Story: Thankless

Happy Thanksgiving, those who observe it. I’m Irish, so I don’t, but I like the sentiment, obviously. In the spirit of the giving part, here’s a story, though it may not follow the spirit as kindly as my sharing it is intended. And if you take the time to read it, then Thanks.

Thankless

To save General Joe, or get a hold of one of Lily Penton’s syrup pears: Benjy didn’t know which he wanted more.

It was a tradition in the Penton household that Lily’s momma would fetch a big jar o’ those pears all the way up from Mason County every year for Thanksgiving.

Today she had given Lily a whole soup bowlful of ‘em to take about with her. Benjy supposed it was on account of her daddy still being away at the war and it being sad and all, but it sure didn’t seem to trouble Lily none; not when it meant she could get anything she wanted outta her momma. Lily’d brung her bowl of treats straight over to Benjy’s place, just so’s she could vex him while she fed her fat face. And it was working.

Benjy got up that morning hell bent on stopping his daddy from killing General Joe.

He stood guard by the fence from before breakfast. Now Lily’s tiny little spiced pears — all peeled nice, and swirling round the dish in a pool of crystal clear sugar water—well, they distracted him something awful. That and she kept yakkin’ and tauntin’ him and makin’ him madder at her than he was meant to be at his daddy.

What?” he snapped at her.

Ah said, why you wanna have a ugly ol’ turkey fo’ a pet anyways?”

She was perched up on the second rung of the fence, the wide, shallow dish of pears rocking between her fat little hands.

“Don’cha wanna have no Thanksgivin’ dinner?”

“I don’ care,” said Benjy. Though he did really. “Don’t see why we can’t jus’ have a ham. Stupid pigs ain’t good for nothin’ else.”

“It’s Thanksgiving, Benjy. Turkey Day.”

His daddy had come out the barn with the little axe already in his hand. He walked over and sunk it in the ground in front of Benjy’s feet, the hiss of air ending in a soft thud.

“And we’re gonna have turkey.” He mussed up Benjy’s hair. “Now, mind that axe fo’ me, while I fetch the stone.”

Benjy slapped his fringe down with a fury. Lily, meanwhile, had jumped in surprise at the axe slamming into the packed earth, and she’d dropped a pear into General Joe’s little run as she teetered on the fence. As Benjy’s daddy headed towards the house, she hollered loudly at the bird, which had made short work of the little delicacy.

“You gonna be executed, ya ugly, smelly old thief!” she yelled at General Joe. “An’ ah’m glad!”

“You shut up, Lily Penton!” Benjy shouted.

“Ah will not!” she shot back, clambering down the fence, trying not to spill pear syrup. It got all over her.

“You shouldn’t bin droppin’ those rotten old pears in on him, anyways,” Benjy scolded. “Probably poison him dead ‘afore my daddy can take the axe to him. I betcha you just made him too poisonous for us to eat.”

Lily’s little sneer was like a snake’s.

“You wouldn’t be sayin’ that if I was givin’ you one, which I ain’t. Not when yo’ horrible bird is a filthy thief!”

“Shut up, Lily!”

“He should be with the sinners in hell. And I bet that’s why he’s gonna taste jus’ awful when yo’ momma cooks him up tomorrow. Dumb old bird.”

“You take that back!”

Uh-uh. He’s a dumb bird, and you’re a dummy too, fo’ having a turkey fo’ a pet!”

His fists were halfway up, but she knew he wouldn’t move from the spot he’d taken up, so Lily lifted another pear from the bowl and shoved it into her mouth. The tip and stalk she bit off and pulled away, syrup dripping from her mouth. She threw it through the fence at General Joe. Then she ran for home.

Benjy would have gone after her, but he could see his father coming back from the house and he daren’t leave his post, else General Joe was a goner fer sure. When his daddy drew close he puffed up his chest and give him his sternest, most determined glare, but his daddy was distracted and wasn’t looking.

“Can’t think where that goddamn stone has got to. Your momma says she ain’t sharpened anything in a week. Boy, I betcha her sewin’ scissors is shinin’ all the same.”

He turned to Benjy.

“What? You still sore with me, boy? We gonna keep fightin’ over this here bird, you an’ me?”

“Yessir,” said Benjy.

“Boy, you love that bird so much, go get it a bowl of corn. And see if there’s any greens still good in the hen house for him. Maybe some milk.”

Benjy just looked up at him in confusion.

“Boy, you hear me? I said go.”

“If you jus’ gonna kill him, why you makin’ nice an’ givin’ him his favourite food?” Benjy was almost in tears. “You’re makin’ him think you like him. It’s cruel.”

His daddy stopped and considered his miserable little boy. He knelt in front of him and took Benjy’s shoulders in his hands.

“Son, it’s a bird. Just a bird. And this is a farm. It’s not cruel or kind. It’s just food. You gotta start understanding that. It’s all food. Food for him, food for us, food for the worms. That’s how she turns, this ol’ world. I don’t feed any animal round here ‘coz I’m sweet on it son.”

He gave Benjy a cocked smile as he placed his hand on the boy’s cheek.

“But I’ll tell you what—all those treats we been feedin’ him all this time, they gonna make good meat all the sweeter. And I know you like the meat, Benjy, ‘coz this ain’t yo’ first turkey.”

“It’s my first turkey for a friend, daddy. Can’t you get another one for dinner? Please, daddy?”

His daddy laughed, but not unkindly.

“Boy, be reasonable. It’s today. There ain’t another bird, good or bad, goin’ spare in this whole parish.”

He looked over Benjy’s shoulder and then turned the boy around. General Joe was pecking at the pear stalk that Lily had thrown at him.

“There most certainly ain’t another bird gonna taste of Mrs. Penton’s syrup pears, now is there? I betcha there won’t be a sweeter bird in this whole damn county.”

Benjy licked his lips. His daddy knew he’d won.

“You show me a turkey to beat that one—I’ll spare your pet.”

He got up and headed back towards the barn to look again for the stone. Benjy stood and stared at General Joe. He tried again to tell himself how he didn’t care about Thanksgiving, but he’d been lying then and he was lying now. 

Benjy shifted from the spot he’d stayed in all morning and uncovered the hollow under his foot where he’d hidden the sharpening stone. He lifted it out now and stared at the fat bird gobbling up the last o’ the pear. He reached down and hefted the little axe from the ground. He ran the stone along it, experimentally. It was already pretty sharp. He dropped the stone, but kept the axe.

Then he turned on his heel and set off down the path, following a trail of pear stalks and splashes of syrup.

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