Karen pulled up to the shoddy beige apartment complex after school on Wednesday afternoon. Pete was released early for the Thanksgiving holiday and he was excited to see his dad. Tim, Pete’s father, had insisted on hosting dinner that year. In the past it had been his favorite holiday, the one day out of the year that he and his brother William got together and prepared the meal for the whole family. That was before Will got shot.
When Tim answered the door Pete jumped into his arms and hugged him. Karen could see the disheveled mess Tim’s apartment had degraded into- scattered papers and beer cans, the trash overflowing, and a stack of pizza boxes in the corner of the living room. Rufus the cat was eating meat off of a chicken bone on a plate that had been left on the floor. As long as the rent was paid the apartment managers left Tim alone. This had not been easy once he lost his job. Pete ran past Tim, threw his overnight bag on the couch, and slid on his knees in front of the TV to the video game console. Karen allowed Tim to kiss her cheek and went to the kitchen to check on the turkey. “Just a second Pete,” said Tim.
When Tim entered the kitchen he found Karen leaning into an almost empty refrigerator. She stood up leaving the door wide open and said, “Where is the turkey?” Tim slid in front of her, pulled a beer and a soda pop from the top shelf, shrugged and said, “I forgot.” Karen stared at him, pursed her lips but said nothing. A look of defeat washed over Tim’s face as he drank the beer and got another one out of the fridge. “Hey Pete- what do your want on your pizza?” he said as he left the kitchen for the living room and a long night of video games. Karen pressed her purse under her arm and said, “I’ll be back.”
“Pepperoni and none of those gross peppers,” said Pete when Tim handed him the soda pop. Tim dialed the pizza delivery restaurant, went into his bedroom, and closed the door. Pete could hear Tim order the pizza through the hollow core door and he started a new level. Rufus was hungry and he rubbed his face forcefully into Pete’s legs to get his attention. After a few minutes, sobbing erupted in the bedroom. Pete stroked Rufus, turned up the sound on the TV, and focused hard on his character in the game. Eventually, the pizza arrived and Pete said, “Hey dad! Where’s the money?”
Two empty coke cans and five empty beer cans stood on the coffee table next to the open box that contained the four slices of pizza that were left. Rufus peered around the corner of the kitchen licking the cat food from his chops. There was a knock at the door and Tim got up to answer it. “Grandma!” Pete said as Karen’s mother walked in with grocery bags full of the ingredients needed for a modest Thanksgiving dinner. “Karen called and said you needed this,” she said as she placed the bags on the table. “The turkey is still frozen, Tim.” She went into the bathroom and filled the tub. “Where’s Karen?”
The turkey floated like an ice cube in the water as Rufus sniffed the bathtub. Grandma put on her coat and said, “The turkey will be thawed by morning. I am sorry your brother will not be here to celebrate with you but you need to start making new memories for his sake.” Grandma looked at Pete who was once again absorbed within the television. “I am,” said Tim as he sucked down another beer.
After she left, Tim fell into the couch to watch Pete play. It was made of navy corduroy and was in good shape for a thrift store find. It was a hide-a-bed which was all that mattered to Tim. He needed a place for his son to sleep whenever his mother allowed him to stay over which was not often. That was OK with Tim. He was not well and he knew it. He did not want Pete to see him on the bad days. It was why they couldn’t live together anymore. The day he moved out, Pete begged and cried but Tim knew and Karen knew and they had agreed it was best.
He was going to get better one day. He just couldn’t handle it right now. He was trying very hard not to make Thanksgiving a bad day but it had been his day with his brother to show off to the family, to have a little friendly competition. Will would not be there, could not be there. He had hoped to relive the good times by hosting dinner but instead he was overwhelmed with bad memories.
The year before on Halloween there had been gunshots and more blood than Tim could stop before the ambulance arrived. He had been the one to insist they go out- to an old haunt for old time sake while Karen took Pete to Trick-or-Treat. It was just a little ‘blast from the past’ of a misspent youth. They knew the owner and he let them stay after bar close, after everyone else had gone home so Tim could sober up a little.
While Will helped him to the car, Tim insisted they stop so he could hug his brother- because he both loved him and didn’t want to fall over. That’s when the other car came. That’s when a man shouted, “Fucking faggots!” and a gun was fired from the passenger seat. That’s when Will died.
Tim could barely work the cell phone to call for help. He couldn’t stop the blood. They didn’t catch the shooter. Tim was too blurry eyed to see the license plate or the man. The car was unremarkable. Will had died. It was Tim’s fault. There was no justice for Will. It was Tim’s fault.
“It’s time for bed buddy,” Tim said. He made up the hide-a-bed, tucked Pete under the covers, and kissed him on the forehead. Once Tim knew Pete was asleep, he went into the bathroom, took a handful of pills, and slammed another beer.
At 3am Rufus started kneading Pete and dug his claws into his chest. This woke him out of a deep sleep and once he chased the cat off, he got up to use the toilet. He found his father passed out on the bathroom tile. “Dad, dad!” shouted Pete as he shook him. “Huh?” said Tim as he awoke and rolled over into groggy stupor, one eye half open and looking at his son. “Wake up dad! What are you doing?” said Pete. “I’m protecting the turkey from Rufus,” said Tim. Pete helped his father to his feet, took him into bed, tucked him under the covers, and went back to the living room. He couldn’t sleep until the muffled crying stopped.
Long beams of sunlight came early through the shadeless windows and woke Pete up. He started playing video games early and the explosions on the TV were loud enough to wake Tim out of his hangover. He staggered into the room and yelled, “Turn that damn thing down, Jesus Christ!” Pete ignored him while Tim retrieved the turkey from the bathtub and set about preparing Thanksgiving dinner. Once it was in the oven, Tim put the couch in order, sat down and said, “It sure is a good thing I was guarding that turkey last night! Heh heh…” Pete ignored him and stroked the cat. “Say Pete, the football games are on. Let’s watch football like we used to with Uncle Will.”
Pete and Tim came to a silent agreement not to discuss the events of the night before. Tim turned on the football game and they ate a breakfast of cheeseballs and left over pizza. They spent the rest of the morning yelling at the television until Karen walked in and said, “You two still haven’t showered?” She could see nothing else was ready for dinner but at least the bird was in the oven. As the boys got cleaned up for dinner Karen prepared the other dishes- nothing but boxed foods, a far cry from what Tim used to serve. It was fast and easy and Karen was thankful. The turkey was perfect.
After dinner, for the sake of her son, Karen sat on the couch for a very long time reading a book. The boys watched football and stuffed their faces with pumpkin pie until it was time to leave. Pete cried and begged his mother to let him stay the weekend but Tim knew and Karen knew and they had agreed it was best. “You have homework to do young man,” said Karen as she packed his things and pointed him out the door. “It’s just that stupid paper for my stupid teacher- ‘What I did for Thanksgiving’. Who cares?” said Pete. Tim hugged him goodbye for a long time.
As they drove away, Pete stared out the window and said, “Dad is great. Dad sure does make a mean bird. Uncle Will always said so.” Karen sighed and said, “He sure does.”
-Copyright C.M. Mounts, January 2015