by H. B. O’Neil
All families have traditions on Christmas Day, I assume so at least. Ours has always been Church-Graveyard-Pub-Home-Queen’s Speech-Dinner-Puddings-After Eight Mints-Sofa-Doctor Who-Tubs of Chocolate-Mince Pies-Sherry-Irish Coffee and Zzzzzs. All pleasant, predictable, calm and cosy enough. I certainly wasn’t expecting anything different this year.
The turkey had arrived in a hessian sack from Ireland. From a farm in Leitrim, to be precise. Not a farm like Bernard Matthews might run. This one was more of a traditional Irish: a few acres, a bit of livestock and a hay barn. Very organic you might say. This particular turkey had been used to having the run of the yard, eating small stones to aid his digestion, gobbling at seed-thieving chickens, strutting around nonchalantly, occasionally pecking at the cats and their kittens for sport. Indeed, he’d been a proud purveyor of all activities on the contented turkey spectrum. He’d had it good in every aspect – there were even five female turkeys on the farm but no other males. No one to challenge his dominance or encroach on his domain. He was as happy a fowl as ever lived. Had been since the day he’d chip-chip-chipped his way out of his mother’s egg and shook himself free.
Of course, he wasn’t to know it wouldn’t always be that way. And I imagine he wasn’t best pleased when his laid-back Lovely Leitrim lifestyle ended with a quick wring of the neck behind the aforementioned hay barn. In fact, after today’s events, I can categorically state that was indeed the case.
Mum is maybe to blame. Partially at least – I’d always thought she’d said that Dad was a New Romancer when she’d met him. I’d imagined them smooching to the tunes of Spandau Ballet, Dad wearing ruffled cuff shirts and perhaps sporting an ill-judged flock-of-seagulls haircut. It had been a pleasant, pseudo-amusing and rather harmless imagining. I’d never asked for photographic evidence as I was of the opinion that imagined embarrassment was more than enough. I didn’t want too much detail to haunt me at night. All parents seem capable of embarrassing their kids but I had hoped to limit their scope. I really should have listened more carefully when Mum was trying to explain though.
We visited our dear-departed after 11 o’clock Mass. The graveyard was teeming as it always is on this day – nods and waves to fellow once-a-yearers – a few handshakes, then on to the laying of wreaths and the lighting of candles and some solemn staring at stones etched with a loved one’s name. It felt, as ever, the most important and evocative event of the day.
It was only when we were down the pub that things took a turn for the surreal.
“Wow, you’re drinking quick, Dad. By the way, I’ve been meaning to ask – why did Uncle Peter send us that turkey?”
“Well, it’s twenty-five years since our first Christmas in England and he’d sent one that year. Maybe he’s getting nostalgic.”
“Going soft more like.”
“Also, he said he’d never liked the look in the eye of that particular one. Called him a smug little so and so, pleased to get rid of him by the sound of it.”
“It was a bit eerie having to pluck him and behead him and de-claw him and clean out his gizzard and all that, you’d think Uncle Peter would have done that for us.”
“He probably thought it would be character building for you – life’s not easy on a farm, you know.”
“Not for the turkeys.”
“Actually, you’re wrong – I reckon they have a pretty good life on Peter’s farm. Up till the strangulation at least. And anyway, if you’re feeling generous, or guilty, you can always bring them back.”
“It’s easy. I used to do it all the time.”
“Haha. Dad’s drunk everybody! It’s official!”
“You should never mock your father. Or doubt him. Now get another round in.”
“I guess. Are you sure you want another one, though? You can’t put ‘em away like you used to, Dad.”
“It’s Christmas, you cheeky sod. I’ll have a whiskey chaser, too!”
We were all quite merry when we got back to the house. Mum and Sis were a bit giggly too – they had stayed behind to add the final touches to the table and ensure all was cooked to perfection before Her Majesty did her traditional address-the-nation thing. They’d emptied a bottle of prosecco in the process. The tightly stuffed turkey was now decorated with tinsel and resplendent in the middle of the table. We sat down, pulled crackers, donned paper hats, read out familiar jokes and were fully ready for the smoked salmon starters just as soon as we’d sung along to God Save The Queen.
“Right, that’s her finished! TV off and let’s get stuck in!”
