Congratulations to this year's Prize Turkey, Carmen Fong

TurkeyTime 2021 Prompts:

Shtories may be any genre, but must incorporate each of the following:

  • A seating chart

  • A Pilgrim Hat

  • A Song Lyric (spoken, sung, or referenced)

Read Carmen's winning shtory—plus shtories by first runner-up Paula Brannon and second runner-up Morgan Orlando—below! 

AL'S REDEMPTION

By Carmen Fong

     This bench looked as good as any. Al stumbled up to it, his large hands pawing the wooden planks because his eyes were blurry from crying. His sobs had settled down to soft gasps, occasionally interrupted by a deep shudder as if he couldn’t get enough air. In time, he found himself seated on the park bench. When he lifted his head from his hands, he looked out over the reservoir, the rising sun just tinting the sky pink. A distant bird arced the air. As he sat and pondered the man-made pond, his breathing eased. His eyes cleared, and he felt the tight fist on his chest release. 

     He heard a whimper and turned to see a young woman standing at the edge of the bench. Her shoulders shook. She kept wiping her eyes with the backs of her hands but it was a losing battle. The tears wouldn’t stop. Her long hair fell in shreds around her face. She wore a baggy sweatshirt and neon pink tights. The cool air brushed Al’s face and unlocked his lips. 

     “What’s wrong, there?” he asked. The woman’s shoulders stopped shaking and she looked up, surprised to see him there. She quickly rubbed her face and took a deep breath, her hands balled into fists beside her. She looked either about to flee, or perhaps squat and pee. 

     Al’s large body shifted slightly to the side, not a perceptible difference but it was the thought that counted. He patted the spot next to him. 

     “Have a seat, have a seat,” he murmured. Then he looked away from her and back over the water. The birds had multiplied and now they drew zigzags beneath the clouds. From the corner of his eye, he saw the woman hesitate, a deer on the side of the road, a raccoon when the lights came on, a child dipping her toe in the ocean. She sat down. He still didn’t look at her, so as not to startle her.      Instead, he put his hands on his knees and started tapping time to a tune in his head. His own despair, he found, had been drowned out by the sound of hers. 

     She started crying again. He took his white fedora off and waited. 

     When she looked up, she said, “I just hate it.”

     He nodded, pursed his lips. He thought about his own daughter, long grown and out of the house. The time she came home from middle school and tossed her backpack on the floor at the front door and declared, “I just hate it!” So there were a lot of things a young woman could just hate. A lot, a lot. 

     Her wide brown eyes projected sorrow. Her face muscles fought to keep her frown upside down, and lost.

     “I hate Thanksgiving,” she said. “I’m here, and my wife is here, and her family is in Wisconsin, and my family is in California. Why can’t we all be together?”

     Al nodded slowly. He looked at his hat, then again at the birds. 

     Feeling the space in the silence, the woman continued. “I envy those families who all stayed in one town their whole lives and married someone from that town, so they spend all their holidays together,” she paused and bit her bottom lip. “It’s as if every choice we’ve ever made pulls us further apart.” The woman stared at the stranger on the bench and, as if realizing that she had said all of this out loud, walked off, marinating in her own misery. 

     

     The following morning, Al was on his way to work again when he came across the same bench. It was on his usual route, a shortcut through the park, and he had never noticed the bench before yesterday but now the bench looked warm, familiar, inviting. He sat down, thinking that he could just sit for a moment, enjoy the view and let the breeze unstick his shirt from his armpits. He wore the same thing to work every day: white shirt, black suspenders over his beer belly, dark slacks, and his white fedora. The hat kept his bald head covered and added a stylish flair to his otherwise monotonous 9-to-5 outfit. As he sat there, the same young woman from the day before jogged up to him. 

     “You’re here!” The woman beamed.

     She wiped her brow with her sleeve and sat down next to Al. “I wanted to thank you for listening. I wasn’t sure how to find you, but here you are!” She told him how she had talked to her wife about feeling sad that their entire family couldn’t be together for the holidays, even though being apart had allowed them all to grow. When they got to the logistics of seating, her wife had said, “How would we even fit eighteen people into our one-bedroom apartment? It would be two sets of parents, our siblings, their spouses, their kids...would we include the spouses’ parents? Where do we draw the line?” For fun, they'd made up a seating chart of all eighteen extended family members. Then they'd written, “Wishing we were all together” and sent it out as a holiday card. 

