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The Dinner - Short Story

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They gathered around the make shift table made of a worn plywood sheet set onto several stacked wooden crates. Chubbie had found a discarded tablecloth in his junk collecting forays around the back alleys of the city. Except for a rip in one of the corners, the linen tablecloth served well in covering up the ugliness of the plywood. Jacko had somehow managed to get some foam plates and plastic tableware and they were set neatly on the linen tablecloth. 

Stickman, the only one of the gang with a paying job of washing dishes part-time at Gumbo's Diner, had spent his last paycheck on the biggest turkey that could be found in the local Stop'n'Shop. The smell of the cooking turkey permeated the abandoned warehouse as the men prepared for their feast. Coop was the cook of the group and he decided that the best way to get the job done would be to put the big bird on a wooden spit and cook it upright over a fire under a metal barrel. Everyone had found something to add to the feast and the table was soon filling up with their treasures that had been discarded by local bakeries and shops just before the holiday. As Chubbie always said, "There was a wealth of stuff to be found if ya knew where to look!"

Chubbie, Stickman, Coop, Jacko, Boozer and Sarge stood around the makeshift oven warming their hands. Memories of Thanksgivings past, moved through their minds, reminding them of a different life that now seemed as distant as the stars in the night sky. Chubbie thought of his mother on that last Thanksgiving that they enjoyed together before AIDS had stolen the light in her eyes and eventually her life. She was all he had in the world and when she passed away, Chubbie had a nervous breakdown. Despite treatment and several stints in the local psych ward, Chubbie just couldn't deal with being alone, so he took to the street life where loyalty and friendship blossomed under the worst of conditions.

Jacko and Sarge were both Vietnam vets who lived with one foot in the past and one in the present and sometimes, they couldn't be sure which was which. The war hadn't killed them physically, but it had a penchant for sneaking back into their minds through some door that would never stay shut. Boozer had lost everything to the bottle, a 25-year marriage, three children, an executive level job and a split-level in the suburbs.

"Somebody, bring me the hot pads. This bird is ready to eat!" Coop announced as Boozer grabbed two old towels that doubled as oven mitts and handed them to Coop. Smiles abounded as Coop removed the barrel to reveal a perfectly browned turkey. As Coop carefully lifted the bird onto a chipped platter, another of Chubbie's finds, he remembered a Thanksgiving long ago, populated by his five brothers and Mom and Pop. He wondered if they still gathered for the holidays? For him, he had burned too many bridges to ever go home. Sarge produced a glistening hunting knife from a leather case on his belt and Coop sliced off hunks of meat.

As the men gathered around the table, Chubbie said, "When Ma was alive, we'd always pray before we ate. Anyone mind if I say a prayer?" 

"Go ahead, Chubbie. You say the prayer," Boozer replied as all the men bowed their heads.

"Bless us O Lord and these they gifts, which we are about to receive through thy bounty, through Christ Our Lord Amen." Chubbie wiped a tear from his eye as he remembered his mother teaching him that prayer when he was a little child. Sarge patted Chubbie's shoulder and said, "That was real nice, Chubbie." All the men nodded in agreement.

"Everybody sit down. I'm as hungry as a grizzly coming outta hibernation!" Boozer exclaimed as the men sat on the crates. "Let's eat!"

The food was passed around and not a word was said as they ate. It had been a long time since they had had such a wonderful meal. As they shared the food around their Thanksgiving table, each man took a journey in his mind, back to loving faces, shared laughter and hope that used to be alive for the future and for a few moments, they all found that winding path in their hearts to a place called home.

Copyright 2002 MEF