Something you had that was stolen

Some time in the year 1959, Ryan A. Louis discovered what would come to be his most treasured companion, stalwart ally, and favourite word in the English language: free market. He had a wholesome and natural love of anything free, though fooling around with the market he sometimes found deals that felt even better than free. To him, the idea of merging these two concepts into an amalgam of his most beloved words was more beautiful than anything the world had yet offered. It was upon this wondrous foundation that he pioneered the Trade Store, later The Pawn Shop, later the Trade’n’Sell, and eventually the Swap Meet. While the store’s name and inventory changed much over the course of history, the store itself did not. It would take just about anything from just about anyone, and never did the proprietor raise an eyebrow or question the source of his income. This proprietor was always called Lou, regardless of their actual name or even gender. Today, the Swap Meet is run by Sherry McCallighan, an eternally bitter bear of a woman whose mood was rarely helped by the unwanted nickname that had come with the job.

“Look, Lou,” Sean rubbed his left eye in a vain attempt to stop the twitching. It was the twitching, he thought, that was making this day go even less smooth. If he could tame that rogue eye, maybe he could finally make some progress. “I’m having a fucking awful day. Can’t you cut me a break? I’m swear on my life it works fine.”

Lou’s own eye twitched just once when Sean said her nickname. She pushed the dusty old game machine back towards him, scraping audibly on the counter. The store was otherwise silent, empty on a sleepy weekday afternoon. “I’m sure it does. But that’s gonna be a cold comfort to the poor, dear customer of mine that wants to use it with none of the damn cords. You aren’t getting a penny more than five bucks for this heap of scrap.”

“Cords? Who gives a fuck about cords? You’ve got a million cords right under the counter!” Sean’s voice was certain, but his heart slammed thunderously inside his chest like it was beating him for being such an idiot. Fucking cords! How was he supposed to know they were so important? He’d be done by now, he’d have enough for the night if he’d only grabbed the god damn cords!

“They’re not the right cords, Sean. Without the right cords, selling this piece of shit is gonna be a pain in my ass. Total profit after ass-pain tax is five dollars. Take or leave.”

“Look, Lou…” Sean rubbed his eye again. Damn twitching, losing this argument for him. “Just, just look, Lou. I really need you to cut me some slack, here. It’s Jamie, you know. She saw… she’s gonna leave, Lou. I think she’s actually gonna do it this time, right? So I gotta get something more than this. Lou, just look, Lou, I need more than this.”

Loud ground her teeth and put both hands on the counter. “Sean, I don’t know who the hell Jamie is and if I did do you really think I give a fuck? Five bucks for the game, seventy bucks for the computer. Take it or fuck off.”

Sean wiped off the sweat that was beading his brow. Lou just stood there, sneering at him. Looking down on him. Sean never said where he got the goods he pawned, but even he wasn’t stupid enough to assume she didn’t know. His twitching, his sweating, everything was laid out plain as day. She probably knew everything about him, about what he had to do just to make ends meet.

Then why wasn’t she fucking helping?

Sean’s right hand twitched, but this time it wasn’t from craving. ‘What would the harm be?’ asked a patient little voice in the back of Sean’s head. ‘Thanks to Jamie, they’re already gonna know you broke probation. Couldn’t get much worse, right? And nothing’s gonna happen. We’re just gonna scare her a little. It’s her own fault for not helping you when you clearly needed it.’

Sean’s hand twitched again, but this time Lou noticed. She leaned back from the counter and shifted to the side. Sean hesitated. He didn’t know what Lou kept back there, just that it was where she always stood when Sean raised his voice. She was there last week when Sean was in a really bad way, her hand twitching just like it was now. Sean found himself thinking of all the things you could hide behind a counter. A baseball bat. A pistol. A fucking shotgun.

“75 bucks,” rasped Sean, Furiously ignoring his twitching eye. “Sounds fair.”

