Amanda Locke was on her feet for most of the night. The preparation and planning of her annual Christmas dinner was well into its tenth hour. Family and friends, eagerly awaiting the joyous event and looking forward to the soiree of the year were calling nonstop to lend a hand as needed. Antonio, or Tonio, had been in and out with the men folk hunting and drinking up his fair share of beer and liquor for most of the afternoon. Not a grateful man, her husband was more detached and unconcerned about her get together so this left Mandy on her own. She was not pleased with the situation, but dealt with Tonio's flaws with grace and charm, especially during the holidays. Her best smile, manicured hands, well trimmed hair and, as always, an exquisite red dress for the season always garnered the affection and admiration of those who knew her. Tonio would do his usual, sit back drink, belch, and fart out a compliment. Mandy' s father and close friends were less than pleased.
This holiday also brought about another year of an empty nest. The couple was still without children. Trying on so many occasions and failing to conceive, the last three years of their six-year union was more like a mating documentary than a marriage. However, a recent chain of events however would put an entirely new set of circumstances into play. I'm glad he's out of the house; it gives me time to think. Peeling potatoes and checking the large grill out back, Mandy continued to prepare the feast. Her long red hair tied up in ponytail she peeled and chopped away while potato skins stuck to various parts of the kitchen cabinet. You want potatoes you got 'em. I'm gonna stuff the fuck outta you with damn potatoes. Her thoughts had been racing most of the morning and she often found herself engaging in one-sided conversations where only she could answer. At that moment, another call was coming through.
"Mandy, Merry Christmas how are ya? You need anything?" Chris, her best friend since high school and always bubbly and cheerful made her usual check in call. Volunteering was her thing. She was always there when Mandy needed her.
"Hey Chris, I knew you would be calling soon. I got everything together over here. Just relax and know that you are in for a dinner that has no rival. Once I am done with these tons of potatoes I think I will be finished."
Chris' voice resonated with a question. "But you did potatoes yesterday, I thought?"
"Yeah, but you know my hubby, his father is coming and wants potatoes, those are his favorite. I got his damn potato. So now, I peel more."
Chris, noticing the sarcasm in her friend's tone, continued. "So make Tonio's ass peel potatoes. You been up all night and guest are coming at six, right."
Mandy took in a long sigh knowing exactly where Chris was going with her comment. "Darling, I know how you feel and yes, dinner is at six. I will be fine. Tonio is out of the way for now, so I can concentrate on making this the best dinner ever. I'm using that new grill he built at Thanksgiving, and it is working like you would not believe. Don't worry so much."
Chris, her disgust for Tonio seeping through every pore, remarked. "A fucking grill, he should have bought you that bracelet you been eying. It's the least he could do considering his most recent faux pas. Why the hell do you deal with him?" The obvious aggravation was making her blood pressure rise. Mandy, as always, calmed her.
"I know he appears boorish and selfish, but someone's got to love him. As for the recent issue, he hasn't been out to a beaver bar with his dad since our little talk. So for me, it's over. And I got my bracelet and will be wearing it at the dinner." The happiness in her voice was one that Chris had not heard in a years. Knowing her friend was well, she was able to hang up feeling that things were once again on the mend.
Thinking back on their life together, Mandy's excuse was what they had been through so much that she did not remember his asshole moments as much. She knew he rubbed her friends wrong on more than one occasion with his lack of responsibility. Missing planned dinners, showing up drunk for office parties, staying out all night drinking and partying with his father and friends had ruined his standing in their eyes. Still Mandy forgave the chubby troll and took him back time after time. She had hoped that the love of a new family member, preferably a baby, would be her distraction, but they were unfortunate in that arena as well.
Around noon, the potatoes, all skinned and chopped, were ready to go in with the meat. Angered at a recent chain of events, another doctor's visit, another failure, the irate spouse stuffed the bird to the gills. Every seasoning she could find was stacked in order on a corner shelf built as an add-on to the massive grill platform. Taking notes from some of her favorite cooking magazines, the red headed beauty launched into a stuff and season mode that would make any chef proud. Her pale, freckled skin covered in pepper, poultry season, and paprika to the point she appeared to have a tan. Then it was time for the potatoes.
The finishing touch of your glorious meal and the main dish will be so pleased. The potatoes, last on the list, proved to be difficult in their placement. The legs were not cooperating sticking up and out and causing all kinds of culinary mayhem. The grill lid, just a little too tight she would have to make some alterations. Just cook them a little longer and chop 'em off at the joint. Spread 'em, cover in the remaining potatoes and that should do it. Filling each cavities with the well-trimmed spuds seemed to be the most arduous chore. Thank goodness, the head is gone, that would have really pissed me off. Can't believe that moron brought me a damn bird with the head last year. What were you thinking? Why did I wait so long? Oops, gonna have to chop this in parts to make sure it all gets cooked even. Positioning the meat on the grill, Mandy continued to sweat and season until it was time for cake and pie preparation. Prepping the baking are and gathering her favorite apron for the dusty job, Mandy brought out big momma to beat and mend the dough. A tiny smile escaped her lips as she thought of life following this afternoon's dinner. Things were gonna be different. She was sure of it.
