Novel Bites is a series of short stories from the perspective of secondary characters in my novels. Sometimes the story is straight from the novel, sometimes it’s not. Nina is Alice’s daughter and narrator of the book, Alice. This is a Thanksgiving when she was younger, before the events in Alice. Please comment. Thanks.
Mom pulls the oven rack out enough to poke the withered orange lumps with a fork.
“Done!” She pulls the pans out and puts them on top of the stove. Eight halves of those little pumpkins she says are the best for pies, face down on cookie sheets.
“Why don’t you just use the canned stuff, like a normal person,” I grumble. I’m twelve and my mother’s no longer perfect.
She shrugs that off. “They taste better from fresh pumpkin.”
“Did you have pies like this when you were a kid? Is that it?” I dig at the issue.
“Yes.” Then she changes the subject like she always does. “We need to let these cool before we scoop them out. Are the ginger snaps ready to roll?”
She won’t ever talk about her childhood. I know her mother died when she was born and she was brought up by her father, and that’s about it. I’m not even sure if he’s dead or alive, and I don’t think she knows, either. But I bet someone always made pumpkin pies this way for the holidays when she was little. I bet she had normal Thanksgiving dinners. We never have.
“Nina.” Her voice breaks into my thoughts. “The cookie dough?”
We mixed up the cookie batter first thing this morning and it’s been cooling in the refrigerator while the pumpkins cooked. Mom’s efficient about energy use – we’ll bake the cookies while the oven’s still warm.
“Yup. All four batches.” I pull the first roll out of the fridge and start peeling the wax paper around it open. We have to make our cookies from scratch, too. Always. Mom won’t buy the frozen stuff. We’ll make six kinds of Christmas cookies, too, everything from the basics of flour, sugar, butter . . . not margarine, no way, not for Mom.
I’d get it if we had family that expected all this tradition stuff, but we don’t. It’s just us. And we’ll take the cookies and pies to the homeless shelter this year and have our Thanksgiving feast there, with a bunch of smelly people who won’t take off their coats because they’re afraid of having them stolen, and raggedy little kids running around screaming. When I was little, we’d go to a soup kitchen. The people there were usually cleaner. Most of them still had homes, I guess.
I try one more time. “Why can’t we go to the soup kitchen instead?”
Mom gives me the look, the one that says we’ve already been over this. There aren’t as many volunteers at the homeless shelter and I need to be less judgmental. If she lost her job, we could end up homeless.
But she’s a teacher and she’s been doing it long enough to have tenure, which means they can’t just fire her. She’d have to like murder someone in class or the school would have to collapse or something. She’s also dead set on this Thanksgiving tradition.
“I’ll help you with all the cooking, but I’m not going this year.” I try to sound as firm as she does when she’s giving me no choice. “Mary invited me to their house.”
Mom just looks at me. I’m not sure if she’s disappointed or what. But she’s not saying “No” right away, so maybe there’s a chance.
I work on it. “They’re having the whole family, her cousins I met last summer and a bunch more relatives, so one more won’t be any problem. Her mother said it was okay.”
Mom sighs and nods. “You’ve never had that kind of Thanksgiving. You should. It’s special.”
“I can go?” I almost didn’t bother asking! And she caved right away!
She smiles like it hurts and blinks like maybe she’s holding back tears, but she nods yes and I hug her, hard.
“I’ll miss you.” She says it quietly and it tugs at my heart, but this is something I need to do.
Guilt makes me try to explain. “I need to have one Thanksgiving with a bunch of people who know and care about each other, not strangers sharing an especially big meal.”
“I know,” she says. “When I was little, we didn’t have real family, but we had a huge group of friends who gathered together for the holidays – and baked the pumpkins for the pies – then when I was older, it was just two of us, and sometimes we ended up . . . anyway, yes, you can spend this holiday with Mary and her family. It’ll be good for you.”
“Were you homeless?” Maybe that’s why she never talks about it.
She smiles as if she’s having a memory that makes her feel warm. “Between homes. Sometimes we were between homes. Go call Mary, then get back here and help me with these cookies.”