How to Eat a Turkey
John takes the largest, sharpest knife out of the cutlery draw and studies it. He then approaches the dining room where his wife and three children sit . . . waiting.
“Jen,” he addresses his wife, “Do you want the leg or breast?”
“The leg please – or maybe not – the kids like the legs, don’t they?” she replies. She’s not thinking straight and doesn’t really care for turkey anyway.
“Oh, let them cater to you for once, Jen. You have it.”
“Oh alright then,” she agrees. She knows he’s right.
“I want to say the prayer!” Rachel, the youngest of the group, shouts. There’s a gap in the front of her mouth as a result of a recent barter she’s done with a certain tooth fairy.
The five people around the polished, wooden table reach out for each other’s hands. Danny grabs his mother’s. He’s sitting at the head of the table opposite his father, to his mother’s right. Queen is on the radio, ‘I Want to Break Free’ escapes from the adjoining kitchen, reminding the woman of the back-street bedsit where she’d spent many cold nights with her text-book in her lap, watching Freddy Mercury vacuum the carpet wearing an odd fitting mini-skirt. Outside the family’s dining room, the Spring sun is bright, big, and golden.
“Lord, thank you for our food, friends, and family. In Jesus’ name Amen.”
“Amen,” they chorus.
John continues to carve the turkey, lips pursed, lost in concentration. Then he scoops out the vegetables and potatoes onto their plates.
“Can we play Chinese Whispers?” Susan, the oldest child asks, eyebrows high, shifting her bottom from side to side in the high-backed chair.
“Do you think they play English Whispers in China?” John asks. He loses his grip on the bird for a moment and drops a small part of the white, fleshy breast on the red table runner. He picks it up with two fingers, pops it into his mouth, then wipes his hand on the side of his trousers.
“I got these for you to lounge around the house in,” his wife had said to him when she presented the soft, grey garment to him last Father’s Day.
“When do I ever get the time to lounge?” he’d asked, sounding out the word lounge as if it was meant to be a Francophone pick-up line. But there, he’s happily wearing them to serve the Sunday lunch on a day he’s most likely to fall asleep in the couch and claim that he’s just ‘resting his eyes.’
“I’m sure they do play English Whispers in China,” Jen replies. “They go, ‘Fags! Lager! Stupid council tax!’”
John laughs, Susan looks at her mother sitting opposite her with that puzzled look she reserves for the ‘old-people’s’ jokes she thinks are far from funny.
“Who’ll start?” Rachel enquires, holding a piece of turkey between her lips, almost reminiscent of Bogart with his beloved cigarette.
“Me! … umm… actually…” Susan says, pointing to her dad with a fork that’s dripping with thick, dark gravy. “Let’s start with Daddy, then come around to me.”
They all follow. She’s trained them well.
John puts the knife down, it points in Jen’s direction, and she can see it winking in the thin streak of sunlight which escapes into the room through the Venetian blinds. He leans over and whispers his message, the first one, in Rachel’s ear.
The game’s starting….
Danny glances at his mum and smiles. His mother smiles back. She’s thinking that this would be a challenging game for her. Interpreting sloppy, food-covered whispers from a child whose speech is underdeveloped would be a feat even for his own mother.
“Don’t you want some peas, Danny?” she asks, while the others are whispering . . . whispering. . . .
“Yes, Mummy, he replies, making beckoning motions with both his hand. “Put it all in.”
Jen scrapes half of the remaining peas out of the white bowl onto Danny’s plate. He instantly shovels them into his mouth. Out of the corner of her eye, Jen sees Rachel whispering to her big sister sitting next to her.
Don’t you want some, Rachel?” she asks, turning to her ‘baby.’ Rachel turns from Susan, screws her face up and says, “Naw!”
Jen offers the peas to Susan next, but before she responds, her mother knows exactly what she’ll say.
“Pshhsss,” she replies with a giant flip of her wrist.
“Oh, Susan, try some,” John pleads. “You can’t say you don’t like them if you’ve never tried them.”
“That’s true,” his wife agrees, nodding her head.
But she dumps all of the remaining peas into Danny’s plate as she draws near to listen to what he’ll whisper to her.
