What do you do when it appears you may be gaining a bimbo sister-in-law who stands to inherit a family heirloom? You take advantage of some of the worst gravy ever made to commit the perfect crime. This story appears in the Thanksgiving mystery anthology THE KILLER WORE CRANBERRY.
We have three big Thanksgiving traditions in my family. Everyone gathers at my house. We all hold hands when we give thanks. And we all avoid my big sister Agnes’s gravy like the plague.
Unfortunately, I can never dodge it entirely.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Dotty,” Agnes said, click-clacking into my kitchen, holding out her gravy container as if it held gold. More like mold, if this year’s version resembled last year’s. And every year’s before that.
“Happy Thanksgiving, Agnes.” I pecked her on the cheek as she handed off her creation. I set it down next to my silver gravy boat. My poor boat that everyone passed around the table each year, never actually pouring anything from it. Not that you could. Agnes used so much flour, the gravy practically stood up on its own.
“You want me to use the lower oven again this year, Dotty?” asked my brother-in-law, Fred, carrying in Agnes’s turkey.
Someone should have told that man years ago that just because it’s Thanksgiving, he doesn’t have to wear a bright orange sweater with a turkey on it. Nonetheless the same sweater. Every year.
“Sure do,” I said. “It’s already set to keep the bird warm until we sit down to eat.”
Agnes and I divvy up the cooking each Thanksgiving. Since I host, she takes on the turkey and gravy. I handle everything else. Agnes and Fred live only a few blocks away, so splitting things is easy. Quite frankly, I’d rather be in charge of the turkey and gravy, too. It’s such a shame that every year the family gets a mostly perfect meal. But I haven’t been able to figure out a kind way to keep Agnes out of the kitchen. Not yet anyway.
I heard the front door open and close again, and I stepped into the foyer. Almost the whole clan had arrived: both my girls, their husbands, and kids; my son, Michael, with his wife, Charlene, and kids; and most of the brood from Agnes’s side.
As I hugged everyone hello, I scanned my living room one more time. The maroon couch pillows were plumped and set at exactly the right angles. That tiny spot that had somehow appeared this morning on my beautiful white carpeting had been exorcized. Nice classical music provided a peaceful yet sophisticated background. And both the cornucopia on the coffee table and the pumpkin-scented candles atop the accent tables provided the perfect finishing touches.
Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.
If only things could stay like this. I tried to ignore my six-year-old grandson, Bobby, who was sitting on the arm of one of the wing chairs. The arm! Just then I noticed my granddaughter Libby had set her glass on a table without a coaster. The girl is thirteen years old. She should know better. I shot her a look. She fixed things right quick. My stars, this younger generation has no sense of propriety.
Agnes stepped into my dining room. I followed, feeling calmer. I knew this room would still be perfect, still undisturbed by others’ hands. And it was. The linen napkins were properly positioned and folded. The Waterford glasses and wine goblets were set at the correct angle to the plates. Both my china and the mahogany table underneath it shone in the light reflecting off my crystal chandelier.
I sighed with happiness.
“Everything looks exceptional, Dotty, as always,” Agnes said.
“Thanks.” I nodded my head. Couldn’t help smiling. Yes, everything appeared just right.
Michael had put all three leaves into the table this morning so we could fit all twenty-four of us around it. I was pleased, even though it was going to be a pretty tight squeeze. Tight enough that my husband, Henry, sitting at the far end, wouldn’t have much room to scooch his chair back to unbutton his pants as the meal progressed. That, of course, was a plus.