As she started mixing ingredients, the phone rang again. Hands draped in flour and sugar, she picked up the nearby kitchen phone.
"Mands, this is Jake, calling for Tonio, you seen him? He was supposed to help me cut some wood this morning." Jake was one of Tonio's close friends and sometimes a partner in crime when things went bad.
"He left the house first thing this morning, came back briefly, and checked out again. Can't help ya." Her tone was one of sheer indifference. "I am sure he will be here for the dinner, you know how he loves potatoes."
Jake hung up and continued with his own "honey do" list. He spoke with his wife, Shelly, about the call and how Mandy seemed strange. Shelly figured that Tonio was laid up drunk somewhere. Knowing the kind of trouble he stayed in, kept most of Mandy's female friends on edge and pissed off. Shelly, had threatened divorce on many occasions when the men decided that hanging out at all hours of the night was their prerogative. However, Jake knew better. Child support for three children would put him living in a cardboard box on the cover of Wesson and Main. He was quick to apologize and decline his membership in the up all night club. Shelly had gone so far as to call the police and have him escorted to jail for breaking and entering. She had changed the locks on one of his long nights out. The realization of being homeless and possibly jail raped sobered his ass up quick and he never went out with that group again.
Mandy stood proud as the aroma of coconut, vanilla, butter, rum, and cinnamon filled the air. Other staples of her menu, macaroni and cheese, turnip greens, green bean casserole and of course, potatoes, potatoes, and potatoes were ready for serving. Potato soufflé, sweet potato pie, mashed potatoes, roasted potatoes and of course potato bread were all a part of the Christmas feast. She had done it again, prepared his family favorites along with comfort foods that would make the average Christmas dinner look like Friday night special. To boot, she had done all this with the phone ringing off the hook as friends and relatives called for various reasons.
One more check on the meat and everything should be in order. The aroma was a sensation to the senses. Golden brown, succulent meat fell from the bones of the mighty bird. Seasoned to perfection, stuffed to the gills with potatoes and a side of dressing, the woman smiled at herself as she began to platter the mighty gastronomic centerpiece. For now, she would shower and prepare the home for the family gathering.
"I have always wanted to have your children." The conversation started in the doctor's office and continued on the way home. "What do you have against us having kids? It would be so beautiful and the house wouldn't feel so lonely." Mandy recalled the day that lead up to the events that took place later.
Tonio was quick and malicious in his response. "Kids cost money, they take up too much time, and I like our life like it is. You heard the doc, you just can't conceive so get over it." The man was against having children and did not mind telling her in any cruel manner he could. However, Mandy would not give up this time. She had never fought for anything in the marriage and this time she would dig in and would not give up.
When they arrived at their three-bedroom 1800 square foot home, she spoke of backyard birthday parties, sleepovers and football or maybe dance recitals. Her parents had given these things to her and her brothers without fail. Sure times had been hard, but they made it work and they were happy. "Why can't we have that same happy, Tony?" He large green eyes with flecks of brown were filling with tears. She would adopt, use a surrogate, whatever it took. For now, she just wanted an answer.
Tonio turned to her after slamming the front door with all his strength. He stood angered at the conversation, his dark thick black hair a mess atop his round fatted head. He gathered his most vile attitude when speaking with her, his machismo at its worse.
"We're not having children because we can't. I was clipped years ago. I have no need for children and I don't want them. So, for last fucking time, you stupid childless bitch, we will not be having this conversation. So there! Now, I am going to take a shower and you are going to start on the dinner. Oh and I did invite my dad as you were taking so long to getting around to calling him. He will be here and remember he loves potatoes."
The cold and callous coward walked away as if he had just ordered a pizza and expected immediate delivery. Mandy was in a puddle of tears in the kitchen. They fell like rain in a major tropical storm in the heart of the season. Her blue V necked T Shirt was stained with the droplets of her hopes and they drifted away. The realization that everyone had been right about him began to replay in her head as a bad memory you cannot get shake. You've wasted your life with this fool and for what? He has taken your money, your pride, you self esteem, and trashed your dreams of family. How much more must you endure?
The crumpled female listened as the shower head sprung to life. She rose from her sitting position on the kitchen floor slow and quiet. Part of her had died at the instant he spoke those horrible words. However, there was another part that surfaced for which he was not prepared. As she rounded the corner to the hall, the phone rang.
"Hello, Mandy, this is Shelly. Jake needs some help cutting firewood in the morning. We can keep Tonio busy and out of trouble if you like." Mandy was quiet at first and realizing she had picked up the phone she began to speak. "Oh, yeah that's a great idea, I will let him know." The wife seemed detached from the world, Shelly heard it in her voice. "Hey, Mands, you okay?" Mandy put on her best reaction. "Girl, yes, just planning this meal, and the holiday, you know just a little overwhelmed." Shelly understood those words and offered to help in any way she could. "I got it and thank you so much for offering."
