Human for Christmas
by Martin David Edwards
Deborah scratched her feet on the gravel and snapped her handbag shut with her beak. Three lines followed her toes in a circle below her feathers. Carols drifted through the cold, December air from the house in front of her. The living room lights spilled a watery, yellow glow into the night. Two years would become three if she left now. She could blame the lack of public transport on Christmas Day in a text message to her parents and wish them Seasons Greetings before switching off her phone.
She edged closer to the house, leaving the circles behind. Blaming the lack of transport was a feeble excuse when her car was parked on the street. Lying with a lack of imagination would be added to her list of failings.
Deborah poked her snood at the bell and the carols stopped. Her fathers voice sang in a high-pitched squeak behind a window. Her dawdling in the garden had created panic.
The door swung open. Her father flapped his wings through a bright red Christmas jumper. His beard stretched to his feet. He was getting old.
Welcome home, the dearest love of my life after your mother, he squawked.
She stooped on the step and they nestled caruncles together.
Mind the handbag, she squawked, stepping backwards.
Come in from the cold before your feathers freeze, her father continued, advancing towards her.
Suppose so, she squawked.
Tinsel was hanging on the hallway walls in alternating rows of red and gold. In the corner a Christmas tree threw a green sheen over the carpet.
Deborah wrinkled her beak. Juices were bubbling and popping in the kitchen.
Your mothers making roast human for Christmas Dinner, her father squawked. Acorns, apples and all the trimmings, just the way you like it.
Deborah ruffled her tail feathers to disguise the sound of her stomach rumbling. Ive got an announcement to make, she squawked.
Youve met a special turkey at last. Your mother will be delighted, her father replied, his wattle turning bright red.
Deborah shook her beak. Ive decided to live consciously since Ive been gone.
Speak plain turkey.
Her father always pretended she was squawking in riddles when she had declared news which he didnt want to hear. When she had left home, he had told her that she ought to write puzzle books for a living.
Deborah straightened herself to her full height of fourteen inches. Ive become vegan, she squawked.
Her fathers wattle darkened to purple. I thought that living away from home would make you think of other turkeys instead of just yourself. Your mother will be most upset. All the cooking will have gone to waste and shes been skinning the human for days.
Deborah waggled her snoot. I suppose I could stick with apples, she replied.
Her father gave his daughter-being-an-idiot dismissal with a fan wave of his feathers. Every turkey has to eat human to keep healthy. You need the vitamins and the protein, just like when you were little. He paused to inspect her feathers. No wonder youre going bald. Forget that vegan nonsense and get some volume back in your chest.
You can get your essentials from other sources, Deborah insisted, sneaking a glance at her balding chest. Grapes are the new wonder food to give the conscious turkey everything she needs.
A swish of an apron announced the arrival of her mother in the hallway. Dreams come true at Christmas. My chicks returned to the roost, she squawked through a perfume of cooked fat.
Just for dinner, Deborah replied. Her mothers head crown had also gone grey.
Your chicks got unexpected news, her father squawked, his wattle glowing purple.
Were going to be grand turkeys, her mother announced, her wings flaring.
Riddles have been replaced by a nonsensical fad. Your chick doesnt eat human anymore, her father replied.
Our chick used to eat human as a child, twice a day or shed have a tantrum. I had to make human sandwiches for lunch and human pizzas for dinner, her mother squawked.
Not exactly, Deborah replied. I liked my cereal snacks and my greens.
Only when I didnt have time to get to the fresh human counter at the supermarket, her mother squawked.
Deborahs father scuffed his feet on the carpet. Our chick should make an exception for Christmas. Your mother has taken so much effort to prepare dinner and you can pretend youre grateful for once.
Deborah felt the heat of blood washing to her wattle. Im perfectly grateful. Ive just become enlightened and youre not listening to me.
Her mother cooed and arced her feathers. We always listen to our chick. A teeny weeny slice of fresh human leg, and your father and I will turn the other way.
We respect you turning conscious, or whatever you call that rubbish, her father squawked, his wings wrapped around her mother. Tomorrow you can go back to eating acorns and we wont know until next year, seeing how little you visit us.
Sarah straightened her snood. Ill be back to my bad old ways if I cave in once. Eating human is an addiction. We havent even discussed their contribution to global warming, she squawked.
Youre back to your bad old ways already. Walking out on us has taught you to be doubly selfish, her father replied, his feathers flaring in a circle around his head.
I moved out for a reason. Clearly Im not the only turkey whos keeping to her bad old ways. I had better leave before we have a rerun, Deborah announced and swivelled to face the door.
Dont go, her mother squawked, caressing Deborahs snood with the tip of her beak. We havent seen our chick for three years and Im so worried. Shes living on her own and is letting herself go. Your fathers being unreasonable as usual. You dont have to eat human if you dont want to. An extra dose of eyeballs will shut him up.
I dont need shutting up. Were talking about my chick too, her father squawked.
Deborah closed her eyes and remembered the softness of her mothers beak from when she was hatched. Two years, not three, she replied.
The beak detached itself from her feathers. Ill make you a special starter from my cookbook. Human can be rather dry at Christmas anyway.
