The Christmas Dinnerbysophist801©
Candace Glimmer: Married to Kenneth Glimmer (Harriet Stow's sister)
Kenneth Glimmer: Also known as "Ken" and married to Candace
Harriet Stow: Executive Chef, Candace's sister and married to Charles Stow
Charles Stow: Married to Harriet, Santa Clause incarnate?
Mayor William Harrison: Candace's lover
The mouth-watering smell of turkey greeted me as I walked into my in-laws home. It was a turkey slow-basted with butter, brandy, orange zest and fresh sage. It was a set of aromas that I had enjoyed for more than fifteen years. It was just the smell of roasted turkey that greeted me. Mincemeat and pumpkin pie told me desert would be outstanding and served with dollops of freshly whipped cream lightly flavored with Crème de Menthe, which also gave the whipped cream an emerald color. Candied yams, garlic mashed potatoes and giblet gravy made with a very expensive Marsala wine.
My sister-in-law, Harriet Stow, was also a chef who managed all restaurant services for the Westin Hotel in downtown Denver. Her Christmas Eve meals were nothing short of perfection, culinary creations designed to encourage us to eat more than any one human being was meant to (our stomachs have a way of expanding way beyond their intended capacities). By the time desert was served with large mugs of Irish coffee, giving into the hedonistic delights felt, well, natural. I know that gluttony can be sinful but on Christmas Eve it was almost expected.
Harriet's husband, Charles, was Santa Clause incarnate. He did not have the white hair or beard but he was a formidable individual who probably stood six-feet-three inches tall and weighed 280 pounds. It was the way he would laugh that made him appear as a Santa Clause who left his red suit and reindeer on the front porch, where the first snow of winter had left 6-8 inches across asphalt and grass-turning-brown. It was good timing, winter in Denver can appear a sullen grey, especially since the Aspens had long since lost their leaves.
I followed my wife, Candace Glimmer, into the well kept home located in the south part of Denver where the expansion of residential communities had made it possible for Americans to live their dream, and buy homes they really could not afford. That was not the case with Harriet and Charles. Harriet's income as Executive Chef for Westin Hotels is more than $200,000 a year and included wonderful benefits.
Harriet, Candace's sister, had always been welcoming and gracious. As I followed Candace, appreciating the fact that after fifteen years and 2 children, she still looked good in her skin-tight designer jeans. Yes, she had put on a little weight since I married her beneath a stand of aspen trees near Little Bear Peak, but it was weight I loved and appreciated and did not hesitate to tell her so whenever I had the opportunity.
Mistle toe decorated the high archways between rooms throughout the house. The ceiling high Christmas tree was decorated with white lights and ornaments of gold angels and troubadours. The tree was also lightly flocked with what looked like real snow, though we all knew it was a fluffy-fake substance that might have been asbestos-based. I had to stop and marvel at how their home felt "perfect", like one of Harriet's chef creations designed to "wow" the customer before they even tasted the meal. In that moment I understood how people "eat with their eyes" before they even taste the food before them. Harriet and Charles lived in a wonderland-like home where nothing short of perfection was acceptable.
For a moment, just a moment, I let the air out of my lungs, a sigh, as I wondered what life would be like without Harriet's Christmas dinner
Before Candace or I had had the opportunity to sit down we were handed large glasses of wine, wine I knew would have be fully decanted and ready to sip and savor.
For fifteen years Christmas Eve dinner with Harriet and Charles had always been wonderful, a ritual-like experience filled with mirth, laughter and wonderful stories that recapped the year that was about to fade. I'm not sure when the ritual began but early on, as we sat around the lace-covered table; each of us would describe the "highlights" of our year. Yes, our kids were involved, at first. Keeping children at a formal dinner setting when they could be playing Nintendo was wishful thinking.
So our "sharing" would wait until they had disappeared into the comfortable den that included a 56 inch flat screen TV and every other electronic distraction kids might enjoy.
Children long gone to their electronic paradise the four of us sat around the table as we had for the last 15 years. Harriet served a dark roasted coffee (needed to chase the mincemeat pie) which was the sign for us to begin.
