The table was set neatly with silver andcrystal, and the welcome smells of the anticipated meal were driftingunder the kitchen door into the small room. Ma was busying herself witha stubborn spot on the dining-room window as sweat beaded on herreddened face. Ma always went plum crazy around that time of year. All Icould do was step back and watch the insanity. She would shuffle aroundour small house, dusting and vacuuming and mopping, all the whilejuggling an enormous turkey in our oven and trying not to overcook thestuffing. It was sort of like watching Martha Stewart on crack. Aslightly husky Martha Stewart with frizzy hair and tree-trunk arms thatcould break you in half. She had the preparations down like clockwork,though, and any interruptions would spell certain death to the poor soulwho stood in her way.
I sat quietly on the overstuffed couch inour den, scratching Old Jasper on his bumpy head as Ma cleanedfrantically. Old Jasper was our bloodhound. He did about as much as aone-legged hobo, but Old Jasper still had three of his. He lost hisfront right leg chasing a coon into the dirt road. A pickle truck hadbeen taking a shipment into town when Old Jasper ran out in front. Now,he wasn’t exactly the smartest hound dog in the world. Hell, Ithink it’s safe to say he was flirting with retardation. He wouldalways sit on his favorite rug in the middle of the den with his floppycheeks spilling over his front paw and would snort half-heartedly whenanyone passed. Old Jasper was a pretty docile hound until Ma made turkeyfor dinner. Then I swear that dog would drool half a gallon onto therug. He’d prick up his floppy ears and watch the kitchen door withdetermination.
Suddenly, Ma’s gruff shouting rose over theroar of the vacuum and the door was kicked in. My oldr brother Hank flewin from the kitchen and crumpled face-first to the floor, skidding forseveral feet before hitting the opposite wall. His dirty work boots soonfollowed, flying and landing with a thump on Hank’s big head. Maappeared and pointed a finger at Hank.
“You! What are youthinkin’, bringin’ them filthy things into my house today ofall days?” She didn’t wait for a response. “Now gowash yourselves before your auntie gets here!”
Hank, I andeven Old Jasper cringed at Ma’s words. Auntie Rose was the vilestof creatures. She was a woman (and I use the word lightly) of 65 andstood just under five feet tall. She reeked of Bengay and onions and hadonly one beady eye she could call her own; the other was glass thatswiveled in her head. A uni-brow sat crookedly over gigantic glassesthat always seemed dirty. I always wanted to call her Igor because shelimped around on her good leg and wheezed through her twisted witchnose. Most disgusting of all was the snot bubble that would inflate withevery breath. It would peek out from her right nostril and blow up likethe air sack of a toad, albeit an extremely sickly, crippled, haggish,donkey-faced excuse of a toad. Amazingly, that isn’t even the halfof it. I would probably have you here all day even to scratch thesurface of her wretchedness.
I helped Hank up from the floorand called for Old Jasper to follow us down the hall to our bathroom. Hegave me a smug smile as if to say, “Do you really think for asecond that I am moving from this spot?”
I shrugged and ranafter Hank. He was cursing Ma under his breath as we washed our handsand didn’t stop the quiet barrage until we returned to the denwhere we were horrified to see Auntie Rose hunched over on the couch,raking Old Jasper’s head with her long fingernails that she hadpainted green. Old Jasper gave Hank and me a droopy look of desperationand whined softly.
“You’re on your own,buddy,” I laughed, as Auntie Rose looked up with a sour scowl. Iwas used to that constipated look Auntie Rose wore whenever she lookedat me.
“What?” she rasped. Her voice had gone tohell after years of smoking a pack a day and now she used a voice boxthat she put up to her throat whenever she spoke. It wasn’t evenvery good, crackling and sputtering constantly. It was the Pinto ofvoice boxes and made her sound like a robot.
“Nothing,” I replied. “Auntie Rose, Ididn’t hear your car pull in.”
“I felt like awalk,” she choked out with a slight tone of distaste.“That’s what’s wrong with you boys, no sense of hardwork.”
I was slightly shocked. “But, Auntie Rose,it’s 20 miles to your house, and it’s cold as hell outthere.”
“Sissy,” she retorted, sharply.“That’s what you are, a little sissy,” she poked agnarled finger at me. “And you watch your damn mouth, youngman.”
“Sorry,” I said weakly.
Ma calledfrom the kitchen that dinner was ready and we all filed into the diningroom. Auntie Rose took a seat at the far end of the table and scowled ather empty plate. Hank sat next to Ma and I sat smack dab in the middle.Old Jasper hid under the table awaiting the turkey.
Ma wobbledthrough the swinging kitchen door with the 25-pound turkey Hank hadnamed Big Bertha. Its golden, peppered skin looked crisp and steam wasrising from its belly. The legs were at least a foot long and everythinglooked absolutely perfect. She set Big Bertha in the center anddisappeared behind the door again. Auntie Rose was analyzing the turkeyand her glass eye clacked noisily behind her eyelid as she shook herhead.
“I’ve had bigger,” she spat, poking herfork into Bertha and mumbling to herself.