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Not the First

When I stepped outside today, you were there
 You were humming some staccato rhythm over the world
 and embracing everything you could reach (including me)
 It had only been a month or two
 but one could be forgiven
 for thinking it was years, the way you cried
 through the whole thing put water in my eyes as well
 You seemed to want to catch up
 But I was all business
 to the point where we just sort of talked
          at
 each other.
 I’m sorry to be gone so long, I know you hate the heat
 Five minutes to the crosswalk, then another five to the mall
 I just had to stop by at least once before everything froze
 Fifteen total minutes of travel time
 Do you remember when you were young, when you’d run outside and we’d play?
 The bus gets there at 9:30. I’ll wait five minutes
 You’d just drop everything and run out with no jacket, even if only for a few minutes
 Should take about half an hour to get to the next stop
 Remember when I was sick, and you got sick and had to stay inside for a week?
 The 37 doesn’t run today
 You don’t do that anymore
 I’ll take the 14, then I’ll walk
 Now you just look out the window and look a little sad
Deadlines Money
 Responsibilities
 All of these I thought about
 and when I final opened my eyes
 and took everything in
 and remembered the wonder
 I closed up tight
 again
 and I thought of the words I’d make for what you’d shown me
 With growing frustration you demanded that I stop
 Just stop!
 stop thinking and making and calculating for one moment and try to remember
 a small boy laughing in the rain
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What a character holding a blue object is thinking right now.

Being weak never much concerned her.

That is not to say it never bothered her. She had memories of high school muscleheads teasing her endlessly. Nice enough when away from the gym floor, but physical activity triggered some kind of cro-magnon pack instinct for which she spared no fondness.  In the gymnasium her anxiety over physical strength grew seven-fold, and she hated that place for inflating any of her issues to the size necessary to compete with her low self-esteem.

Long after she had learned to be comfortable in her own skin, constant reminders of her physical frailty remained. When her adventurous friends were seized by the need to explore, she was left behind by the failure of her exhausted muscles. When someone would stay behind to try and lift her spirits, it only made her feel more the burden.

Her friends would still tease her, even to this day. When she struggled with skewed furniture, heavy groceries, or stubborn lids they had always laughed first and helped second. Just last week someone had finally taught her how to remove the lid of a stubborn jar using duct tape. A fancy trick that made simple a difficult task. More and more she’d been forced to rely on these tricks, these, “Hacks,” to overcome weakness.

But there was no duct tape here, and if there was she wouldn’t know what to do with it. She wasn’t dumb, but she wasn’t clever either and easy ways to subvert shortcomings didn’t come easy. She didn’t have a shortcut. All she had was her own feeble strength and the stubborn refusal to accept someone else’s powerlessness.

Her mind soon cleared of distracting thoughts. The only thing passing through her head were deep gulps of air as her arms shuddered and her legs threatened to buckle. Closing her eyes to protect them from torrents of sweat, her entire world narrowed down to just her, heaving  and grunting, and the great blue vehicle she cradled in her arms.

“It’s up!” someone shouted, “Pull the boy out of there!”

She did not yield until she heard them cry, “He’s out!” With this permission she collapsed backwards in a gasping, sweaty pile of contrary human being. She couldn’t feel her arms. That was probably for the best.

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Surrounded on Either Side by Myself

For a long time I thought to myself, “The me of the future is really going to hate the me of the past. He’s the one who’s going to get the business end of all these unhealthy but comfortable habits I’m enforcing right now.” Naturally, stopping never really occurred to me. No more than the phantom of an inkling of an idea of the inclination that, were I to change in that exact moment and follow my ego instead of my id, my future would be happier. But I didn’t. So when the future came, I was right. I was intensely bitter at each and every one of my decisions. And they WERE decisions, not failures. Failures would have absolved me of responsibility and implied that I was not at fault nor deserving of my own sour judgement. So I grew unhappy with the person I used to be that allowed me to grow into the person I became. I began to think of them as a far removed totem of laziness and feeble will and accused them of every ill that came to me. And as time passed, that’s all I did. Nothing changed but a growing resentment of my own mistakes. As I had already learned, my self in the future would resent me for my inability to change, but now my self in the past was also a miser of self-loathing. I was surrounded on either side by a sharp, stinging self awareness that not only was I not perfect, I was imperfect enough to be unhappy with who I was. The one thing that I casually thought would always be under my control was the greatest accomplishment I had never made.