"Harriet, you have out done yourself this year." I said as I raised my coffee cup to toast her. Everyone joined me in complimenting her.
Everyone raised their mugs to provide Harriet with heart-felt "thank yous". Thanking Harriet was also part of our Christmas Eve ritual.
"So, Ken, why don't you get us started this year?" This was also part of our Christmas dinner. Harriet would ask me to start and I would decline until people insisted I start. It was enjoyable banter between family who has always been supportive and loving.
I have always felt safe and comfortable with Candace, Harriet and Charles. It is a safety and security that can only be felt and trusted without question.
"Harriet I, as always, appreciate you asking me to begin but this year I would appreciate being the last to tell my story." My statement was made with a slight smile. I had contemplated the value of speaking last but decided I would, after the traditional friendly back-and-forth banter, give into speaking first.
"Nonsense! You always do such a good job of setting the tone. Besides, it gives me time to think about what I am going to say!" Laughter around the table told me we were relaxed. After the meal, desert and Irish coffee it was hard to move from the velvet-covered chairs.
"Ken" Kenneth was the affectionate way my wife had of addressing me. "You do such a good job of setting the bar for the rest of us." Candace placed her hand on my arm as she has done for so many years. It is the hand I have always believed full of comfort and love.
I sighed and took a sip of Harriet's wonderful coffee stopping to look into the steaming black liquid. It really was superb coffee.
"OK, where to start?" I stopped intentionally to make sure eyes and ears were turned my way. "Jason entered his second years of high school and made me so proud when, the second football game, he intercepted that pass and ran it back for a touchdown" I really was proud of my son. That single act of intercepting and running the ball back for a touchdown helped him realized he could do anything, it gave him a sense of confidence he did not have before the act.
Introspectively I sighed as I thought about how our confidence is "tested" throughput our lives.
"Then Jane learned to ride her bicycle only to run into a trash can, fall off and break her right leg. I remember how frightened I was for her as we took her to the emergency room. But she surprised me by how calm she was, how she was able to turn to me and tell me she would be alright!" I stopped to reflect on how proud a father I was. "It was then that I realized how difficult it is to let our children go. We do our best to protect them knowing that over-protection does not prepare them to be independent, to make decisions for themselves. It was a lesson that told me how much I loved my family, that they are everything (I emphasized everything by pausing) to me, yet we (as parents) often need to step back and let them break-a-leg."
Candace's hand squeezed my arm telling me she understood that being a parent is a learning experience that never ends. I loved Candace in a way I had never loved anyone.
"I also learned that the last fifteen years, with you, have been the best years of my life. They have been the absolute best!" I turned to look into the eyes of my wife, eyes that were tearing. I think I was probably about to cry.
"Here, here!" Charles was definitely in the Christmas spirit, mainly because he had a little too much of the alcohol type spirit.
"Please, I'm not finished." I knew that tradition said Charles was due to go next so his cheer was also meant to be a transition into his story. Other than saying that the years with Candace had been the best I had not described any particular incidence.
"Oh, sorry." Charles sat back in his chair taking a bite of pie and sipping his coffee. I marveled at the copious amount of food and liquid he could consume!
I turned back to face Candace, to speak directly to her. I was no longer ritual-telling a story. I was talking directly to Candace. No one but Candace acknowledged this but Candace as she turned her head slightly to one side as if in questions.
"Candace, you did something this last year that I have struggled with in a way that has tested every fiber of my body and soul." Harriet and Charles were now paying attention almost as intently as Candace. "I thought it was something that I could get past, write off as something you needed, being entrenched in middle age. I don't know. I just knew you hurt me in a way I have never been hurt." The tears at the corner of her eyes now began to slip down her cheeks. "You know exactly what I am talking about and you know I will not violate the sanctity and beauty of our Christmas Eve dinner." Candace had now hung her head as if trying to hide.
"Out of courtesy to Harriet and Charles I felt compelled to make dinner tonight, even if it is the last Christmas Eve dinner I will have the profound pleasure of sharing with you. Harriet, you are absolutely the best chef I know and your hospitality." I could see the confusion of Harriet and Charles' face as I spoke.