“I awake to sleep and poo,” he says, and being the last person in the chain, Jen has to announce what she hears.
“What?” John laughs through the wails of Bob Marley coming from the kitchen.
“What did you actually say, Daddy?” Rachel enquires.
“I walked down the street and saw dogs,” John replies.
“You know Danny,” Jen says, wiping the rich gravy off her generous, brown lips. “Everything has to have ‘poo’ in it.”
“Right! No ‘poos’ or ‘bottoms’ or any of their relations,” she tells the kids, pointing a circularly moving finger in their general direction.
“Ooow,” Rachel moans, visibly squashing an idea taking form in her head by wiping the back of her hand on her dark chocolate forehead.
“It’s your turn, Rachel,” Susan says. Things were starting to slow down to a pace that was too soft and mellow for her liking.
Rachel thinks hard of something to say, while John carves some more turkey. When he puts down the long, sharp knife, it winks at Jen again.
“Don’t like potatoes.” Susan pipes up suddenly, pushing all her spuds aside and bunching up her face. At the same time Rachel whispers into John’s ear.
“Rachel, aren’t you going to eat your potatoes either?” Jen asks the youngest of her family.
“Mummy, I don’t like potatoes, give it to Danny.”
“I don’t want any more!” Danny wails.
“Okay, don’t scream, we won’t make you eat her potatoes,” John reassures him quickly – as always.
It’s time for John to whisper Rachel’s message to his wife.
She tells it to Danny next.
“I love everyone in my family very much!” Susan shouts, after it gets to her.
“Ahhhh… sweet Rachel,” John gushes.
“My turn!” Susan shouts.
“No it’s not!” little Rachel screams. She’s accustomed to Susan’s hold on her perceived authority, and is certain that she’s trying to pull the old I’m-bigger-than-you-two card again.
“Yes! It! Is! Rachel,” Susan declares, pushing up her well-worn glasses. Her two little, black pony tails stick out at either corners of her very round head. There are two blue slides clipped on the very ends of her plaits. She had long since grown out of pinks and purples – and maybe even golds.
“Do you want more turkey, Danny?” John asks, carving the remnant flesh out of the bird which once stood chest-out, soldier-like on their table.
“No,” Danny answers.
“No thank you!” How many times must we tell you, son?” Jen says, a crease struggling to form in her immaculate, golden skin.
“No shank you,” Danny says sheepishly, not quite making eye contact as usual.
“Rachel, do you want anything else apart from turkey?”
“No thank you, Daddy,” she replies with a broad, ‘you-can’t-say-no-to-me’ kind of smile. She forgets to add the little ‘adorable’ pose she’d perfected. The one with both her hands under her chin, a big toothless smile on her cherubic face, and a vocal tag of adorable, said in a voice which had journeyed with her from her toddler years, right into her childhood.
“So you’re just going to eat turkey? You’ve got to have a balanced diet Rach. Turkey alone won’t do it.” Jen says, trying to remember how many times she’d sung that song before. She looks at the girls with an expression that reminds John of Angela Basset in her don’t-you-even-dream-of-it mode; the turned down corners of her pursed mouth, the sideways look with the eyelids half-closed and the eyebrows raised. They all knew the message only too well. Not that Jen looked like Angela Basset. She was more like that girl from Destiny’s Child – no, not Beyonce – that other one, Kelly Rowland, but without the weave. Jen preferred the natural look. That head of curly, brown dreadlocks was the first thing John noticed about her. That, and her golden Lewis Hamilton-looking skin.
“But I don’t like…” Rachel begins to answer her mother’s question.
But then Susan whispers in her ears.
“What?” she says and leans closer, chewing with her little rose mouth wide open, her tiny cornrows falling down over her eyes. She brushes them away.
Susan whispers again.
“Hello… Rach . . . are you still in there?” John says. “We’re still waiting. Aren’t you going to try some potatoes? Go on, just a small piece.” He cuts a tiny piece of potato and attempts to put it in her mouth. She reels back, almost violently.
“Go on Rachel, whisper it to Daddy,” Susan says to her in the mean time, keeping as far away from the potato as possible.