Things might have gone okay. They probably would have in fact; the first course was fine. But Cousin Dave thinks he’s far funnier than he actually is and, so, he naturally doesn’t know when to let a good gag go. He decided it would be amusing to continue to tease Dad about his reincarnation revelations, grabbing the chance to challenge him continuously in front of a captive audience. Surely, if he wasn’t a liar, then he would flex his skills and bring the pride of place festive fowl back to life?
I was starting to feel anxious. Dad has never shirked a challenge. This was going to be embarrassing. He would have to admit it had just been the alcohol talking. He was a very good carpenter, not the Dead Turkey Whisperer. He was staring hard at noisy Cousin Dave now though, and a tense atmosphere had replaced the expectant buzz of the soon-to-be-fed Christ is born celebrants. Dad turned his gaze to the rest of us would-be feasters and smiled confidently. Then he turned back at Dave.
“Raise the parson’s nose!” he declared, ceremoniously.
“Darling…” said Mum, nervously. “What are you… Darling, you’re not going to…”
But Cousin Dave was already fingering the rear flap of the tinsel-ed turkey and leering at Dad with that harsh beery challenge still bright in his eyes. A silence fell as Dad, somewhat unsteadily, got to his feet, steadied himself with one hand on the edge of the table and then, uttering a very unchristian sounding incantation, thrust the middle finger of his other hand up the dead bird’s jacksy.
Nothing happened. Everyone just stared at Dad. He shrugged and sat back down. “I’m probably rusty.”
“Just as well,” said Mum, whilst Dave triumphantly muttered something along the lines of “Ha! I knew he was faking.”
Moments later, as Mum was dishing out roast potatoes from a large Pyrex dish, what I can only describe as an unholy squawk suddenly interrupted the jollity. An anguished outcry emanating from the kitchen halted all acts of revelry. Everyone jumped. Mum dropped the dish. Cousin Dave jumped again – two hot spuds had rolled off the table onto his lap. He squealed and flapped them away. Everyone stared at each other. Then at the door. At the gap under the door to be precise. A scrawny neck was slithering its way in. Cold, mottled, veiny, trailing blood and ripped tendons but very much alive. We all jumped again when we heard a bump. Then a thump. Then another bump. Then another thump. Then we made a mixture of unnatural noises as the head finally managed to squeeze under the door too.
We stared at it and it stared back – all sharp beak, beady red-eyes and angered intensity. The neck righted itself. The head was now up and able to look around fully, able to locate its target accurately. Once satisfied, the neck scrunched down into itself like a coiled spring, then launched toward the table. Screams now as it landed, sending gravy spraying and cranberry sauce splattering onto Christmas jumpers and jaw-dropped faces. In a moment, it had re-attached to its basted body and let out a further anguished cry. Then, it immediately stretched left and right to peck at any human body part still in reach. No mercy – we were obviously all in the frame for the blame.
A sharp tap at the window came next, causing further shrieks.
“Where did you cut off the claws?”
Click-click, crack-crack, crash! An opening carved in the tempered glass and the feet were in. Hock, shank, spur, claw and more trailing tendons. Tip-toeing terrors. They scrambled down the curtains, then scuttled past the brightly wrapped presents under the tree and launched themselves at their dismembered body too. Expletives from the adults now, all decorum and respect for the occasion lost as the cooked bird reassembled and started to shift.
The first movement the reformed turkey made was to raise its haunches even higher and then violently fart out its stuffing in the direction of Bubbles, the cat – a sage and onion bullet that might have taken her head off had she not managed to dodge, allowing the life-size inflatable Santa to take the impact and explode majestically. Bubbles bolted through the cat flap, Granny clutched at her heart whilst two-year-old Jamie clapped his hands and gleefully banged his plastic spoon on the table.
The re-headed, feet-reunited turkey rose fully then, growling not gobbling now, and eyed each of us in turn.
“F… me! Peter’s sent us a phoenix!” Chuckled Granddad, who had been seriously ill for the last six months and was probably, in many ways, past caring. He seemed the least concerned to exit when the rush started.
Cousin Dave was first to the door but then jumped back following the crash of a dustbin lid toppling and then the immediate influx of feathers flooding through the letterbox.
“Quick! The back door!” Cried Sis, and we all followed her lead.
Dad was last out, dragging Grandad and carrying Jamie. He hurriedly slammed the door and joined the rest of us just in time. As if on cue, the timed Christmas tree lights came on to highlight the hideous scenes happening inside. Shivering in the garden and pressing our noses against the patio windows, it was fascinating to see the feathers return to their previous host – a kind of post-posthumous triumphant re-crowning, a macabre coronation that, in all honesty, was becoming far too horrific to fathom.