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September Summary

I think that, at the end of each month, I’ll take a little time for non-prose issues related to Promptu. Other than the update that there will be monthly updates, I should point out that Wordsalad is no longer with us. From now on, any and all Promptu posts will be from me, Parvum, unless otherwise noted. Typically such posts will be under the new category, “Guest,” like Bunny’s Happy List from earlier. We’ve also got followers now. It’s encouraging. When Promptu was first conceived we didn’t actually know that WordPress worked like that. To be honest, I still don’t know how WordPress works. But I suppose I’ll have to learn eventually.

Eventually.

Barring any sort of complications, there should be a poem and a short out by tomorrow’s end. And to those of you who decided to follow Promptu, I want to take a moment to say thank you. I can only assume you read something you liked, so thanks for reading that and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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Bunny’s Happy List

Someone who reads promptu made their own , and I’ll be sharing that with you today.

______________________________________________________________

So, this got a little deeper than I wanted it to, but I couldn’t stop.

Bunny’s Happy List

1. Warm beds in cold rooms, and being able to stay underneath all the blankets until you feel like getting up.
2. Listening to my favourite band’s albums on repeat.
3. Daydreaming about the future and all it holds for me.
4. Long Autumn walks down nature trails, with all the leaves orange and red and crunchy.
5. The perfect cup of tea.
6. Having something in common with someone and spending hours just talking about it.
7. When my eyeliner matches both eyes exactly right.
8. Driving with friends and the windows are rolled down, with a catchy song on the radio.
9. Old, worn in ballet shoes that are perfectly molded for your feet.
10. Having both of my cats cuddle me.
11. Finding a book that makes me laugh, cry, and get lost in.
12. Laying next to my boyfriend, feeling our chests rise up and down in unison as he draws circles on my back.
13. Stepping on the scale after dieting and seeing the numbers go down.
14. Having someone text me out of nowhere, for no reason other than to say hi, and realize they were thinking of me.
15. Trips down Memory Lane.
16. Getting a haircut and feeling like an entirely different person.
17. Finding a pair of jeans that fits just right.
18. Putting lip balm on dry, chapped lips.
19. Being with my dad, observing his behaviors and realizing suddenly hey, that’s where I get that thing that I do from.
20. Knowing that wherever I go, whatever may happen, I will always have my mother as my guardian angel and the sense of peace and tranquility this thought brings me.

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A houseplant is dying. Tell it why it needs to live.

It was a simple plant. Darnell liked that. It didn’t try to overburden anyone with frilly petals or exotic fragrances. Even the geometry of the leaves demanded nothing of the viewer. Large and flat, Darnell would hesitate to describe them in any term more poetic or complex than ‘leaf-shaped,’ or ‘lea-coloured,’ or, if he was feeling particularly wordy, ‘very big.’ There were, however, a great many of them.  They cascaded outwardly over the hanging pot like a waterfall, bushy and plentiful in a way that reminded Darnell of his hair when he had been going through a certain phase. But unlike a younger Darnell, this plant was not crying out for attention nor did it need any identity to desperately cling. This little fern knew exactly who and what it was. It had no need to rub any of this in your face or shout it from the top of a mountain. No, it was the quiet and polite sort of certainty. The kind that would keep to itself, but would happily tell you if you stepped in close to ask: “Hello. I am a simple fern. I get lots of water and I’m grateful. Everything is pretty alright.”

Darnell lifted his blue watering can over the fern, coaxing out a calming shower of tiny, clear beads. He watched in placid contentment as they slithered over the dry, brown leaves. “But little buddy,” asked Darnell, “If everything is so hunky dory, why’re your leaves gone all brown? Why are some so shrivelled and dry they fell right off?”