"Charles, Harriet, you have been the absolute best in-laws and friends I could ever hope for. Harriet, your meals is just a side benefit; I would have loved you both anyway."
"Kenneth, what are you trying to say?" Too much wine and too much good food had made it difficult for Charles too grasp. After all I was using innuendo as I spoke. But leave it to Charles to be blunt and to the point.
Henrietta was a perceptive woman and all she had to do was look at Candace then back at me to know what I was talking about.
"I don't believe it!" It was more of a gasp that came from Henrietta. It was a gasp of recognition that said "shit-no-way-this-isn't really happening".
I stood slowly and walked over to Harriet.
"I believe this was, without a doubt, the best meal you have ever prepared." With that I kissed her on the cheek, patted Charles on the shoulder, and walked out. Not another word said to Candace, as I walked out with the wonderful smells of Christmas following me. They were smells that would remain with me for the rest of my life.
I wanted desperately to remember the meal but knew it would be clouded with an evil that rips hearts apart.
"Merry Christmas Candace. Tomorrow you will not need to feel guilty about what you have planned, will you?" Traditionally, at least for the last 4 years, Candace had volunteered her time to serve turkey dinners at Loaves and Fishes a homeless shelter. At least that is what she has told me and the rest of her family. "If you proceed there is no need to come home, is there?"
I was full from a wonderful Christmas dinner as my heart wallowed in emptiness. It was cold outside.
"Jesus-H-Christ, what the fuck was that all about?!" Charles was not one to mince words, whether it was Christmas Eve or not. "I have a mind to go after that prick and smack him a few times." My hands were full with helping my sister cope with what had just happened. Hell, I wasn't sure what had just happened but knew it was not good!
Hell, sorry Lord, I'm trying to understand. I do have a very good idea what Kenneth was referring to but only Candace is going to be able to explain. Shit (sorry about my mouth) she hasn't said a word since Kenneth started his traditional Christmas Eve story. Now her face looks like the garlic mashed potatoes etched with pureed olives. Her crying has turned into an incessant wail. Jesus (sorry again Lord).
"Shut up Candace! Christmas Eve is already fucked-up and I don't have a clue as to why. You would think you'd had an affair and . . ." As I said my husband, though I love him dearly, can be a little insensitive. As the word "affair" left his lips there was a little light that went on, a degree of insight that includes a level of understanding. It was enough of a revelation for Charles to shut up and start using his head to think with.
"Candace, looks like you've stepped in dog shit this time." Charles was about to continue with his monologue, a monologue that was beginning to sound accusatory, when I finally figured out what had just happened, or at least what I thought had happened.
With my husband becoming agitated and angry with the thought of Candace cheating on Kenneth and Candace who was literally breaking down before our eyes, I did the thing I am best at, I recommended a very large Brandy (the smelling salts of the Chefs kitchen) and made sure Candace drank a full tumbler.
My first task was to get Candace calmed down and away from my husband. His comments were now beginning to be openly hostile with the "if I was your husband I'd throw your ass out on the street and let you cry in the snow then piss on you." I knew Charles loved me and, at that moment, was thankful I had never cheated on him. God only knows I have had many opportunities! You don't work as an Executive Chef for Weston Hotels without being tempted daily with young and lustful bodies willing and eager to please the boss.
"Charles, enough!" I yelled at Charles the way I would kitchen staff at the hotel. It is a kitchen of about 45 staff. As the Executive Chef, 4 Chefs report to me along with a number of fry cooks, salad prep, and in-room delivery and set-up specialists. There are many beautiful and sexually inviting men and women who work for me. The banter during periods of pressure (dinner rush) bring out the jokingly-crude side of people, jokes that I know, could easily lead to store-room sessions that would be infinitely more satisfying than a glass of wine. I know, at the same time, to vicariously fuck one of my staff would be an empty experience the next day. I need to be able to look Charles in the eye and tell him I love him like no other person, and mean what I say.
I don't care who you are or what your philosophical persuasion, if you go outside of your marriage, for any reason, you give away a part of that marriage. I strongly suspected Candace had done this. There are few things in this world that will cause a man to act the way Kenneth did this evening. Why did he choose tonight to confront Candace?
