By Laurence Klavan -
The apartment seemed different, Leylah didn’t know why. Had she dreamed that something happened and she’d awakened and it turned out to be true? Had it been one of those really realistic dreams, hardly a dream at all, not weird in other words, mostly a memory, and so not deserving of the word “dream”? Leylah didn’t know that, either.
It must have been about the memorial service for her father, which had been held a month before. Leylah’s dad had been the pater familias, (though he wasn’t Italian), the Big Daddy, in other words, an autocrat, to be unkind, or just the oldest male left in the family. His large house had been the center of festivities for her extended clan, the home for everyone’s holidays. Now that he was gone—Leylah’s mother predeceased him—his generation was gone, too: all that remained was Leylah’s younger, less impressive crowd, with lower-paying jobs, fewer kids (Leylah had none), and less ebullient or just less imposing or overbearing personalities.
They had smaller homes, too: Leylah had no house at all, just an apartment. So, at the service, she’d wondered who would be throwing Thanksgiving this year and answered her own question: no one. As she’d kissed her cousin Cloris goodbye—a girl she’d grown up with and never liked yet had gotten used to knowing, you know?—Leylah sensed she might never see her or any of the others again, not like before, their meeting place (already on the market) having been made immaterial, just as her father had.
“See you soon,” Cloris had said, in her arms.
“Of course, we will,” Leylah blurted out, as if her cousin’s words hadn’t been a pleasantry but a pledge or a promise. Cloris reared back, surprised by her insistence, which had sounded defensive, even desperate, because, of course, Leylah hadn’t believed it herself.
As the weeks went on (this was September), no one stepped forward to invite anyone for Thanksgiving. Leylah began to accept that this aspect of her life—the world of her youth, the warmth or whatever it was she felt among her relatives, even those she thought idiots—was over.
Then, one day, she thought differently. Why couldn’t she throw Thanksgiving?
“Because,” her husband, Leopold, said.
Leopold just extended his arms, to say, look at this place.
Admittedly, they had only two rooms, living and bed, both small. Yet Leylah suspected Leopold had never liked her family gatherings and thought her feelings childish—not suspected, knew—and might secretly be relieved to have them as dead as her dad.
“That’s why I’ll never be a Socialist,” he’d once remarked, pointing to an online political site. “I can’t stand collectives. Whether it’s a family or a theater company…” He was a struggling playwright. “…they’re all prisons to me.”
This might have shaken Leylah’s new commitment to becoming a…was there such a person as a mater familias? And at her age, 40? Then she remembered that “entertaining” had two meanings, to consider and to fete. She could do one and then the other. Right?
Leopold complained bitterly when Leylah sent out invitations, conscientiously cleaned the apartment, and rented tables that would span or even over-shoot its narrow space. She received more acceptances than she had anticipated, gratified others in her family had had the same need for comfort and community, which she would fulfill.
On the morning of Thanksgiving, Leylah awoke to find they had one less room. Their one-bedroom had become a studio.
“I had nothing to do with it!” Leopold yelled, as Leylah stared accusingly at him. “I’m just as surprised as you!”
Leylah didn’t believe him, she couldn’t explain why. All the stuff she’d stashed behind the closed door of the bedroom now was strewn across, piled in towers and stuffed in corners of the single dining area. That night, there was little room to walk, let alone eat.
At the end of the cramped and awful evening, her cousin Cloris hugged her goodbye like one leaving a terminal patient for the final time, her face turned away, her lips kissing the cranberry-scented air.
“It wasn’t me!” Leopold yelled again as Leylah wept, breaking a dish she had meant to wash, before trying to sleep on a small, exposed square of the only room they had left.
That had been weeks ago, Leylah remembered, as she awoke from the dream or maybe just the memory. She realized why the place felt different: it was emptier. Leopold had moved out or been asked to move by her, or maybe a little bit of both.
Now Leylah looked around and realized she was luxuriously back in her old bed and that her bedroom had returned. She had slept in the nude (which she never did with Leopold, for he’d said, “let’s maintain a little mystery”). She rose and went out into the living room. In a newly elongated hall, she passed a den that had not been there before. Then she saw a second bathroom which had never existed, either. She found she could easily eat in the kitchen, which had once barely fit a refrigerator.
Leylah stopped, a mater familias but also an infant, for look what she was wearing, nothing. She considered: it was three weeks until Christmas. She could get out the invitations if she tried.
Laurence Klavan has had short work published in The Alaska Quarterly, Conjunctions, The Literary Review, Vol. I Brooklyn, Beloit Fiction Review, Pank, Failbetter, Stickman Review, and Anomaly among many others, and a collection, "'The Family Unit' and Other Fantasies," was published by Chizine. His novels, “The Cutting Room” and “The Shooting Script,” were published by Ballantine Books. He won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His graphic novels, "City of Spies" and "Brain Camp," co-written with Susan Kim, were published by First Second Books at Macmillan and their Young Adult fiction series, "Wasteland,"was published by Harper Collins. He received two Drama Desk nominations for the book and lyrics of "Bed and Sofa," the musical produced by the Vineyard Theater in New York and the Finborough Theater in London. His one-act, "The Summer Sublet," is included in Best American Short Plays 2000-2001, and his one-act, "The Show Must Go On," was the most produced short play in American high schools in 2015-2016. You can find more of his work on his website, www.laurenceklavan.com.