     “This is for you,” the woman said, and handed Al a small pilgrim hat name card holder.

     Al cleared his throat. “Thank you.” 

     “Well, I have to run. Got to change before work. But you have a good day!”

     The woman jogged off. She was two steps away when a middle-aged woman walked up to them, eyeing them suspiciously. 

     “You all know each other?” She asked. 

     “Nope,” Al replied. 

     “I heard you giving her free advice?” the woman challenged, hand on her hip. She was curvy but tall, and her fanny pack added more jut to her hip. 

     “Just listening is all,” Al said.

     He took off his hat and watched the woman. Then he scooted over and patted the spot beside him. 

     “What’s your name?” the woman asked. 

     ​“Call me Al,” Al said. 

THEY EAT TURKEYS, DON'T THEY?

By Paula Brannon

 

     “Sure, I have you down for 4 tickets and you are in the 3rd row center. Yes, great seats. Looking forward to seeing you too. Ok, yes of course—you’re so welcome. Bye-bye.” I put my cell down on top of the seating chart. Costume finished, and tickets almost sold out.

     “…Let's eat the turkey
     In my big brown shoe    
     Love to eat turkey at the table...

     I once saw a movie with Eddie and Abel,” Sam sang, spinning around and watching his hands make circles in front of his face.

     “Betty Grable,” I said for the 50th time. “It’s Betty Grable, Sammy. Maybe try singing something else for a while,” I suggested, wishing I’d never shown him that Adam Sandler song. “Hey, why don’t you practice the 'Thank You' song ? Your school play is just a few days away.”

     I knew he wouldn’t respond. He only goes into the spinning and hand circles when he’s getting nervous about something. And I knew better than to press him for info before he was ready—it just made things worse. Sammy was high functioning, and able to express himself verbally, be touched, and make eye contact most of the time. He hadn’t spun for a long time. I knew something must really be bothering him.

     “Hey , look—I finished your costume. Can we try it on and see if it fits?”

     I approached him gently, easing into his space. He stopped spinning and soon his hands stopped circling. He sank slowly to the floor, his eyes fixed on something further than across the room; something only he could see. 

     I pulled the turkey suit slowly over his head. Fastening the velcro on the back, I turned him to the mirror. He saw his reflection and gasped. I braced myself for a tantrum; even though they were a part of his ASD, there was no other word to describe these outbursts.  But they were just the outward result of the hurricane inside his head.

     But it didn’t come. 

     He just put his head in his hands and started to sob.

     “Oh, Sammy, what is it? Can you tell Mommy what’s bothering you, sweetie?”

     “I don’t want to be the turkey. Please—please don’t make me, Mom! Please!” he begged through tears. He had wanted to be a pilgrim, and wear ‘ the fat top hats’ from the start.

     “Sammy, I know you wanted to be a pilgrim. But Miss Cortland has enough pilgrims and needs you to be the turkey. She thinks you would be especially good in this part.”

     Truth is, Sammy was prone to getting up and moving around a space on his own, especially when nervous and his teacher was just anticipating this behavior and thought it might look rather turkey-ish, and I agreed. Freeform movement and all he had to do was gobble.

     “No—I don’t care about that! I just don’t want to be eaten!” He wailed.

     “Eaten? Sammy, no one is really going to eat you.” I hugged him close.

     He looked up at me. “But Carly said that they ate turkey at the First Thanksgiving and so we could be like them and eat one too—and they were going to cook me and eat me. Jonathan agreed and Tommy too, and they all said I would taste so good.” He fell into my arms and buried his face in my sweatshirt. 

     “Sam,” I said, holding that sweet face in my hands. “No one is going to eat you. Carly and the boys were teasing you, and it wasn’t very nice, but they didn’t mean it. Tommy is your friend, he would never hurt you on purpose.”

     “But why? Why did they do that then?” he asked, his logical mind taking over-he wasn’t hurt, it just made no sense to him.

     “I think they were playing a joke on you.”

     “Well, that isn’t funny. Jokes are supposed to be funny, aren’t they?” He seemed annoyed now.

     “They are. And maybe it seemed funny at the time. Why don’t you ask him tomorrow at school?" I suggested.

     The next day, Sammy ran to the meet me as I came into the classroom. Tommy was at his side and they were both beaming. 

