THE FINAL COURSE by Stacy Woodson

Six siblings. Six dishes. Six courses of holiday hell. 

But not this year. There will be no comments about my extra weight or my single status or my stringy hair. My invitation. My house. My rules. My way. We will have a pleasant meal. 

Even if it kills us.

I slide into my seat and turn to the heads gathered around the table and smile. I glance down at the spread: Mary’s mashed potatoes, Hal’s ham soufflé, Carl’s candied yams, Roberta’s meat roll. I dutifully scoop a serving of each on my plate. Everything smells divine. All seasoned with something special, something only each family member can provide.

I pick up my fork, take a deep breath and savor this moment–this feast from family. I start with the candied yams, but stop to pluck an eyelash from my food, and Carl’s glazed eyes look back at me. The same bored look he gives me when I discuss politics, my job, anything related to my life. Normally, my stomach tightens, blood rushes to my ears.

But he doesn’t bother me. Not today.

I smile at the control I somehow manage to muster and take a bite. My lips pucker. The yams are bitter. I should have expected this kind of showing from Carl. He is always bitter about something: the war, his business, having me for a sister. Condescending, bitter Carl. Why would his candied yams be any different? 

I reach for my wine to wash away the yams and the bad memories, but my glass is empty.

“Oops!” I giggle. “Silly me. I forgot the wine.”

I dash to the kitchen, retrieve a bottle. After my glass is full, I return to my seat and reach for Roberta’s meat roll. I cut a thick piece, stab it with my fork, lift it to my mouth, stop, and steel myself. I expect her to say something about my weight. The last thing I need is a piece that big with an ass my size–at least that’s what she said during my fortieth birthday dinner when I tried to enjoy a piece of cake. My entire life she has pointed out my flaws, and her insults still echo in my head.

All their insults.

But Roberta doesn’t say anything. None of them do. Of course, they wouldn’t…couldn’t.

I take a deep breath, savor the silence, and wait for the tension in my shoulders to ease. Finally, I lean forward to continue to eat, but my arm bumps the table.

Hal wobbles. I reach over to steady him, but miss. His head rolls along the table, teeters on the edge, and thuds to the floor. He continues to roll until he connects with one of the table legs and comes to a stop. His empty eye sockets stare back at me. 

I sigh. Hal always wants to be the center of attention.

The doorbell rings. My sister, Cynthia.

I stand, smooth my apron, and reach for the carving knife. Gripping the handle, I make my way across the blood-stained carpet to greet her. 

The final course is here.

Stacy Woodson is a U.S. Army veteran. Memories of her time in the military often are a source of inspiration for her stories (although not this one). She made her crime fiction debut in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine’s Department of First Stories in 2018. You can visit her at

Copyright © 2019 Stacy Woodson. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.