There was no reply, of course, because he was talking to a plant. Darnell was a grown man—depending on who you asked –and knew full well that plants were among the worst conversationalists found in nature. But his schedule ended at watering this plant, and there was still much time left in the day. Darnell was not looking forward to yet another day of silent, inward contemplation. He would much rather be having some intelligent conversation and he didn’t much care if his speaking partner was himself pretending to be a plant.

“I dunno. Everything’s fine, I guess. The soil is good and I get watered every day, and that’s more than a lot of plants can say right there,” the plant drawled, “I really can’t complain, can I? It’s pretty alright.”

“Sure, little buddy, I get what you’re saying. But, and I’m not trying to bring you down or nothing, I really think you should know that you aren’t looking too hot. I get that, being a houseplant, you don’t really have a mirror. But trust me, it’s pretty bad.” Darnell reached out and pinched one of the brown leaves between his thumb and forefinger. Once thick and waxy, it had become thin and more akin to a dry paper towel in texture. Despite the grim plant prognosis, Darnell couldn’t help but chuckle to himself as he continued to talk to a hanging houseplant. “Yup, all brown. Doesn’t look so good.”

“Really? That’s probably my fault. You’ve been watering me all this time, just like any decent person would. I guess I haven’t really been drinking any of it. I’m sorry.”

“There’s no need to be sorry, little buddy. I’m not the one who’s falling apart!” Darnell chuckled again at his pun.

“Then…” The plant’s dialogue trailed off for a moment as Darnell bent down to grab a handful of the doffed leaves. His sickly cargo was so delicate that, by the time he had stood back up, most of it had crumbled right through his grasp. “Then I guess I’m sorry that I’m not going to make it. I’m sorry that all the water you gave me was for nothing. I’m sorry that all the time you spent trying to make me live a good life was wasted, I really am. I just want you to know that, Darnell.”

Darnell swallowed. “Little buddy, why do you have to say things like that? Come on, chin up! You’ll make it through, I know you will!”

“No. I won’t. And I know it makes you sad, and that’s why I’m so sorry. I mean that.” A breeze blew in from an open window, rustling the fern’s leaves and causing the suspended pot to hesitantly spin in place.

“Then let me help, little buddy!” piped Darnell. He walked over to the window and closed it firmly. “That’s why I’m here, after all. Together I know we can get you through this. Give it a chance, we’ll figure something out!”

“There’s nothing to figure, Darnell.” After the breeze was cut off, the plant continued to turn until it had done a complete about face. Darnell fought to not think of it as the plant facing away—it didn’t even have a face. “This isn’t something that either of us can fix. Every day is a cruel joke, a dark and dank cavern that I must escape with only a spoon and a candle. Every time I think I see light, my candle goes out and I’m left even deeper in the darkness. You can’t help me escape this, Darnell. Nobody can.”

“Now you just stop right there. We’ll get you looked at. Once you’re checked out and we know what’s wrong you’ll be good as new in no time…” Darnell spun the plant back to its starting point. “Once you’re drinking again you’ll feel good as new, just like old times.”

“That isn’t the problem. It’s the solution. I can’t stay here any longer, Darnell. Don’t make this any longer than it has to be.”

“But I’m right here!” protested Darnell, yelling to himself in an empty house with all the windows closed. “I’m not just going to let you wither away. I’m going to help you!”

“You can try, Darnell. But there isn’t anything you can do to help. I don’t feel it anymore. All I feel is lost, cold, and tired. I just want to sleep. And the moment you aren’t here, I’m going to do it.”

Darnell backed into the wall and pressed his fist against his jaw. “You’re just going to leave everyone? Just like that? They’ll all be devastated. It’s so selfish!”

“Yes,” the plant admitted, “But no more selfish than anyone asking me to live in misery so they don’t have to feel sad.”

“But…” Darnell began, trailing off as he slid slowly down the wall until he was sitting with his arms resting on his knees. “I guess that is pretty selfish, isn’t it? I mean, they’ll get over it eventually. But you, you’ll be in pain your whole life.”

“Exactly.”

