Obligatory Holiday Piece

by John Dzenitis

The Clark and Markson Families of rural Indiana had an eight-year tradition that they called ``Combined Thanksgiving and Christmas.'' The tradition began in early December of 1986, following a particularly tragic and extraordinarily gruesome farm-machinery mishap that claimed the lives of the patriarchs of the families. There were no witnesses to that event, but agriculture investigators surmised that Leon Clark and Eli Markson were standing together at the business end of a Helix 600 ``Masticator'' Combine when it popped into gear. So effective was the combine that there was considerable argument about how to properly honor the remains. Although most of the children wanted to split the pulpy pile according to their fathers' former weights, Lucy Clark and Clara Markson prevailed in their wish to have their husbands buried together. Having found common ground on this issue, they decided that their newly matriarchal families would find mutual support in having a big dinner together the next week. Instead of letting the incident ruin the holidays, they would use it to bring the families together in that trying time. They celebrated the holidays together every year thereafter.

What began as a quiet, nurturing day of rest escalated over time into a raucous, no-holds-barred cooking competition. Each year the meals became more complex and lavish, merrily funded by the out-of-court settlement from the Helix Corporation. This year it was Clara's turn to supply the turkey, and, as each woman had sworn in turn over the past years, she swore that this year she would surpass all previous turkey efforts. She had begun soon after the last celebration by having her sons retool her recombinant turkey DNA laboratory to serve as an in vitro fertilization room and incubator. She had twelve viable eggs and traveled to Texas A\&M University that winter to obtain a liter of their finest experimental bull semen. Although her work on stochastic genetic field theory remained unpublished, her labor paid off in early spring: she produced the world's first Black Angus/Butterball hybrid. The Bullbird was raised on a carefully designed combination of food, vitamins, and steroids. By the next fall it had become quite large and tasty-looking.

Lucy Clark had not been idle during Clara Markson's year of hard work. The dessert was Lucy's responsibility, and she vowed that she would produce the most wonderful pies that anyone in the state had eaten. Her approach was as organic as Clara's was scientific. In the early spring, she marked a 50 meter wide circle in her best field. She christened this the ``Circle of Wholeness and Goodness,'' and planted the most delicious and purest fruits there. Lucy tended the Circle of Wholeness and Goodness with incredible devotion and even less credible techniques. All vegetable scraps and fecal material went into the Circle as compost because, as she put it, ``It connects the circle of life and death with greatest oneness.'' Presumably this was also the reason that she sacrificed various and sundry reptiles, birds, and mammals in the center of the Circle during full moons. The three Clark girls (Leona, Lucy Jr., and Wendy) were a bit distressed about the ``creepiness'' of their mother's activities. Furthermore, Leona and Lucy Jr. were not that happy about spending the nights of their menses chanting in the Circle.

The hard work paid off, though. In the late summer, Lucy harvested bushels of wondrously developed fruits, heavy with the earthy juices that she had showered upon them (in some cases, literally). She made sweet, fermenting stews with the best and placed them in handmade pots back in the Circle of Wholeness and Goodness. She and the girls watched over the pots, ``Lest the benevolent yet mischievous earth spirits be tempted by them.'' Leona and Lucy Jr. drew double duty during their time. The day before the celebration, Lucy reduced the fruit stews and made them into pies with cute pentagonal patterns on the top. When she baked the pies that night, the skies were filled with delicious aromas and strange voices.

Meanwhile, the three Markson boys (Eli Jr., Karl, and Billy) spent the last two weeks of November constructing the cooking pit for Clara's Bullbird. The week after that they spent arguing about who would have to ``put the Bullbird down.'' This reluctance sprang from deep feelings of uneasiness, if not from tenderness. In the end, Eli Jr. drew the short straw, drew his sidearm, drew a bead on the Bullbird, drew blood (and brains), and drew an analogy between ostentatious writing and public masturbation.

Skinning and eviscerating the Bullbird's carcass proved to be an all-day extravaganza. Cute but gory little Billy Markson remarked, ``Sure don't know why Ma calls this `dressing,' because we've done about everything to the Bullbird but dress it.''

``Shut your yap and get back in there,'' said Eli Jr., grabbing his younger brother's ankles and shoving him headfirst back into the Bullbird in Mapplethorpesque fashion.

Two days before the holiday, they lit the cooking pit and lowered the Bullbird onto the rotisserie. Eli Jr. was careful to check inside first for little Billy, who had taken to sleeping inside the carcass and calling it ``Mommy.'' Eli Jr. told Billy that he was proud of him for crying only a little; he then smacked Karl across the face when he called Billy ``Edible Oedipal Cannibal.''

Everything was wonderful on the special morning. A sweet wind kneeled to kiss the hills and nooks, drops of dew slid from moist gourds nestled in the grass, and the air had a vulval scent of burning leaves. Now, where was I?

Anyway, Clara had not let the boys see the finished Bullbird because she considered that bad luck. She chased them into the dining room and had them set the table gloriously in puffy country pastels. The patterns depicted flowers, ducks, kittens, and large-headed, bonnet-clad cherubs frolicking in flowers. When the Clarks arrived, the food preparations at the Marksons' were complete. As they sat down at the table and said grace, Lucy Clark noticed the cherubs (again) and wondered (again) if they were some kind of dig at her family's hydracephaloid tendencies.

