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Sometimes a crumb falls

From the tables of joy,

Sometimes a bone

Is flung.

To some people

Love is given,

To others

Only heaven.

--Langston Hughes





For Jesse




If anyone else had been paying attention to the hors'doerves, reading them like tea leaves or grains of sand left in a bathtub or the lines on a smooth, cool palm, she or he would have left the house at once. At five in the afternoon, just before the guests were to arrive, Mattie Flynn would have turned off her brand new convection oven, let the 26 pound turkey--browned and crispy to the eye and tongue--cool, chill, and breed salmonella, listeria, and ptomaine. Mattie's youngest daughter Brontë would have left the Kitchen Aid eggbeater standing straight up in the gluey mashed potatoes, the white mass thick with butter and salt and half and half. She would have rushed to her sleek BMW convertible and driven off without even her purse. Her older sister Keelan would have scooped up baby Lily and three-year-old Palmer, taking her children and the five Bernese mountain dog puppies she was watching for a friend and arranged everyone and everything in her Range Rover and driven home. Well, maybe not home, but somewhere. To a friend's house, to a motel, a nice one. Maybe even the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, finding a room with two double beds, HBO, and easy access to the spa. And Keelan's husband Doyle? Well, he wouldn't have shown up at all, staying instead in his own home in Maple Creek, painting his new mantle, drinking a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, his anger soothed by thick clean swipes of Kelley Moore's Cinnamon Sun latex. Keelan's friends, Terza and Cruz Ramirez and their two boys Tomas and Dominic, invited to Mattie and Robert Flynn's lovely Rinada hillside home for Thanksgiving for the first and, ultimately, only and last time, would have been shooed away from the front door with a broom and a spell of protection. They would have held their pumpkin pies with flat palms and backed away over the flagstone path, turned and run into their Suburban and driven home well over the posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour. At home, they would have heated up a frozen pizza and then eaten the two pies Terza had made from scratch, the broken shells of baking pumpkins in the garbage.

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