After all of the food and wine, topped with the brandy, Candace stopped crying long enough for me to get her to bed. It was clear Kenneth had left and was not coming back, at least not tonight.
"Go to sleep Candace, we can talk in the
morning." I was tucking her into the bed in our guest room.
"No! I need to tell you why Kenneth did what he did." She was still whimpering but more coherent. Though I was curious I really did not want to be her "confessor". I would, of course, listen to her story.
"It can wait Candace. You are my sister and I will love you no matter what has happened." Her grip on my arm was firm and desperate.
"No, it can't. Tomorrow is Christmas Day. It will be too late by then."
"Too late for what?"
"Too late to save my marriage. " She was looking at me with fearful and pleading eyes. At the same time he once confident voice seemed to fade and waiver.
"OK, tell me what happened." I sat down on the bed that now held Candace. I was also a little angry because, in a couple of hours, we all were supposed to put our coats on and go to Midnight Mass. It was one of the few times during the years I could get away from the Hotel to go to Mass with my family. So, I thought, Candace's story had better be a good one!
Candace's Christmas Eve Confession
"Four years ago, when I started volunteering at Loaves and Fishes (the local center for homeless services) my world was so full. I wanted to simply "give something back" by doing something that made me feel good, especially during Christmas.
Kenneth and I discussed it and he agreed to be home with the kids in the morning while I served meals to the homeless. Kenneth also paid for 25 turkeys' something he has done every year since. We, in a sense became closer, a team that completed Christmas through that act of selfless giving. What I never shared with you was how wonderful Christmas day night was for us. Even though we were both exhausted we always took time to love each other. Always." For a moment I needed to stop talking, catch my breath and let a few tears fall as I thought about how the wonderful union Kenneth and I had always shared was now shattered. I prayed Kenneth would one day forgive me.
"I remember. You were like a little girl. The rest of us had trouble understanding why you would want to be away from your family on Christmas Day but understood arguing with you was a lost cause . . . it was also a little sacrilegious and sanctimonial for us to criticize what you wanted to do." I smiled as I remembered how happy everyone had been, how happy I was!
"Please, finish your story." I could tell Candace was more than a little anxious with what I was about to tell her.
I sat up in the bed to finish my story, a story that really was my confession, a confession no one could forgive.
"That first year another volunteer always seemed to be paired with me as we served food. He was always friendly and polite. We became a team and bantered back-and-forth as we served the homeless. It was also the only time during the year we met."
"Stop for a minute Candace. Who are you talking about?" I did not want to divulge the person's name, not so much to protect him as the shame that accompanied putting a name to my indiscretion. And the shame ran through every part of my body.
"He was, is, Mayor Harrison." I paused for a minute to see what Harriet's reaction was, especially since I'd referred to the Mayor as a "friend". Then I realized Harriet has prepared meals for dignitaries from all over the world. Being the Mayor was not something that would impress her at all.
The other thing about this story is that I had not voted for Mayor William Harrison! His political ideologies did not reflect mine. He is a Republican and I am a Democrat. Need I say more?
"It wasn't until the third year I was volunteering to serve meals that William joined me on the serving line. His wife had just divorced him and it looked like he was not going to be re-elected." I stopped to breath before continuing. "He seemed so depressed that day so I suggested we leave early and go someplace for a drink. That someplace was the hotel room he was living in while he and his wife worked through their difficulties."
I turned my head away from my sister, not able to look her in the eye. I seemed to be having trouble breathing as a pain radiated throughout my body. I remembered what my doctor had once said, "no one ever died of pain." Not very original but I did feel like the most important part of my life had died.
"Oh, Harriet, it just happened. It was a combination of the wine, his depression, and the need to comfort him that caused me to break down. I reasoned that it was Christmas day and he was alone and no one should be alone on Christmas Day! Actually I really did not think about what we were doing as I let him fuck me. I look back now and I realize all we did was fuck. William found a sense of relief and comfort and I felt good about being able to help him." As the words rolled from my mouth I realized how sick and twisted my reasoning was.