literature

Vignette: Isabel's Awkward Thanksgiving

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Rodrick Freitag’s house had made it through Gordon undamaged. It was too far north for the wind and too high up for the storm surge. Which made it the perfect place for the Bradshaws and both sets of their grandparents to spend Thanksgiving. Except for the fact that it was a small house, and not really built to accommodate ten extra people. Even getting the various cars and vans in the driveway was a complicated sliding-tiles game.

So of course, out of all possible ways to prepare the turkeys Rod and Chelsey had chosen the one most likely to set the crowded little house on fire. They were deep-frying them.

In the interests of life and property, Isabel was overseeing the process. First, when the two 15-pound turkeys were taken out of the beer brine she measured the remaining brine and used a little Archimedean logic to estimate their volume, so she knew exactly how much oil would go in the fryer. Then she spent a full hour drying them, inside and out, at one point using a hair dryer.

The sun was setting, and Isabel was outside, finally getting the second turkey ready to lower into the fryer. She’d turned off the burner and added a little more oil to replace whatever had evaporated.

Just as she had it on the hanger, Rod came out. He spent a few moments checking the first turkey to make sure it had cooled enough, then sidled over to Isabel.

She had to admit that he was a good-looking guy. Tall, reasonably fit, blue eyes, dark hair, conventionally attractive features. At some point he’d gotten a spray-on tan, but he’d had the sense not to repeat the procedure and it was steadily fading. And he’d agreed to host Thanksgiving this year. Possibly he had other good qualities as well, but Isabel didn’t know what they were.

“Smells good,” said Rod.

Isabel nodded.

Rod patted her on the back. “You’re doing great,” he said, in case Isabel needed his reassurance.

Then his hand began fingering its way down her spine towards her butt. Using one hand to keep the hanger with the fifteen-pound bird on it up in the air, Isabel removed his hand from her back with the other and inserted it into his coat pocket with a little shake of her head, just enough to let him know I’m going to keep things civil, but don’t do that again.

Rod stepped back a pace, smirked and shrugged as if to say can’t fault a guy for trying. Isabel gave him a look that said if you try that on Kristen I will personally rip off your dick, staple it to your forehead and sell you to a sideshow as the Human Unicorn. Or at least that was the message she was going for. Some of the nuances may have been lost. Whatever message it did send was enough to convince Rod to take the cooked turkey and go back inside.

Didn’t see that coming, she thought. Isabel had disliked Rod on general principles principles. She felt a little better knowing her dislike was fully justified. And what had he been thinking? She had never shown him anything but basic politeness, and to be honest, not much of that. She wasn’t as good-looking as either of her sisters, nor as blonde, nor as big-breasted. Her butt was bigger, for what that was worth. Had the thing with the bear and being on Yuschak’s stupid show made her seem like more of a catch? Was Rod getting bored with Chelsey? Or did he get off on making women uncomfortable? Or did he just always have to try?

He better not try it again. At least Brad of the North had kept his hands to himself, except when he’d stuck one of them in harm’s way by mistake..

Speaking of Chelsey, her sister came out. She wasn’t wearing her usual heels, but the mass of dark blond curls on her head added a few inches to her height all by itself. She took a cigarette out of her pocket.

“Don’t even think about it,” said Isabel. “We got aerosolized cooking oil over here. The last thing you want to be doing is lighting up.”

Chelsey muttered a curse and put it away.

“I thought you quit,” said Isabel.

“I had to quit when I had Jourdain,” she said. “It’s staying quit that’s a problem.”

“I still say if you need it that bad, you should vape.”

“And I still say vaping is birdseed*.” Chelsey sighed. “I’m thinking of getting a Jellicoe treatment.”

“I’ve heard those work pretty well,” said Isabel. “I think they’re really expensive, though. Like, ten to fifteen thousand dollars, and insurance doesn’t cover them. I mean, you would eventually make the money back just from not buying cigarettes, but it’d take a couple years.”

“What are you talking about?” said Chelsey. “I get emailed offers of discount Jellicoes all the time. They’re five or six thousand at the most.”

Emailed discount offers of medical services. Yep. Chelsey was Chelseying again.

“Chelsey?”

“Yeah?”

“You know how I’ve pretty much given up trying to talk you out of doing stupid things?”

“Yeah… what, you think this is stupid?”

“Having your brain permanently changed would be risky, but it might be worth it. Having it done by the lowest bidder — that would be stupid."


*“Birdseed” is an adjective meaning “hip, urban and somewhat snobbish.” It refers to pearl millet, tef and wattleseeds, which have replaced arugula and quinoa as the fashionable purchases of upscale grocery shoppers, mostly because they’re things that still grow well in California despite the persistent drought.
A moment in "Altered Seasons." Isabel fends off an amorous advance by her brother-in-law and tries to talk her sister out of making a bad move. Yes, this story is science fiction, but not all the time.
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