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"Tines" by Russell Bittner

As he comes up the street, I look more closely at this coat.  It’s ragged, worn gray in spots where it should be black, the collar too wide, the sleeves too short.

As he moves closer, I notice he’s carrying a bag – a dark, brown plastic bag of no markings.  I know my father and I know that bag.  The contents of a dark brown plastic bag of no markings can be only one thing.  This is, after all, Thanksgiving – the greatest feast of the year.

He steps up and rings the bell.  Alice and I run to answer.

When I open the front door, my first impression is that he’s aged.    Maybe it’s the coat, I decide.  That, and something about his hair.  My father has always been careful about his hair, especially in times of economic recession. “Good times might come and go,” he’d frequently been fond of saying.  “But my hairline takes the longer view and stays the course,” he’d invariably add.  This time, I’m not so sure that his coat – or his hairline, for that matter – are holding fast to any course whatsoever.

It’s merely a first impression.  We fling the door open, and he scoops us both up while managing very carefully, I notice, to keep the contents of the brown plastic bag out of harm’s way.

He brings the three of us inside – me, Alice and the bag – to greet my mother, who comes out of the kitchen bearing a dishtowel like a police barricade.  This isn’t their first meeting since their separation.  But this is their first on a significant holiday.  In other words, this is their first contractual meeting.

My mother looks down at the brown plastic bag.  “Happy Thanksgiving,” she says in a guarded monotone.

“Ditto,” my father offers in return.  (My father has always believed in brains over brawn.  And, whenever possible, he uses Latin to prove it.)  He quickly diverts his glance from my mother to the dining table, puts both Alice and me down before seating himself, holds the bag up to her as if surrendering a weapon.

“It looks fabulous!  Here.  The red’s for the turkey.  The white is for everything that comes up between now and the first delectation of that turkey.”

            “We’re having goose,” my mother says simply.

“Ahhh,” my father says even more simply, not even trying to conceal the fact of his pleasure.  “Goose!  We haven’t had goose since our very own first Thanksgiving together.  Before these little munchkins—” The last of his declaration goes the way of former Thanksgiving goose dinners, unknown to both Alex and me.  ‘Must be a special occasion,” he deadpans – an all-too-familiar smirk forming at the corners of his mouth.

Alice and I look at each other.  We’ve just spent a whole week preparing for this very thing.  If my father can have his collateral damage – we reasoned – we can have our preëmptive strike.

            I harrumph, and my father looks at me.  I indicate with my eyes a sign taped to the wall directly behind his head.  He turns around and reads.



           My father turns back and stares at me.  I know his angry stare, and this isn’t it.  Instead, there’s just a hint of appreciation in his eyes – the kind I was once used to seeing whenever Alice or I might say something that struck him as genuinely amusing.


            It’s a look of appreciation that never failed to produce in me the same sensation I once felt whenever he’d put his arm around me and call me his guy.  It’s the same sensation I once felt whenever I’d perform well at some sport, and would then look in his direction for a reaction.  He wouldn’t shout or rave like other parents.  He’d just give me a firm, quiet thumbs-up.  Whatever I might’ve just accomplished on a given field or court or diamond, however loud the cheers or rants of other kids’ parents, I’d look for his thumb.  When I found it, I always felt that kind of shudder which opens like a gasp, closes like a sigh.

“Goose,” he says, looking at my mother.  “I can hardly wait”  He then looks at Alice and me and winks.  I wink back, now feeling supremely confident after Alice’s and my first success as peacemakers.

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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006