ek_johnston: (writing)
[personal profile] ek_johnston

A Turkey For Mrs. Eckert*
(*names changed to protect the conspirators)

 
The best part was that only two people ever knew who started it: the butcher and Heather Dinsmore. Heather knew because it had been her idea. The butcher knew because of the turkey.

*

Heather pressed the brake pedal and slid into second gear to cross the tracks. The pavement, which had only been repaired once since the last time the Leafs won the Cup, buckled around rails that bore the passage of only three trains a week. She put the window down despite the threatening November sky, and called out a cheery “Hello!” to the elderly pedestrian crossing in the other direction.

She knew better than to offer a ride.

Molly Eckert had walked the mile and three quarters from her house to where she babysat, rain or shine, every day of the three years leading up to the birthday when she qualified for her senior’s discount. Two years beyond that and another baby to mind hadn’t altered her routine at all. “The walk’s what keeps me healthy,” she’d say if offered a lift, “I’d best keep at it.”

There weren’t a lot of people in town, and Molly had looked after most of them at one time or another. She’d seen all four of Heather’s children through the chicken pox, and had a way of preparing Kraft Dinner that no one else could duplicate. Her own children were grown and gone, and she kept house by herself, making ends meet with a frugality perfected by years of practice.

Heather rolled up the window and continued down Main Street. The stores had their decorations up already, though they looked a little naked without the accentuating blanket of snow. There weren’t a lot of people out today; most shops were closed on Monday mornings. Heather pulled into a parking spot across from the butcher shop and headed in.

The store was empty, and quiet except for the hum of the refrigeration units. She rang the bell.

“I’ll be right out!” called a voice from the back. A few moments later, the butcher appeared.

“Good morning!” said Heather. “I’m hoping I can still order a Christmas turkey.”

“Of course!” he said, pulling out a notebook. “When for and how big?”

“Twenty-five pounds or so,” she said. “And as close to the 24th as possible.”

“The 22nd’s the last day we’re open,” he told her, making a note.

“That’s fine,” Heather said. “How much?”

“You pay when you pick it up,” he explained. “That way we’ll know for sure what it weighs.”

“Excellent, thank you.” Heather dug into her pocket for her keys, mind already jumping ahead to her busy schedule for the next few weeks. She turned and walked towards the door.

Then she had an idea.

*

The butcher didn’t entirely understand what he was getting into. He knew that Christmas generally brought out the best in people, and he knew that it was an annual event, but he failed to grasp the scope of what lay in store. Heather never had any doubts.

*

“You want to buy Molly Eckert’s turkey?” the butcher asked.

“I don’t want to buy Molly Eckert’s turkey,” Heather explained. “I want to buy a turkey for Molly Eckhart.”

“She’s already ordered it.”

“You just said that nobody pays until they pick it up.” Heather pointed out. “How big is it?”

“Twelve pounds.”

“Bump it up to twenty or so.” Heather said. “When I come to get mine, I’ll pay for both.”

“What am I supposed to tell Molly when she shows up and her turkey’s grown eight pounds and paid for itself?”

“Tell her it was the Ghost of Christmas Present,” Heather said, already turning to leave the shop. This time as she headed for the door, her step was lighter and the day seemed less cluttered.

After the door closed behind her, the butcher stood at the counter for a few long minutes. A smile crept stealthily across his face.

“Ghost of Christmas Present,” he muttered, shaking his head. He laughed and walked into the back room, whistling “God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen”.

*

The town paper was always issued on Wednesdays. The week following New Year’s, there was an entry in the Notes of Thanks section: To the Ghost of Christmas Present. Thank you for the turkey. We enjoyed it very much. Love, Molly and Family. People took notice.

*

Heather had no trouble finding a parking spot on Main Street. Few people did their Christmas shopping in town anymore, choosing the cold-lit mayhem of Wal-Mart or the friendly and crowded boutiques in Stratford instead. It didn’t stop the downtown merchants from trying, of course.

Main Street was a gallery of well-dressed windows, each with coordinated lights. The Business Owners Association had even persuaded the owners of buildings whose storefronts stood empty to participate, turning the street into an unbroken line of holiday spirit. Heather liked to walk past the windows, so she chose a spot farther away from the butcher shop than usual, and took her time getting there.

Heather paused in front of the bakery window. The shop had changed owners and locations three times in the past two years, through retirement, mismanagement, and youthful energy and optimism. The current owner was actually making a go of it. Main Street didn’t have too many permanent fixtures, and seeing the same window display two Christmases running was actually a novelty. As she admired the display, Heather realized that something had indeed changed: last year, the tiny postmen who walked between the iced fruitcake houses had been carrying stockings and candy canes. This year, they carried miniature turkeys.

Heather smiled, thinking about her secret. It was not always an easy one to keep. The first year, in his excitement over seeing the thank you note in the paper, the butcher had almost ruined it. He’d burst into the bakery where Heather was having coffee with a particularly chatty friend.

“Have you seen the paper yet?” he’d asked excitedly, and thrust the incriminating newspaper at her.

She’d managed to deflect him, and since then he’d come to regard the secret as much his own as it was hers.

She pushed open the butcher shop’s door and was greeted by the sound of jingle bells. The butcher had taken his seasonal decorations very seriously this year: there were red and green garlands on the walls, ice frosting the cooler glass, and real holly festooning the cold cuts. Heather was impressed at the changes the Christmas season had wrought. It didn’t exactly smell like holiday cheer, but it looked the part.

The butcher emerged from the back just after the door swung closed. His eyes were twinkling, and his face lit up with a large grin.

“Is the wind picking up out there at all?” he asked. There was a chance of flurries tonight.

“No, it’s still clear and cold,” Heather replied.

