by Kevin Brennan
MY FRIEND called and said he had a turkey in the oven, would I like to come over?
I was on my own that evening, my GF working till midnight at the industrial supplies warehouse. She was a Teamster, she was proud to tell people. All I had for supper in the apartment was Cup o’ Noodles “Oriental.”
Turkey sounded pretty good.
I had no car, since the GF had taken our old Mazda. I’d have to hop a bus over to my friend’s, which I was happy to do for a turkey dinner. Just one transfer.
A man on the bus kept telling me, You don’t look like you’re from around here, and he shook his head when I told him actually I was, I lived close by. No, no, he said. You’re not from around here.
When I got to my friend’s house, I noticed his wife’s car wasn’t there. She was a bio-technician and maybe had to work late too, though she was definitely no Teamster. My friend answered the door, and with the first glimpse of his face came the wafting aroma of roast turkey and stuffing. It was July. The disconnect was super-enticing.
He already had a beer poured for me, an “ale” he insisted on calling it. No domestic lager for him. He was an “ale” man.
I figured the turkey needed another hour or so before it was ready to eat, because my friend sat down with me at the dining room table, where a Scrabble board was laid out. We got kind of nostalgic as we played, fencing over different memories we both had of the same incidents. We’d known each other since junior high. He was the unique one, the eccentric, and I was the dry straight man, a role I was always happy to play, getting to hang with the unique one. It brought me a certain cachet in certain circles, though not in any that the girls would notice. My friend left town for college and we lost touch, until I was invited to his wedding. A mutual friend was among the groomsmen, but a guy he’d met in college took what probably should have been my slot in the lineup as best man.
I’d persuaded myself at the time that it was okay with me. A slight slight.
He played the word souk.
Somewhere in the intervening years, we had a falling out over that same mutual friend, when he asked me if that friend had a problem with him. I said no, but maybe he has a hard time with your wife. My friend’s wife, it has to be said, was a difficult person.
My friend thought I was basically saying his wife was a difficult person, but all I was trying to say was that our mutual friend thought she was. Not me.
Our interactions had been kind of tense after that. Till he invited me over for this turkey dinner in July.
I played the word kludge off the k in souk.
The hour went by and the turkey smelled like it was just about ready. I said something like, Wow, that turkey smells awesome. Can’t wait to dig in.
He got a strange look on his face. There was a certain angled ray in his eyes. He shook his head with small motions of the neck.
I thought you already ate, he said. The turkey’s a surprise for Vicki when she gets home later.
Vicki: the difficult person Vicki.
I tried to stare him down to challenge that story—dude called me at five o’clock!—but he was the unique one and he’d always had this way of winning our stare-downs. I excused myself to use the bathroom, since I didn’t know how long I’d have to wait for the bus home.
When I came out, my friend was on the phone. With Vicki I assumed. He said, He’s just leaving.
I had one foot out the door when I stopped and said, Be sure to say hi from me.
Kevin Brennan is the author of six novels, including Parts Unknown (William Morrow/HarperCollins),Yesterday Road, and, most recently, Eternity Began Tomorrow. His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Berkeley Fiction Review, Mid-American Review, Every Day Fiction, Bright Flash Literary Review, Twin Pies, The Daily Drunk, Sledgehammer, The Bookends Review, and others. He’s also the editor of The Disappointed Housewife, a literary magazine for writers of offbeat and idiosyncratic fiction, poetry, and essays, which is represented in the 2021 Best Small Fictions anthology. Kevin lives with his wife in California’s Sierra foothills.
Check out Kevin’s novels here.