``Well now, Clara,'' Lucy remarked, ``this looks just lovely! You've outdone me once again. But where's that turkey you've been hinting about?''

``I do declare! I've forgotten the turkey!'' declared Clara. They all chuckled and shook their heads with good-natured merriment. ``Just stay right there, you jokesters. I'll be back in a jiffy!''

They were all atwitter with anticipation about the turkey, and spirited conversation quickly sprang up. Perhaps that was why everyone was so startled when the forklift smashed through the south wall of the dining room. Since they were of strong farm stock, no one screamed, but there was scattered gasping with a chance of hollering. Clara deftly maneuvered the forklift to the table and lowered the tines. As the full weight came to rest on the table, the legs snapped. The overloaded top fell painfully on the laps of all those seated around it, pinning them to their chairs. Clara chirped perkily, ``Here it is!''

`` What is that?!'' Lucy screamed. She was making motions as if she was backing away from the table, but the tabletop held her in her seat.

``It's the turkey, silly,'' Clara explained with a grin, and indeed it was. The Bullbird was fully two meters in diameter and length. Even at its eviscerated fightin' weight, it was over 400 kilograms. Clara had been diligent in the basting and seasoning, and the Bullbird was roasted to a succulent brown. It was an immense, beautiful turkey.

``It's our immense, beautiful turkey. I made it myself. The boys helped me with the cooking pit, of course; I've never been good at building things. But I did the genetic engineering and all that.''

Lucy was aghast. ``That's a crime against Nature! What have you done? It's just not right. We can't eat that thing. We can't put that monstrosity into our bodies, for Heaven's sake.''

``Oh, so now you're appealing to Heaven?'' Clara asked. ``Over the last year I've heard about Mother Nature, Centered Wholeness, Field Sprites, Wymyn Energy, Karma, Pan, Good Vibrations, and Riot Grrrls.'' Leona and Lucy Jr. exchanged guilty glances. ``It's nice to know you've had time to get back to Heaven. Well, while you've been doing your hocus pocus, I've gone right to the limit of what humans can really change. I'm doing it, Crystal Chick, and that's proof enough that it's right. Now let's eat.'' While she was speaking, some of the goo from the charmed pies had begun to flow across the broken table towards the Bullbird.

``That's your justification?'' Lucy asked rhetorically. ``'If it can be done, it should be done.'? There's no soul to that, no center. A natural course is the only one we can pursue successfully. If we attempt anything else, we're doomed to unhappiness.''

Mercifully, the charmed pie filling reached the mutant turkey and got some action going in the story again. The greenish liquid was sucked across the surface of the Bullbird, and its skin began to glow with a bright yellow aura. A wind whipped around the room, dragging flowers and silverware with it. The light bulbs in the chandelier burst. Twelve tremendous blue arcs bzzzzted from the sockets to the corpse; it was a display that would have made Drs. Van de Graaf and Frankenstein click their heels with glee.

When all became quiet again, the Bullbird rose stiffly from the table, seemed to collect himself, and then leapt deftly to the floor. All who had been pinned down by the table top in their laps sighed with relief, the Markson boys most passionately. The Bullbird surveyed the room with the supernatural senses that were required since all other conduits had been stripped from him by the boys. It was with a similarly plausible supernatural voice that he addressed the two women.

``You two are so earnest, yet so foolish. The very things that you fear you come to embrace, and the very things that you argue against you prove. Your views are so extreme that you seem like clumsy plot devices in a hastily written tale.''

Clara smirked, ``Yeah, well at least we're not giant, re-animated, telepathic turkeys.''

`` Silence!'' the Bullbird telepathically shouted. ``I have not come here to bandy words with you; I have come to instruct.'' He turned and pointed a mouthwatering, golden brown wing. ``Clara, how did you presume to play with fundamentals of life, like some kind of chicken-fried god, with no organization aimed at soul? Lucy, how can you reject science, yet systematically invoke the most powerful spiritual powers available? Did either of you ever consider the implications of your actions?''

``Tasty pies,'' said Lucy.

``Big, juicy turkey,'' said Clara.

The Bullbird was exasperated. ``That's not what I meant...''

``I'm pretty darn hungry,'' interjected Karl, looking at the siblings.

``And the reader is losing interest,'' added Leona.

``Let's get the sucker!'' shouted Eli Jr., and the children all sprang to their feet and went after the Bullbird. Though he did operate through supernatural means, the Bullbird soon found that his exposed-bone feet (nee knees) had little purchase on the hardwood floor. He pumped his legs frantically, but his bony nubs just clacked and skittered on the floor, and he ran in place comically. The children fell on him and tore him limb from tender limb, chomping at his delicious flesh as they might have consumed his omniscient discourse. They did feel quite satisfied when they finished, days later.

In the end, it is the children of the world who will save us from boredom, who will wrestle us to the ground, who will eat us because we are too slow and they are too hungry.