“Good. I don’t want to open tomorrow unless I have to, and if the weather stays clear, hopefully people will pick up their birds tonight instead.” The butcher was already half-turned towards the back. “Let me go get yours out of the deep freeze.”

*

The butcher had not looked forward to Christmas with this much excitement in years. As each day brought him closer, his anticipation grew. He couldn’t wait to see her face. Heather Dinsmore was in for a surprise.

*

“Has Molly picked up hers yet?” Heather asked as the butcher deposited her twenty-seven pound turkey on the counter.

“First thing this morning,” he replied. “She was waiting for me when I opened.”

“She didn’t walk home with it, did she?”

“No, she said she had the car.”

“That’s good. There’s keeping fit, and then there’s being crazy.” Heather rummaged in her purse for her wallet. “How much?”

The butcher named his price.

“That doesn’t sound like two turkeys.” Heather eyed the butcher with suspicion.

“That’s because you’re only paying for Mrs. Eckert’s.” The smile on his face clearly indicated how much he’d been looking forward to this conversation.

She stared at him, not comprehending, for about five seconds and then: “Someone paid for my turkey.”

“Got it in one!” he said, practically rolling on the balls of his feet.

“Who?” she demanded.

“Really, Heather,” he said, his face suddenly full of completely feigned seriousness. “You of all people should know better than to ask me that.”

“Why would someone buy my turkey?” she asked.

“I didn’t ask the particulars,” he admitted. “And even if I knew I wouldn’t tell you. I will say this, though: you’re not the first. This is just the first time it’s come all the way back to you.”

With a stunned smile on her face, Heather paid for Molly’s turkey, wished the butcher a Merry Christmas, and headed back to her car. As she crossed the tracks on the drive home, the turkey jostled around on the passenger seat beside her. She reached a hand out to steady it, thinking of the window display at the bakery, and laughed.

*

After New Year’s, there were eight notes of thanks about turkeys submitted to the newspaper. The editor was curious, and dispatched a reporter to the butcher shop to see what it was all about. The butcher refused the interview, which only made the story more sensational.

*

December 1st arrived with a roaring blizzard on its heels. The whole town was buried for two days, and school was closed again on the 3rd. The local high school had closed down two years ago, necessitating a twenty minute bus ride to a neighbouring town. The number of snow days had increased by half.

It wasn’t just the high school that closed, either: The two United Churches, faced with shrinking and aging congregations, had amalgamated, and the empty building was knocked down. The owner of the longest running family business on Main Street had retired and left no one to take her place. There had been three different restaurants perched on the main intersection, trying with limited success to entice travelers off the highway. And the butcher shop was gone.

Heather had put off ordering her turkey until December because she wasn’t entirely sure where she was going to order it from. She was also a little bit sad; it would be nearly impossible to determine where Molly would order her turkey and still maintain secrecy about it. Heather wasn’t the only one. Over the past few Christmases the number of Mystery Turkeys, as the paper dubbed them, had grown to more than forty. And now all of it was finished.

Heather and her husband rode out the blizzard and dug themselves out of the snow with a nonchalance born of experience. When they heard the plough go by, they decided they could probably get to the mailbox, and Heather bundled herself up for the short walk.

The paper had come. Heather read the headline on the front page with excitement: “Butcher shop open for mystery turkeys”, but couldn’t turn the pages with her mittens on. She walked home quickly, the cold air burning her throat, and left her coat and boots in a pile by the door as she hurried into the kitchen to read.

The article was fairly short, detailing why the shop had closed and giving a brief history of the Mystery Turkeys that was not entirely accurate. The final paragraph was the most important. It gave the butcher’s phone number and instructions on how to leave a message if no one picked up.

Heather wasted no time dialing the phone, fingers still clumsy from the cold.

“Hello?” the butcher said, picking up after two and a half rings.

“Hello, it’s Heather Dinsmore calling,” Heather said.

“Heather!” the butcher said. “Perfect timing. I just got off the phone with Molly Eckert.”

“How do I do this, then?” Heather asked.

“You order your own turkey, and tell me whose turkey you want to buy,” the butcher explained. “If someone pays for yours in the meantime, well, so much the better.”

“That sounds a little complicated,” Heather said.

“Oh, my daughter’s got a spreadsheet,” the butcher said. “So at least someone will know what’s what. And she knows how to keep a secret.”

“You’re bribing her, aren’t you?”

“Why, Mrs. Dinsmore, what a thing to suggest!” the butcher laughed.

“When do I pick it up?”

*

The butcher shop never reopened, but every Christmas there were more Mystery Turkeys. The New Year’s edition of the paper had a special section for thank you notes. Heather read them all and smiled, knowing only that she was first. Molly never did figure out who had purchased hers, but she watched the idea snowball through the town. The newspaper editor wrote an article every year which got nearly all of the details wrong, but kept the idea alive. The only person who knew the whole story was the butcher.

And the butcher wasn’t talking.

Date: 2010-02-19 04:42 am (UTC)
colej55: (Default)
From: [personal profile] colej55
What a lovely story! It makes me ashamed of shopping entirely at the Wal-mart. Wish we had a local butcher shop....

You're solidly on your way to being a REAL writer! More, please!!! Stick with the original writing because you are definitely going to succeed.

Date: 2010-02-20 03:25 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] eldanna
It's things like this that make me love small towns (in any country). Pity there are so few 'small' towns anymore. But I still have the Bala butcher!

(Sorry it took me so long to read this)

Date: 2011-05-07 01:33 pm (UTC)
shadadukal: (Stock : winter)
From: [personal profile] shadadukal
This is so well written. I owe you some novel reading. So little time!

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ek_johnston

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