     “Mom—hey, Mom! You’ll never guess. Tommy wanted to be the turkey all along, and he was sorry about the joke that wasn’t funny and Miss Cortland said we could switch parts if I know his lines!”

     “And do you?  I asked.

     “Of course. I know all of the lines. They are very easy,” he replied. “I need to teach him how to gobble now though. And I get to wear the fat top hat!” 

     

     That night, the play went off without a hitch.—except for Carly dropping her pilgrim hat and stepping squarely on it, crushing it. Just as her chin started to quiver, Sam took his hat off and offered it to her, and he went on stage bear-headed.

     After, we stopped at a diner to get dinner.

     “And mom, they all clapped for me cause I gave her my hat, which was really not so comfortable you know, and Miss Cortland said I was being a helpful and then Carly said I was her friend. I have 2 friends now, mom!”

     The waitress walked us to a booth and gave us menus as we sat down.

     “We are having our Turkey dinner special all week long, with all the trimmin’s! Feel like eating some turkey?” She asked looking straight at Sam. 

     “No!” we both said at the same time. 

     “Uh, no turkey—we are vegetarians today. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, please.” 

     After she walked away, Sammy giggled.

     “You made a joke, huh mom? We aren’t vegetables!”

     He laughed and continued to chatter on.  

     Disaster averted. New friend made. I am thankful for these things. And for my very special son.

TEDDY THE THANKFUL TURKEY

By Morgan Orlando

     Theodore the Turkey was the tiniest turkey on Mr. Watkins’s farm.

     Now, Mr. Watkins was the best turkey-farmer around, and families came from all over every Thanksgiving just to pick out their turkeys; and for a turkey, the highest honor is to be chosen by a family for the holidays. Once they were chosen, Mr. Watkins had a tradition of dressing them in their Sunday best, including a very special hat—a pilgrim hat, to be specific—before sending them on their way. Each year, as the days began getting cooler and the leaves more colorful, the farm buzzed with excitement as people searched for their turkey. All the families oo-d and ahh-d at all of the babies that were running around, looking for just the right one to bring home.

     One by one, Theodore's friends started leaving with families. They were so happy to have been picked. Theodore was sad, but he was still thankful that he had his other friends, and he just knew that the right family would come to find him soon. 

     Two turkeys who were not so nice to Theodore, however, were Eva and Dillon. They were much bigger, and teased Theodore, telling him that he was too small; that he would never be picked; that the hat would swallow him up. He started to feel more and more lonely...

     “I so wish that a family would come and choose me,” Theodore gobbled to himself. He was still thankful for Mr. Watkins's farm, and for his friends that were still there, but he just kept daydreaming about being picked by a family; the fancy hat, and the dinner table... Theodore wanted to be right at the head of the table, proud to be the chosen one. He did not want just any family, though; Theodore hoped for the family with the two kids who would sneak him treats and play with him whenever they came to the farm. (His favorite treats were the carrots that they grew in their garden.)

     The kidsJax and Jordy.loved Theodore, and Theodore loved them. They were always so nice to him, and cared for him, and they called him Teddy.

     Teddy never felt like the tiniest turkey on the farm when he was playing with them. 

     “Oh it's one gobble, two gobbles, three gobbles, four—we will run from the farmer, for there’s no time to snore! ‘Round and round we go, all ‘round the coup,” they would sing, and run around in circles, laughing so hard they cried.

 

     The last few days before thanksgiving, Teddy hadn’t seen Jax and Jordy, and more and more of his friends were leaving. All alone, Teddy wished that he could see his friends againEva and Dillon. He spent his days roaming around the farm, just wishing to be picked. He was happy for his friendshe just missed them.

 

     Thenon the very last day, in the very last hourJax and Jordy showed up with their parents. They were there to get Teddy! The tiniest turkey was excited, he started jumping and jumping for joy. Teddy knew he would have a special home now, too.

 

     He went to bed that night in a new bed, and he, Jax, and Jordy read stories until they all fell asleep. 

     The next morning, they all went out into the garden to pick vegetables for a big feast. 

     Then that night, at dinner... 

     Teddy sat at the head of the table, in his fancy hat!

     He was so thankful to have found his new family, and to know they loved him; as they ate their big fish-and-vegetable dinner, everyone went around the table, talking about how happy and thankful they were to make Teddy a part of their family.

     Now, Teddy was no longer the tiniest turkey on the farm;

     He was the happiest turkey in the world.