He took a deep breath as he sat down. Bill hadn't been to his parents' home for years because his work had taken him to a distant city. For many months, he'd wanted to bring his girlfriend home to meet his family but he'd never seemed to find the time.
The smell of baked bread wafted into the room. His father had burned it. Bill's nose detected the roasted hen, too, from his older sister. She'd brought sweet potatoes, butter, green beans, and other dishes for the visit because she lived a block away. His older brother, who lived in the house with his father, had bought canned peaches. They gave off a syrupy perfume as they sat out in a bowl, an item to add to the salads.
His girlfriend had insisted that they make pies but, at the last minute, she'd bought them from a store. The pies sat on the table to her left, a little too far for him to reach but close enough for the cinnamon and nutmeg to combine with the other food scents.
"Good to meet your fiance, Bill," his brother whispered into his right ear.
He nodded. His brother accepted the loaf of dark-crust bread from their father and found a spot for it at the table.
"I'm sorry your mother can't be here," said his father as he sat down.
His father's wife, Bill's step-mother, had died two years ago due her refusal to wear her medical bracelet. When she'd gone to the hospital emergency room for ulcer pain, she accepted a treatment she shouldn't have, which made her pass out. Then the doctors administered medicine contraindicated by the warning on her bracelet. They wouldn't have prompted the reaction that killed her if they'd known.
"Me too," he said. He felt sorry for his step-mother and also for his birth mother, now remarried and not in a position to see her grandchildren.
"Yeah," said his brother and sister.
"But I'm grateful for another year," his father continued. "Let's go around the table and give thanks, please."
The oldest, his sister, clasped her hands and bowed her head.
"I'm thankful that my husband will finish his prison sentence this month," she said. "I'm grateful to be off drugs. I'm thankful for diabetes medicine. I'm thankful for my daddy. I'm thankful for my little girl."
Bill watched his fiance. Her eyes widened.
After a short pause, his brother took a turn.
"I'm thankful that my son can be here with us tonight," he said. "His mom didn't want him to come. I'm thankful for the doctor who reattached my pinky finger. I'm grateful for the car my little brother gave me. It's nice to drive to work again."
Bill's fiance already knew about his brother. She hadn't heard about him cutting off a finger at work. She nudged him with her foot under the table.
"I'm thankful for Uncle Billy!" shouted his brother's son.
"Me, too!" said his sister's daughter. "And for his girlfriend. She's pretty."
"How sweet," his girlfriend remarked. "I'm grateful for Bill, too, and I'm happy to meet you all."
Bill had finished reading a lot of legal papers earlier. When he raised his clasped hands, he found that he smelled like dry books. He took a moment to contemplate how fortunate his life had been. He was the only one of the three who made a good living. On top of that, he hadn't injured himself or caused himself medical problems.
"I'm glad that I knew everything that my older sister and brother did as we were growing up," he concluded with a sigh.
"Amen," said his girlfriend.
There was a pause and a grateful smile from his sister.
"Is that all?" his father prompted.
"And I'm happy we're alive. The bread smells great, dad."