“And they won’t have to keep worrying about you anymore. No more pitying looks, or people trying to understand things they can’t. Now they won’t have to understand because I’d be gone. No more trouble, no more pain, no more—NO!”

Darnell jumped to his feet and jabbed a finger at the plant, glowering at it with watering eyes. “This isn’t how it was supposed to go! This is wrong! It was supposed to be different! Helpful!”

He was too angry for anything as childish as pretending to be a hanging fern.  Still, he knew exactly what it would say—what he would say, clear as crystal chiming in the back of his mind. You knew exactly what would happen if you asked yourself for advice. You already know everything you need to know. The only thing left is to do it.

Darnell stifled a sob and stormed out of the room, the potted plant still swinging from his accusations. A few of the leaves dislodged, performing mid-air pirouettes as they fluttered down to join the mess below.

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What can happen in a second?

Blink 13 times
Hop 3 times
Run up to ten meters
(but honestly probably less)
You can throw
catch
You can stumble and fall
get caught
You can yell
stop making sounds
hear sound being made

You can lose everything
You can get it all back
You can understand that none of it was ever really yours

Remember
Forget
Get caught in between
Find perfection or
save it just before it breaks

You can realise exactly what you need to do
   to say the right thing to 
   save the world 
   to put them in their place 
long after you could have done any of it

You can pump 133 millilitres of blood 

In a second 
a second passes
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Return Trips

Between a horizon and a holy place I sat in my favourite spot
(right in the middle at the ver back, where the wind meets when all the windows are open and nothing is beyond my gaze)
I had cursed and lamented my eyes that skip and skim over time and dates like a clumsy skater over slick ice

Woe is me, many hours too soon, forced to go there and back again! The pity!

Here I sit again, between George Amabile and Bruce Meyer, their Horizon to the left and Holy Land to the right, familiar excerpts that listened as I damned my eyes long prior and
after i had gone
proceeded to live this damnation until now again we met
There they went and back, once and once again and again while I, once returned the first time of two, cursed my misfortune

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What is the worst Thanksgiving dinner you’ve ever had?

“Emergency!” I hollered , thundering down the stairs and nearly punting our overfed family cat in my desperation. Bounding away from a graceless landing, I tore through the kitchen, the foyer, and the living room in quick succession. “Code red! Grade A catastrophe!”

I found my mother setting up a snack platter for tomorrow’s Thanksgiving dinner, presumably fine tuning everything’s place for maximum aesthetic value.  The tray juttered out of her hands as I crashed into the room, upending little biscuits and cheeses all across the shag carpet. The cat eyed this forbidden buffet from the corner of the room, held at bay by the baleful force of my mother’s warning glare.

“Yes?” sighed my mother, trying not to glance at the spilled snacks for fear of losing focus on her anti-cat stare. “Are the British coming? Has Timmy gotten himself stuck in the well again? Because it had better be as important as self-buttering toast for you to come running-”

“Dad can’t cook the turkey!”

My mother looked at me as a deer stares into oncoming headlights. No longer held back by her glare, the cat darted into the mess of snacks to set about licking everything twice.

“What do you mean ‘dad can’t cook the turkey?’ Dad always cooks the turkey! Why can’t your father cook the turkey!”

“The doctor says he needs to stay in a little while longer,” I explained, “He’ll be here for the dinner but not in time to make the turkey!”

“But… but if your father can’t cook the turkey, then that means…” Mother’s eyes and mine both slowly turned to the mantelpiece. We slowly scanned the frames of frozen memories and faraway family that would be gathering here tomorrow night. One by one we took in the sincere grins until our gaze came to rest on the wrinkled, matronly smile of the world’s most misguided gourmand. We both shivered.

“No,” I muttered, “No no no. Grandma can’t cook. We all learned this on that one Christmas.” Mom and I repressed a shudder. “Can’t you do it? Just this once?”

“No,” she whispered.

“Just this once! If you-”

“Do you even remember Easter?” asked Mom in a threatening tone.

“No, Mom, nobody remembers Easter because I thought we all agreed that none of that ever happened.