“Oh yeah!” Rachel shouts, the potato poison has obviously caused her to forget that she was still playing Chinese Whispers.
The game continues . . . .
Rachel whispers in John’s ears, he leans over to Jen, and whispers in hers. Christina Aguilera is now bawling on the radio and Rachel is dancing, her little hairy arms up in the air.
“Can I yeave the table, peas?” Danny asks. “I’m finished.”
“Yes,” Jen says, and whispers in his ear.
“Danny stinks of poo!” he shouts, but then realises what he’s said. His face turns from victorious to indignant in a split second as the realisation finally hits his seven year-old brain.
“Oh Susan! We said no ‘pooing’ or ‘bottoming,’” John says, but they’re all laughing, Jen almost chokes on her potatoes.
“Can I have some more gravy?” Susan asks, still laughing.
“Sure,” Jen answers.
“Daddy, Susan took all the gravy,” Rachel screams, after she watches her sister drown the few pieces of turkey left on her plate.
“Ahh, now I have to make some more,” John says, shaking his head, brows crossed. “Susan, your plate’s swimming in gravy.” But he gets up and goes to the kitchen, leaving the knife on the plate with the now devastated pile of bones, which was once their Sunday turkey.
“Sorry, I didn’t know,” Susan says but she’s still giggling.
“Don’t worry about making any more,” Jen tells him. “Rachel can share hers.”
“Danny’s under the table!” Susan shouts.
“Dan, get out from under the table, son,” Jen says, feeling about under there but not finding his head of woolly curls.
“Danny, it’s your turn, son,” Jen tells the space under there, “Come out and whisper to me.”
“He’s had a turn!” Rachel shouts.
“No he hasn’t, babe,” Jen tells her, then she speaks to the space again….
“Do you want some more turkey, beautiful wife?” John asks on his return to the table.
“No thanks, you have it, baby.”
“Daddy and Mummy sitting in a tree, k-i-s-s-I-n-g,” Susan suddenly starts singing – her parents’ tenderness to each other is a vile embarrassment.
“So?” Her dad asks, leaning his head sideways while admiring his wife and smiling in that cheeky way of his – the way that keeps her heart racing even after ten years of happy marriage. Her Denzel, she calls him, even though he’s only five foot, eight and looks more like Laurence Fishburne – if he looks like anyone famous.
“Susan and Timmy sitting in the classroom k-i-s-s-I-n-g,” Jen sings.
“No!” Susan shouts, but she’s smiling.
“I thought you liked Timmy.”
“I think you do.”
“Mummy, you’re silly.”
“Which one is Timmy?” John asks.
“The tall, blonde one in her class,” she replies. “The one with the twin sister in the other year four.”
Danny whispers in his mother’s ear.
She whispers to John, and he bursts out laughing, not because of what was said, but from whom it came. He tells it to Rachel.
Rachel whispers to Susan….
“You have to say it aloud, Susan,” Jen says, not attempting to hide the laughter pouring out of her chest. “Tell us what you heard.”
“Susan and Timmy ‘mumble, mumble, mumble,’” Susan says under her breath.
“Timmy and Susan sitting in a tree, s-n-o-t-t-i-n-g!” Danny shouts, suddenly aware that the Chinese Whispers had given way to this other, funnier game.
“What’s that, Danny?” his mother asks, amid the erupting laughter that envelops the dining room.
“Snogging,” he retorts.
“That’s s-n-o-g-g-i-n-g, son.”
“I don’t like Timmy. Rachel likes Adam! Wait that doesn’t fit!” Susan shouts in succession, before she realises that s-n-o-g-g-i-n-g just doesn’t have the same rhythm as k-i-s-s-i-n-g.
“You have to say the s and n quickly, then the two g’s together. So it’s Susan and Timmy sitting in the classroom sn-o-gg-I-n-g.” Jen explains, laughter welling up in her eyes and falling as tears.
“Look at me everyone!” Rachel shouts, calling their attention to the fact that she is now standing on her chair and gyrating to the Scissor Sisters,’ I Don’t Feel Like Dancing.
“Can I leave the table please?” Susan asks, taking her plate into the kitchen and getting ready for battle.