Grandad, however, was like himself reborn. He was hopping from foot to foot, giggling like a six-year-old and cracking gags probably only a six-year-old would have laughed at.
“We should have named him – would have made it easier to negotiate our return. How about ‘Punky’? Look at the state of him!”
Many of the feathers were missing. He’d been plucked in the garden and the dustbin hadn’t coped with all of his sheddings, so the wind had taken much of his coat away. The result was even more sinister; the partial re-plucking had created a dreadful zombie patch-work piece of pre-lived poultry.
He looked menacingly toward the patio and eyed us each individually again, then, very deliberately, squatted over the bowl of still-steaming sprouts and added a grey offensive jus. That brought the loudest gasp from Aunty Babs who always brought the very best from Budgens.
Mum was speechless and furious at the same time. She finally managed to shout at Dad, “You promised me! You promised me you’d never… not after we had kids…. not after that mouse in Marks and Spencer!”
Dad looked very sheepish but he’d made his point, I guessed. He wasn’t a bragger by nature and he had been provoked. If anyone was to blame, it was Cousin Dave. And throughout all of this, part of me was feeling quite proud of Dad; there was a definite element of cool in being able to resurrect the main event during the main event.
“We should have a sing song!” Chuckled Grandad. “On the first day of Christmas, my true love sent to me … a half bald Psycho Turkey…”
Cousin Dave seemed more shocked than anyone. He had sat down with his head in his hands and was rocking from side to side, muttering a repeating mantra. “Necromancer… I didn’t think… I never believed… he’s a necromancer…I never thought… he couldn’t… I shouldn’t… I’m sorry…I’m sorry…”
The rest of us watched awe-struck as the born-again bird flapped from the table to the tree. It was a seven-foot pine-treated whopper from Homebase but no match for an irate undead intent on vengeful destruction. The tree toppled and took the TV with it. Dad visibly winced.
“We’ve gotta do something!” cried mum
“Yeah. Call the midwife! Or Ghostbusters! Or better still, an estate agent,” suggested Grandad.
“What are we gonna do, Son? She’ll never forgive me.” Dad whispered.
I’d never seen Dad look so morose and I never usually have the right answer to any question but I guess we all occasionally get inspiration.
“Do you remember Tyson, Dad?”
“Yeah. But I don’t reckon even a heavyweight boxer would want to get involved with that thing.”
“No, not that Tyson, Dad. Where are we standing?”
“In a frozen garden without our coats watching a deranged turkey that I recklessly revived systematically destroy Christmas, our house and my marriage.”
“Yeah, but where else?”
“We’re stood almost exactly where she’s buried.”
“Tyson…Tyson! Yeah, I suppose you’re right, we are.”
“Unusual name for a miniature poodle but she earned it, didn’t she, Dad?”
“Not half. Feisty little thing.”
“She was completely territorial too.,,”
“Yeah, the postman hated her.”
“Went ballistic if anyone came so near as the front gate…”
“There was never any fear of us being burgled when she was around.”
“Toughest little thing I’ve ever known.”
“Yeah. She was prepared to take on all-comers round the park.”
“A pit bull in a little lamb’s clothing.”
“Exactly! And if you remember, she used to be able to fit through the cat-flap, too.”
“Yeah…yes… Yes, she did! Dave! Quick! Get up, get yourself together, get a shovel, get over here and get digging!”
Copyright H. B. O’Neil 2020
H. B. O’Neill is a London born writer inspired by the City and its myriad opportunity for comedy, pain, drama and adventure. He is a proud resident of Barking and Dagenham and determined to help steer the Borough to the pinnacle of literary esteem. He is a prize-winning poet and short story writer, a screenwriter, playwright and author. His much-anticipated novel According to Mark is due to be published soon.
www.hboneill.com and twitter @ArthurShilling
Moments later, as Mum was dishing out roast potatoes from a large Pyrex dish, what I can only describe as an unholy squawk suddenly interrupted the jollity. An anguished outcry emanating from the kitchen halted all acts of revelry. Everyone jumped. Mum dropped the dish. Cousin Dave jumped again – two hot spuds had rolled off the table onto his lap. He squealed and flapped them away. Everyone stared at each other. Then at the door. At the gap under the door to be precise. A scrawny neck was slithering its way in.