“Well unless you want the same thing to happen to Thanksgiving, I guess it’s either your father or Grandma. And since your father can’t make it—hey! No! Bad kitty!” Mom shooed the cat away from his cheesy plunder. “Not kitty treats!”

I helped her clear away the debris, gathering the snacks into a slightly hairy pile in my hand. I did so partly to prevent further cat temptation but mostly to keep the wheels in my head turning. We didn’t have a long line of bakers in the family, but with everyone coming to town for Thanksgiving there had to be someone with the know-how to properly baste a bird.

“Of course!” I shouted, dropping my load of crackers and deli meats onto the floor. The cat shot back like a rotund homing missile to resume licking.

“What? What do you have?” asked my mother, heaving the cat off the floor.

“Belle! Belle can cook!”

The cat, lower limbs dangling from my mother’s arms, licked his chops skeptically. My mother gave me only a blank stare, followed shortly by a smirk, followed soon after by hearty laughter that had the cat jiggling nervously in her grip.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“Belle can’t cook real food!” my mother managed between fitful gasps for breath. “Just veggies!”

“It’s—the principle’s the same! I just have to convince her to cook a turkey instead of an asparagus salad or whatever it is vegans eat.”

“My mother wiped a tear from her eye and loosened her grip, allowing the cat to ooze back down to the ground. “Heh… good luck with that.”

-

                “B-but I never cook the dinner!” whispered Belle as she ducked behind my parent’s gaudy purple lamp.

“And Dad never gets sick.,” I countered, trying to circle around to her side. We ended up in a fruitless loop around the lamp. “But he has, and you have to!”

“But why me?” she muttered, disengaging from our circling to hide behind the coat rack. It worked better for her than it would on someone with a normal diet.

“Because Dad can’t do it, Mom won’t do it, Ter and I don’t know how, and Grandma…”

We both shuddered. I threw back the jackets that sheltered my sister and carefully made my demand sound like a question. “So you’re going to do it?”

“But you know I don’t cook turkey,” she protested, backing up slowly. I matched her every step like a stalking cat.

“But you know how…”

“I know how…”

“You know what to do…”

“I know what to do…”

“So you can do it!”

“But I can’t—EEP!” Belle’s torso vanished from sight as her legs backed into the arm of a comfortable Lethargic Lad chair, flailing awkwardly.

“What do you mean you can’t do it? You just said you could!”

I crossed my arms while Belle painstakingly dragged her upper body back into view. After a few stumbling attempts to speak she focused her efforts on getting her feet under her before trying anything so complicated. Steadied, she said, “I said I know how to cook a turkey. But I can’t actually do it! It’s not vegan!”

I gave her the special sigh I kept reserved for only my dear sister. “So?” I asked, pulling my hand off of my face. “Just don’t eat it! Problem solved!”

“It’s not that simple, okay?” Even fully upright, her capacity to appear righteously indignant was at best underwhelming. “I can’t eat meat and I can’t cook it. I’m not even a hundred percent comfortable being in the same room as that thing. Everyone keeps touching it, and I just know they don’t even wash their hands! It’s disgusting. Just thinking about it makes me want to…” Belle put a hand to her mouth and made a queasy face. Most people choose a vegan diet because of moral principle. Most people don’t sanitize their sanitation wipes. “Disgusting. No. No way. Sorry.”

“But if you don’t do it, then Grandma will have to cook! And we’ll have to eat what she cooks afterwards! And that’s not even the worst of it!” I ran my fingers through my hair and shoved my other hand into my pocket so I wouldn’t start biting the nails. “I might be able to put up with just the food if she didn’t always insist that the ingredients were off, or the bird was too old, or the oven wasn’t heating properly, or–”

I stopped and pulled myself together as my sister got a grip on both my shoulders.  As my breathing calmed down, I slowly realised I was hyperventilating. “Wow,” said Belle, “This is really bugging you, huh?”

“She always blames the food and it’s just so aggravating!” I took a deep breath and counted to five. I exhaled. “I guess maybe it does bug me a little. It’s just a little pet peeve.”

