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by Dan Nielsen

It was a normal Thanksgiving. William was at the kiddie table. The kiddie table was a card table with a towel on top. Yes, it had a picture of a turkey. The kiddie table was uncomfortably located on the seldom used and unheated sunporch. If this were a restaurant his father would demand another table and his mother would tell his father not to make a stink.

William was an only child. Which is why, he being an only child, he was the only child at the kiddie table. His parents had Thanksgiving dinner in the TV room on TV trays watching TV. William wasn’t allowed to watch TV. Because it was bad for him. Or because he was bad. It had been so long he’d forgotten. But it amounted to the same thing.

William wore a coat and hat and scarf and mittens. It wasn’t that cold, but he was making a point. It would be less cold if the windows closed at the top. They did close at the top, but they didn’t stay closed at the top. They very slowly opened at the top and had to be pushed up. His father was the only one who could reach, once a month. In winter, this was to save on heat. In summer, to keep out bats.

This was fall and all the bats were asleep in the attic and it wasn’t that cold so the windows at the top were open a good inch.

“Here.”

Mrs. Mortenson, as William liked to call her, laid down a plate of food.

“Thanks, Mrs. Mortenson.”

The TV was loud enough for William to hear. He listened to the football game. Packers versus Lions. William didn’t care who won. It didn’t matter who won.

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, it’s how you play the game,” Mr. Mortenson said the time he tried to teach William to play chess and William won five games in a row.

“Did you just make that up, Mr. Mortenson?” William asked.

“Yes, I did,” Mr. Mortenson said.

“That’s funny,” William said, “I’m pretty sure it was Grantland Rice.”

William was a vegetarian. Because meat was bad for him. Or because he was bad. It had been so long since he’d tasted meat he’d forgotten. But it amounted to the same thing.

He could smell the turkey. It was a good smell. If he remembered correctly, it tasted good, too. But there was food on his plate and the rule was he couldn’t leave the table, even the kiddie table, until his plate was clean, which meant eating everything on it. The other rule was that William couldn’t go to bed until all the plates were clean, which meant doing the dishes.

William ate the cranberry sauce. He ate the seven-layer salad. He ate the marshmallow fluff with fruit cocktail. He ate the sweet potatoes and the gravyless mashed potatoes. He was about to eat the green bean casserole, but it smelled funny, so he didn’t.

“Clean your plate!” Mrs. Mortenson shouted.

“The green bean casserole smells funny, Mrs. Mortenson,” William said.

“You know the rule!” Mrs. Mortenson yelled. “And when you’ve finished that, there are dishes to do!”

The Lions versus Packers game was over. And then the Cowboys versus Redskins game was over. And the green bean casserole wasn’t smelling any less funny.

William heard vomiting.


Dan Nielsen drinks bourbon and plays ping pong. Old credits include Random House and University of Iowa Press anthologies. Recent work in Jellyfish Review, Bird’s Thumb, Minor Literature[s], Storm Cellar, Random Sample, and Pidgeonholes. Dan has a website, Preponderous, and follow him @DanNielsenFIVES

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