Hanging up, Mandy snapped back to her own life. Walking towards the bathroom, she recalled the happier days in the sunshine. The rain and storms had come and stayed so long that her memories seem to tarnish under the weight of his deception and cruel conduct. Mandy approached the bathroom and with a gentle knock, she opened the door. The scent of his favorite shower gel filled her senses as she moved closer to the shower stall. The thick wall of steam and his off-key singing seemed to intensify her anger. Tonio turned and seeing his wife in the room, he started again.
"Don't tell me you gonna start on that shit again!" He was quick to bring his smart tongue to a wag. Only this time, things would be different. "Honey, that's fine, everything is just fine." Standing in the midst of hot water and steamy bubbles, her tone and lack of defiance pleased him. "Hey babe, can you hand me that?" The thong and thud were the last things Tonio was handed that day.
As she finished her shower and dressed, she was a new woman feeling free and ready to take on the world. The guests would be arriving soon and ready for a feast that would rival any other. Mandy adorned the table with a spread fit for a king as the guests started to arrive. They are going to love this dinner!
Jake, Shelly and their children were first, followed by Chris, Jake, Mandy's parent's and Tonio's father. Tonio's mother had died many years ago. Some speculated the family cruelty had played a part in her heart attack. Their other friends Mark and Silvia Bailey were pleased to join in as well. "So glad to see you all, thank you for coming and make yourself at home, please." Mandy was always the consummate host. Everyone was festive in holiday sweaters, shirts, jewels that marked the season and smiles filled with family and friendship. All except for Tonio's father, Nick, he was a short slender man with only one thought in his head, himself. He took his place being pompous as soon as he entered the home.
"I see you're just as plain as ever, no wonder my son goes elsewhere." His tone, not welcomed of course, was quick to attract the attention of Tucker, Mandy's father. He was quick to strike fear in the rude guest. "Speak one more negative word to my daughter and by God your ass will be stuffed and on a platter." Mandy's father, an ex marine and every bit of six foot four had no problem shutting down the little man. Tucker had not liked Tonio from the beginning and on many occasions plotted of ways to dispose of the half-Latin, half-African asshole.
Mandy showed everyone their seats as she sparkled in a stunning short, red dress with pearls that traced along a plunging neckline. Her red hair flowed as a stream and curled just as easily. Her smile lit up the room and delighted everyone in her presence. Receiving several compliments on her charm bracelet, she was more than happy to share what each bobble represented. As everyone settled, the absence of one person reflected in the room.
"So where's Tonio?" Jake asked. Mandy's green eyes flecked with glee and fire as she answered. "Don't worry he'll be making an appearance soon. He's still getting ready. You know how he is." She smiled and strolled to the kitchen without a care in the world. Jake shrugged his shoulders and took a seat next to Mandy's parents.
"Honey, you got a beautiful spread here." Her mother was pleased with her daughter's skills in the kitchen. "Thanks mom, I learned from the best." As she appeared from the kitchen with a lighter for the candles.
Nick, of course, blurted an interruption. "Where the hell's my boy? He's the man of this place, he needs to say grace." Mandy answered. "He's just in the kitchen we can start without him, he'll be here." Something in her eyes was sinister yet welcoming. He backed down and sat quiet as her father, the marine recited the grace.
The crowd began to feast on the many dishes that lay before them. Nick was ready for the meat. "Where's the meat, my son gonna cut it, you know he paid for this meal!" Tucker banged on the table, but his daughter was able to soothe him. "Daddy, I got this. I'll get your son, I hear him now." Escaping to the kitchen for only a moment, Mandy reappeared.
The wife emerged with a large stainless steel cart covered in a red satin cloth. Her smile was playful and wicked as she unveiled the centerpiece of the meal. The room grew silent. The first movement was of Shelly sending her kids 14 and 16 to the car and telling them to leave their cell phones and not speak a word.
Mouths were agape at the horror displayed before them. Mandy, however, was just as calm as presenting a grand prize to a lucky winner. "See honey, I did everything you told me to and there are lots of potatoes."
Those that had started eating, started throwing up at the realization that the meat was none other than her beloved Tonio, stuffed to the gills with potatoes. Every inch and every hole oozing with juices of an unmentionable nature, the wife continued in her reveal. She plopped another platter on the table. At the sight of its contents, the Bailey's fainted. Her own mother ran for the restroom. This dish included the head, which was stuffed with a large baking potato, the face frozen in a grimace similar to that of a male on male rape victim.
She looked to Nick who was grasping at his chest and convulsing and with an evil beam she spoke. "You want the first bite?" Nick keeled forward, having a heart attack at the sight of his cooked and prepared son. The remainder of the guests coming out of their sickened and devastated modes began to realize the weight of the situation. Shelly had disappeared with Jake into the back yard at the first unveil. The rest sat in shock and dismay. Shelly soon appeared, her husband by her side carrying a shovel and plastic bags. From the crowd Chris began to speak.
"Amen, bury that shit!" Tucker was quick to add on, "Hell yeah, bout damn time." The others continued to throw up and never took part in her holiday soirees again.