by Janet Yung
Brenda was the second wife and nothing like the first. Brenda dyed her hair red, wore too much make-up, and was twice the size of Louise, the first Mrs. Willoughby. Not that Brenda was overweight, she worked out three times a week, but the first Mrs. Willoughby had been a tiny woman who only grew smaller as she grew older till one day she was gone altogether.
Kit glared at the woman seated at the opposite end of the dining room table, done up for the holiday, as she threw back her head and laughed uncontrollably at the punch line of a stupid joke Kit’s father had delivered.
None of them was new — Kit had heard them most of her life. The ones her mother would let him repeat in mixed company. And, Kit was certain Brenda had heard them before, but reacted each time as if it were the first. Kit was tempted to toss a burnt roll at the second Mrs. Willoughby, but it was Thanksgiving and Kit wanted to embrace the spirit of the day.
“Your mother’s not acting right,” Mr. Willoughby had told Kit on a regular Saturday afternoon visit.
“What do you mean?” Kit knew her mother’s memory had been slipping.
“She’ll read something from the paper and I tell her ‘you read that before’ and she gets upset with me.”
It wasn’t long till Louise was in a nursing home, Mr. Willoughby visiting her daily.
“Wasn’t that a great dinner?” Kit’s father beamed looking from his second wife to his only daughter. He didn’t seem to notice the lumpy gravy, dry stuffing, and slightly watery mashed potatoes.
“Yeah.” Kit pushed away from the table picking up her plate as she departed. There were stains on the white damask tablecloth that had belonged to her mother and it was wrinkled.
She scraped the remains of her dinner into the overflowing trashcan and put the plate on the bottom shelf of the dishwasher. The dishwasher was added in the kitchen renovation. Sleek white cabinets replaced the maple ones the first Mrs. Willoughby loved.
“I don’t cook very good,” Brenda cackled during the renovation process, “but I like to look like I can.” Everything she did reminded Kit of a rooster.
“Where did you meet her?” was the first question Kit had for her father when he introduced Brenda to Kit, her mother dead barely six months.
“Oh, at the nursing home.”
“The nursing home?” Kit didn’t remember seeing Brenda.
“Her husband was there. Or maybe it was her brother. Anyway, she was visiting somebody.”
Dating Brenda was one thing, but when he announced plans to get married, Kit wanted to scream, “What are you thinking?” Instead, she asked, “Maybe you should wait a little longer. You don’t know much about her.”
“Time’s not on my side and I know she makes me happy.”
And, then they eloped to Las Vegas, returning with pictures snapped of the happy couple at some tacky wedding chapel. Kit didn’t realize how frail her father had become till she saw him immortalized next to the blushing bride, with a fresh dye job and too much lipstick and blusher.
Kit’s mother’s things were stored in the spare bedroom closet untouched and barely remembered after her death.
“I never got around to clearing out the rest of her things. I guess I figured she’d be coming back some day,” Mr. Willoughby’s comment at the mention of the bits and pieces left behind.
After the kitchen remodel and before Thanksgiving, Brenda announced, “We’re getting ready to do some more painting,” prompting Kit to slip into the spare room for one last chance to sort through her mother’s things. Opening the closet door, it was empty.
“What do you mean they’re gone?” Her father was seated in front of the television in the living room with a can of beer. The big screen television a recent addition to the living room, the smaller model — a compromise between Kit’s parents while her mother possessed her faculties — relegated to the breezeway between garage and house.
“We gave them away,” he said fumbling with the remote.
Kit wanted to stand between him and the television, but there had been a recent homicide where a father shot his son for doing the same thing. Since Mr. Willoughby was undergoing a major metamorphosis, he could possibly be capable of such an act. He’d never owned a gun, however, Brenda looked like she might, and adept at using it with astounding accuracy.
“I wanted to go through them.” Kit was on the verge of tears, cringing at the image of Brenda pawing through what little remained of her mother.
“Well,” Mr. Willoughby looked up between switching channels, Kit impressed with the manual dexterity his arthritic hands exhibited, “there wasn’t much left. A lot of things went when we moved her into the nursing home.”
“Her?” Kit resented the impersonal nature of the personal pronoun. While her mother was in the home, he’d talk incessantly about Louise, tearing up at the sound of her name and recounting how she used to be.
“Your mother.” He shook the can and called, “Brenda, can you bring me a beer?”
Brenda emerged from the kitchen, smiling, cold beer in hand, “Here ya go, hon,” and kissed him on the top of his head as she exchanged empty for full. “You sure I can’t get you something, sweetheart?”
“No, thanks.” Kit hated Brenda’s solicitous manner.
“You’ll join us for Thanksgiving?” she asked and Kit nodded. She didn’t have any place else to go.
Kit stood at the kitchen sink, refilling her water glass, grateful Thanksgiving was almost over, dreading the remaining holiday season. Outside, it was dark. The whole day, the sky had been gray, threatening snow. The first of the season.
“I can’t wait till Christmas.” Brenda was standing next to her at the sink. “Don’t cha just love the holidays?”
“Yeah.” Kit wondered how many of her mother’s ornaments and decorations had disappeared along with her personal effects.
“Your dad said something about eating out today, but I wanted our first Thanksgiving as a family to be special.” Brenda squeezed Kit’s shoulders.
Kit declined any leftovers and made her excuses to go home before it got too late or started snowing. Her father was watching a football game. “I’m leaving, dad,” she called above the noise and he responded with a wave. She thanked Brenda for fixing dinner, her mother would be embarrassed if she weren’t gracious, managing to avoid a hug.
The door closed behind her with a thud and sitting inside her car at the curb, letting the engine idle, heat spreading through the interior, she glanced in the direction of the living room.
The lace curtains were gone, replaced with mini blinds. “How could you pick somebody so different?” she said to the house and, at that moment, realized maybe he was anxious to try something new.