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"Tines" by Russell Bittner

Please, Papa, no! I think to myself – and yet, for once I hope he can read my mind – quickly, at a glance, deeply.  Fight for it!  It’s yours.  You’re still king.  Please, Papa.  Fight me for it!

But he simply retires his fork and aligns it noiselessly alongside his knife.



I remember that I then opened my eyes – my cheek still pressed hard against the front window, my father nowhere in sight.  The street was dark.  It would now have been well past six o’clock.  Alice was on the floor playing with the only set of toys she hadn’t yet broken without hope of replacement:  her ten fingers.  My mother came out of the kitchen and announced dinner.  I stood up from the couch and took my place opposite hers – where, I imagined, my father would have sat.

My mother lit a single votive candle in the center of the table.  She served both Alice and me a hefty portion of chicken nuggets onto which she’d grated a bit of nutmeg.  I noticed she’d bought ketchup for the occasion – a holiday treat.  For herself, she’d prepared a single chicken breast and a spoonful of rice.  No nutmeg.

She drank water.  The two of us drank apple juice.  We all drank out of water glasses.

“Happy Thanksgiving,” she said as she raised her glass of water and, with her eyes, implored us to do the same.  “Happy Thanksgiving,” we answered in unison as we raised our glasses of apple juice.  I looked hard at my mother, but Alice – I noticed out of the corner of my eye – didn’t look up from her plate.


We ate.  The only sound in the room was that of three people eating and swallowing – and digesting the absence of a fourth.  I understood.  Buildings had been undone.  Families had come undone with them.  The once proud circumstances of a disposable income and of a fine roof over a foursome of heads had changed, and it was only fit that we change with them.  Under this newer roof, and with only my mother’s salary to keep it attached, goose was no longer on the menu.  Nuggets were.  But we, at least, had nuggets and a roof.  For that, we could be thankful at Thanksgiving – the one, true celebration.


            I stood up and raised my glass.  I looked first at Mama, then at Alice.  “Zu den Abwesenden,” I said.  “To the absent ones,” they said in unison – neither of them raising their eyes from the table.



Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006