left Gabby’s almost-monkishly-silent husband, Cary could compliment her cooking fifteen times and hush his children at the nearby kids’ table with a little more charm, less bluster. Carole’s side of the table would be calmer, less energized, a place where she could discuss art, the theater--The Queen’s Idle Fancy—yes, that would definitely be on the night’s topic list, and she vowed to divert attention from it as much as possible; talk of the play would lead to other concerns if she thought about it too much. It had already changed so much within her own household. Lastly, between Cary and Gabby, would be the nanny, Theresa, someone who had immediately given her the shivers just thinking about past Sunday-School mornings with sadistic unforgiving Sister Beatrice. Theresa’s downturned face, frown lines striking, would give Carole a fright in future dreams just for the resemblance.