I was dumfounded. Shecouldn’t be serious. Bertha was the biggest dang turkey ever tograce our table and she still had something bad to say about it. Therewas no pleasing that old witch. Suddenly I felt my foot squish in thecarpet and looked under the table to see Old Jasper pleading with me. Mybare foot made a sickening sucking noise as I pulled it from a puddle ofhis drool. Old Jasper cracked me a grin and I thought I saw himwink.
I knew exactly what Jasper wanted. He wanted a leg. Everyyear for 10 years we had saved him a leg and he simply couldn’tlive without his turkey. Ma came back with the stuffing, salad andcranberry sauce and almost dropped it all when she saw Auntie Rose hadtaken both of Bertha’s legs.
Ma tried to speak calmly,“Rose, I’d appreciate it if you showed some restraint untilwe said grace, and we always save a leg for Old Jasper and, well, youseem to have both.”
Auntie Rose smiled for the first timethat day and said, “Seems that way, don’t it?” Thenshe started scooping some stuffing onto her plate.
Ma sat downat the table. I thought I was going crazy. Ma stepping down for anyonewas an impossibility in my eyes yet, somehow, this old crusty witch wassilencing her?
Ma said, “I think we should all say what weare thankful for. Hank, you go first.”
Hank thought for aminute and replied, “I’m thankful for making the footballteam.”
“Right,” Ma said. “I’mthankful for a great family and this meal in front of us.” Shelooked expectantly at me.
I thought for a moment and said,“I’m thankful for Old Jasper and for dinner,too.”
Auntie Rose didn’t even hesitate.“I’m thankful that I haven’t dropped dead yet,”she cackled horribly, then continued, “I guess I’m alsothankful for the chow. So let’s eat, for God’ssake.”
Auntie Rose had devoured a leg and was beginning tolift the second to her mouth when I heard a low growl from under thetable. Old Jasper suddenly leapt, knocking over the table, and sentBertha, the stuffing, the salad and the cranberry sauce tumbling to thefloor. The dishes shattered. Auntie Rose screamed and both sets of herfalse teeth hit the ceiling, POW, POW. Her electric voice box flew intoOld Jasper’s mouth, which he swallowed, sending a screeching noisearound the room. Auntie Rose waved her arms like she was trying to flyas Old Jasper rammed her chair and sent her falling backwards. Ma jumpedfrom her seat but slipped on the cranberry sauce and landed on thelegless Bertha.
Hank and I stared at the chaos before us. OldJasper was hopping around the room with a turkey leg wobbling from hismouth. Ma was chasing him, her face painted with gravy and saladdressing. Auntie Rose was flailing like a beached whale. Hank and Iburst out in hysterics as Old Jasper leapt over Auntie Rose, causing Mato trip and roll across the floor. Our laughter joined Ma’syelling, Auntie Rose’s screeching and Old Jasper’s muffledbaying as the leg hung from his lips like a stogie.
The oldhouse shook and rumbled as this unholy mess unfurled in the dining room.One of Auntie Rose’s high heels loosened with her desperatekicking, and one final thrust of her leg sent it through the window,shattering it and rocketing across the street. A jogger, running on theopposite side, collapsed as the shoe connected with his bald head. Poorguy was caught in mid-stride and his momentum sent him rolling down thehill, taking out metal trash cans and hitting five mailboxes beforeslowing to a stop.
The screeching of Ma and Auntie caused all thedogs on the street to howl and our hot-headed neighbors began emergingfrom their homes to stand in our front yard, angered by the spectacle.Auntie Rose finally pulled herself up from the ground and stood shakilyin front of the broken window. Her snot bubble had grown to the size ofan orange, a green and yellow translucent orange. Old Jasper saw hisopportunity and hopped as fast as he could toward Auntie Rose. Heheadbutted her squarely in the stomach and sent her backflipping throughthe window. Her glass eye flew from the socket with an audiblepop and rolled down the hill until it bounced off the jogger and slowedto a stop. Auntie Rose landed on the Johnson’s tabby, which hadcome to investigate. It was killed outright.
Ma was hystericalas she dove through the window after Auntie Rose, screamingincoherently. She overshot Auntie and went head-first into therosebushes, and as her yells rose into the afternoon air, a siren drewnearer. A big red and white ambulance shot past and came to a screechingstop next to the unconscious jogger.
Two men in light blueuniforms burst from the back and sprinted toward the downed man. Thefirst one stepped on Auntie Rose’s glass eye and went down like atree, hitting his head on the parked car and was knocked out instantly.The second man tripped over the first and fell into a ditch, breakinghis leg.
Hank and I eventually passed out from laughter, and adull quiet blanketed the house. The only sound came from behind thesofa: the muffled chewing and grunting of Old Jasper as he balanced theturkey leg over his one front paw and attacked it. The leg disappearedunder his billowing cheeks and a droopy grin washed over his wrinkledface. He was savoring it for as long as he possibly could before Ma gotback from the hospital and lost her boot in his furry rear.
Sothat was it: five injured, four unconscious, and one dead cat, all inthe name of Big Bertha the turkey.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.
This piece won the December 2005 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.