Belle almost bit her lip. Almost, because of the various microbes and bacteria that can settle on the outer surface of one’s face when one isn’t looking could enter the body through a careless lip-bite. So she didn’t quite express the sign of concern, but it’s the thought that counts. “If this is really getting to you so bad, maybe we could make some kind of compromise.

I let go of a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Oh, thank you, Belle. Now listen, if you could–”

“No, you listen!” Belle harrumphed with a very uncertain conviction, raising her finger with authority. “Rule #1:  you don’t negotiate anything! Whenever you do, you talk fast and I get confused and end up having to get my hands dirty anyways! So no talking!”

“That’s not a compro–”

“Ah-bup-bup!” My sister bulged her eyes threateningly  and I grudgingly kept my mouth shut. “Now I know this guy, he can get things and get them fast. He can bring us a nice, clean tofurkey–”

“Tofurkey?!”

“Ah-bup-bup! And he can get it in time for me to prepare it. Now that is my final offer. If you say anything other than yes or no, I’m leaving. It’s either some nice, healthy tofu or Grandma’s specialty carbon surprise.”

-

                “You should have tried harder,” whispered my brother.

“I did try harder! I tried everything I could think of!” I hissed back, shuffling in my seat beside him. We were both equally dismayed with the arrangements I had been forced to make and had sat side by side to better mutter under our breaths. “There were no other options—hold on.”

We both faked our best smiles and sat locked in rictus gruns as our beaming chef stole into the room to arrange six plates along each end of the table. We cheerfully held our breaths until she had waddled back into the kitchen.

“I can’t believe this,” muttered my brother as soon as she was out of earshot.

“Well maybe you could have helped out if you ever answered your damn phone!” I retorted with as much subtlety as I could whisper.

“Will you two cut it out?” interrupted our father from across the table. “I don’t see either of you stepping up to the plate. I mean really, it’s Thanksgiving for crying out loud! We should all just be thankful that anyone was able to get this done while I was—”

We all froze and straightened like startled groundhogs as our chef stopped by to drop a menagerie of food-analogues quivering atop plates and pans. I fought to keep my positive expression seeming genuine as I noticed that the stuffing was a radioactive green. Undeterred by the concentrated effort of our synchronized grins, the proud gourmand shuffled back to the kitchen to finalize her piece de resistance.

Sitting beside Dad, Mum wore a smug grin as she watched him stare into the ‘food’ that he was so staunchly defending just moments prior. “You were saying?”

My father levelled his eyes with mine and said, “Why didn’t you try harder?”

“I told you, I didn’t have a choice! The only alternative was some weird foreign tofreaky!”

“Tofurkey,” corrected my sister, sitting on the other side of my brother. “And it’s not foreign! It is functionally identical to turkey in every way, except it is much more sanitary. And made of tofu.”

Everybody but my sister made simultaneous retching motions. My sister speared a floppy lump of what might have been a potato and waved it at us threateningly. “Are you seriously suggesting that this is better than tofu?”

“Oh, Annabelle.” Everyone jumped when Grandma spoke up, carrying a smoking mass out of the kitchen. “We already know about your weird pagan thing.”

“Vegan,” Belle corrected quietly.

“And we all respect it. But the fact is…” She dropped the tray onto the table with her oversized baking mitts. A thick, acrid smoke billowed out and choked us before anyone could get too good a look. From what I could see, the mound of charred meat was unlike anything that had ever flown under the name of ‘bird.’ It bore a passing resemblance to the frozen prime turkey we had picked up prior, perhaps after a few million years of hypothetical evolution. “This time of year, everyone just wants a properly cooked turkey.”

So we ate. Belle gorged herself on soggy string beans and our brother tried everything with courage that would shame a lion. Grandma criticized the supposed dryness of the expensive turkey, the expiry date of our fresh vegetables, and nearly every aspect that could explain this mysterious drop in quality. I hid my rampant frothing with excessive stuffing while Mom and Dad laughed inwardly at my silent frustration. All in all, not really any worse than every year.

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