Deborahs mother returned to the kitchen, leaving her alone with her father.
Living room, he squawked.
Nothing changes, Deborah squawked to herself and followed her father into the living room. A television showing turkeys singing carols was muted in the corner. A solitary envelope had been left unopened on top of the screen.
Her parents had received one more Christmas card than her.
Her father perched on a stool covered in golden tinsel next to the television. Ive got a present for you but its not an apology, he squawked. He balanced the envelope on a wingtip and nudged it across the carpet to her.
I was worried my presents for you would be ruined in the snow, Deborah replied, shifting her handbag to one side.
Your mother would say we have everything we wanted with you coming to dinner, he squawked, his wattle pulsing bright pink. At least Im trying. Go ahead and open the envelope.
Deborah slit a hole in the envelope with her beak and pulled out a rectangular white piece of a paper.
Her fathers three claws were inked in the bottom right of the cheque.
I cant possibly accept, she squawked, trying not to read the figure scrawled on the line above his signature.
Since youve been gone, weve been imagining you living in a shed with humans running outside like wild animals. You need help to buy a proper place of a your own.
The figure on the cheque was more than she could save in a lifetime. But there would be strings attached. You should keep the money for yourself, she squawked and slid the paper across the carpet to her father
Her father stopped the paper with his foot. We wanted to see you safe before we go to the grand turkey in the sky, he squawked and glanced at the ceiling.
Deborahs caruncles grew damp. Youre not dying anytime soon. Buy a new kitchen for the house instead.
Your mother doesnt need a new kitchen when shes spent the year cooking meals for two.
I can still go if the kitchens too small for three, Deborah squawked back.
Her mother bustled into the living room balancing three plates on her wings. Starters for our extra special chick and my fat husband, she squawked.
The parents and Deborah perched at a table together. Two plates contained human fingers cut at the knuckle and were garnished with a blackened eyeball. A third plate held only apple slices.
What a lovely surprise. Your chicks old favourite before she lost her wattle, her father squawked.
He pecked at the fingertips while Deborah wobbled her caruncles at the apple slices untouched on her plate.
Your mother knows how to cook, despite her faults, her father squawked, a bone hanging from his beak.
Mind your manners, her mother squawked and poked the bone with her beak.
On second thoughts, I might need that money for a bachelor pad, her father replied and dropped a gravy-streaked fingernail onto his plate.
My chick could visit us every fortnight next year if she wanted. Ill even do your washing, her mother squawked at Deborah.
I might be travelling in January, Deborah replied, making a pile of her apple slices.
Anywhere exotic? Your mother might be able to join you if its a one-way trip, her father squawked.
The North Pole for a meditation retreat. We get an igloo each so we can admire the scenery in silence, Deborah replied.
I didnt know the North Pole was a holiday destination, her father squawked.
Me neither, Deborah replied and pushed her plate away.
Her mother gathered the plates together. Happy turkeys make hungry families, she squawked. Gathering the plates on the rings, she left for the kitchen.
Your mother is putting on a brave snood, her father squawked, his feathers drooping.
About what? Deborah asked, her tail jerking upright.
Turkey works. Nothing to worry about. Did you enjoy your apples? her father asked.
Never mind food, Deborah squawked. She flapped her wings and rushed into the kitchen. Her mother was paused over the oven, a human head steaming on a roasting tray surrounded by parsnips.
You didnt tell me you were ill, Deborah squawked.
Your fathers being dramatic. Every turkey has tests when they get to a certain age, her mother replied and tested the heads mouth with a fork. A stream of blood squirted out. Your father likes his humans rare. Help me with the carving.
Deborah plucked at a knife and peeled the cheeks of the human head into thin strips of red flesh. She remembered her fathers pronouncements that humans were essential for health and gave her mother an extra slice.
Returning to the living room, she handed the plates to her father and mother.
Heres to humans voting for Christmas, her father squawked, taking his plate.
Heres to husbands who take their wives for granted, her mother replied, flapping her wings at her extra human slices.
I wont take you for granted when we go to bed early, her father squawked with a rustle of his feathers.
Human has given you a change of personality, her mother replied.
Deborahs wattle glowed bright red as she pushed at her uneaten parsnips. Across the table, her parents touched wings and rubbed each others snoods as they emptied their plates.
Desert? Ive got Christmas pudding made with fresh human blood, her mother squeaked.
I had better get going. Snow might be coming, Deborah replied and straightened her wings.
The chance would be a fine thing if your lies came true. Wed have nothing to do in the morning except have a lie-in, her father squawked, his caruncles throbbing.
Her parents pecked each others feathers as Deborah edged out of the house. She left the envelope with the cheque on the television and paused on the street to contemplate her car, untouched by snow. Her feathers drooped as she heard carol singing resume from the house.
Monthly visits might be possible after pretending that she had gone on the retreat.
At least she hadnt been told off for lacking imagination, Deborah consoled herself. Reaching into her handbag, she unwrapped the foil from a sandwich with her beak. Finest organic human was an excellent consolation when topped with cranberry sauce.
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