“What the hell’s the matter with you, Chet? You’re avoiding the turkey like you owe it a kinky sex favor.”
“Uncle,” I say, holding back a smile while forking the lone cranberry on my plate into abstract portions, “I’m just not all that hungry right now.” My excuse for evading the turkey is an oversimplification of lost appetite; if I so much as nip a tip of a cut of turkey with my front teeth, my stomach will mutiny by throwing all of its contents overboard, onto the open sea of mother’s furbished dining room table.
Beginning at 8:00 A.M. this morning, my fiancée Ethel and I have been to five different households, meaning I’ve packed my over-privileged American face with five unique brands of turkey, each of which was served with a bottle of wine that was arbitrarily designed, according to our misinformed familial hosts, to ‘compliment the spices in the stuffing.’ I guess it worked; I’ve stockpiled enough turkey, stuffing, and pretentious wine within my gullet to maintain an undisturbed hibernation for the next three winter solstices. Ethel, though, sitting with disciplined poise and chewing her food slowly in appreciation of flavor and sustenance, ate and drank small portions in moderation throughout the day. Her blonde hair buoyed by a warm disposition, I have never seen her more beautiful or content.
“Well,” Uncle Bobby says, gripping his glass as though preparing for a toast, “you do look a bit tired, Chet, and turkey does have that chemical that contributes to that, so I understand – I’ve achieved REM sleep at least three times this afternoon alone. But, anyway, what I’m really trying to say is, it’s Thanksgiving, and it isn’t a truly badass Thanksgiving unless we eat the food and appreciate the company, good fortune, and contributions of those who prepared it, as well as those we share it with — while getting a little tipsy, of course. ”
“Well said, Bobby,” my father says, lifting his glass. “To our family, the most beautiful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of annoying, and all the families around this inconsistent world.”
As I widely smile and raise my glass to praise my father’s traditionally whimsical toast, the view of his cheery grin abruptly turns to black. A throbbing sting in my frontal lobe overtakes my stream of consciousness. What begins as a tingle in the left hemisphere of my stomach quickly transitions into a torturous burn that ravenously consumes its way to my back. Blind and losing support of my spine, my head slams into the table.
My hands are freezing, but my left arm is enveloped in warmth. My eyelids flutter to gain focus, yet I can only comprehend a horizon of low quality illumination, like full moonlight muffled by a curtain of cloud coverage. The olfactory punch of grilled hotdogs wills me to lift my chin and deeply inhale. Cold air expands my stiff rib cage. A nasal toned voice speaks in an incoherent rhythm to my right. The quick pattern of its syllables denotes urgency. More voices surround me. They multiply into a crescendo.
“Honey? Sweety? Are you okay?”
My senses return with heightened significance.
I’m in the midst of a cacophonous crowd.
Standing to my left in her white cotton parka jacket, its fur trimmed hood covering her hair, with her arms wrapped around my left bicep, is my lovely fiancée.
“Ethel? Oh-my-god. W-what the hell is going on?” I say, fearfully scanning my surroundings.
“We’re-we’re in line, honey –“
“I-in line?” I interrupt. “In line for what? Where the hell are we?”
“Chet, look at me.” Her grip tightens around my left bicep. “Compose yourself. We’re outside of Macy’s for the Black Friday sale.”
“Macy’s?! What the hell are we doing outside of Macy’s at this time of night?”
“It was your idea! You said you wanted to be one of the first in line so we could pick up a new bedroom set and some ‘spiffy accoutrements.’ Jesus, you were just talking about how excited you were not fifteen minutes ago!”
“The hell I was! Does that really sound like something I would say? We were just having dinner at my parents and – Ahhhhh!” The throbbing sting in my frontal lobe returns with wanton vengeance. I try to speak, to beg Ethel to hold me or slap me or flee from me, but I’m unable to unclench my jaw. The throbbing calms itself to a constant, low vibration. Uncontrollably, without my consent, my hand embraces the back of Ethel’s neck and pulls her close. The mental vibration intensifies, blocking my comprehension as my lips betray me, telling my Ethel secrets I can neither hear nor anticipate.
I awaken to a vaulted ceiling, my parent’s gaudy guest bedroom. Ethel’s pleasant singing resounds by way of the shower tile next door. I cautiously sit up, supporting my stomach with my right hand and head with the left in case pain and vertigo decide to strike in dishonorable conjunction. Feeling oddly accomplished as though I had just tamed a Brown Bear with my dulcet baritone, I stretch my arms over my head and dangle my legs off the side of the bed. Several white, unmarked bags sit in front of my feet, the closest one embellished with a black bow.
“Oh-my-god,” I mutter. “What did I do? What did I buy? Oh, I hope it isn’t stolen.”
I look inside: There’s a blue envelope atop intricately folded clothing.
To: Chet, From: ???
I hastily rip the seal, remove the card, and hold it in front of my face with closed, trepid eyes. Inhaling a deep breath, I quickly open them. What I see shocks me. What I see excites. What I see nearly makes me wet the bed and then fall comatose. In the center of the card is one word, a command with supreme impetus, penned in my unique handwriting:
I must eat.
I must shop.
By Jedediah Hoy