Thomas Elson – Red Napkin

The dinner – turkey, latkes, dressing, gravy, and my wife’s cauliflower and black olive salad – impeccably set upon a red tablecloth with white lace placemats – reminded me of the red cassock and white lace chasuble I had worn decades before as an altar boy at midnight Mass.

Resting on the lace placemats were red napkins and flatware in the exact order my great-grandmother had dictated generations earlier. After dinner, I placed my fork upside down in the far rim of the dinner plate, wiped my lips with the red dinner napkin, folded it to cover the stain, then nestled it back on my lap. It was my final holiday dinner – only I knew it. Others would know soon, but not today.

Not my grandson, Matty, whose diapers I had changed and watched grow along the Pacific coast. Matty, my brilliant little boy, now twenty-six, an electrical engineer, soon to be married.

Not my grandson, Nicky, so like me no mirror was needed, same walk, same shoulders, hands, and head – an artist with an entire orchestra in his heart.

Not my daughter, the bright light of my life, more like me than she wanted; the one who keeps my spirit alive.

Not my wife – whose glow transformed my life into technicolor – a gifted teacher with a beautiful heart – in front of whom former third graders, now mothers, doctors, and teachers, morph into eight-year-olds bouncing with joy; and six feet three-inch men became little boys – once again looking for her approval.

My family did not know. Only I knew. I knew I was being devoured from within by something that left blood on my red dinner napkin.



Thomas Elson’s stories have been published in numerous venues, including Ellipsis, Better Than Starbucks, The Cabinet of Heed, Flash Frontier, Short Édition, Journal of Expressive Writing, Dead Mule School, The Selkie, The New Ulster, The Lampeter, and Adelaide. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.    

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