Gratitude is not a strictly Christian virtue, and even the vegan Wiccans of Arcanum like to gather their loved ones for a Thanksgiving feast. This is an excerpt from my second novel “Power Tools in the Sacred Grove” that shows Brenwyn’s Thanksgiving while Marc recuperates after being trounced by a invisible tentacle demon.
MARC LOOKED ON WITH ADMIRATION as Brenwyn laid out the complete Thanksgiving dinner across the range and counters. It totaled a dozen courses and appetizers in glittering cut glass serving dishes. He couldn’t remember all of the proposed items, but he recognized the vegetable trays, cream of pumpkin soup and vegan stuffing made with oyster mushrooms. Brenwyn even made a few vegan Mexican dishes he never heard of before, including something made of peppers and prickly pears.
It wasn’t just her prodigious cooking achievements he admired. For the last week and a half, Brenwyn had been wearing incredibly modest clothing: high neck sweaters, loose pants, and flannel PJs at night. Tonight, she was wearing a more characteristic bohemian skirt along with a tight bodice and a low-cut top worthy of a serving wench. The sight was definitely something to make him feel thankful.
Michael and Eleazar upheld their end of Thanksgiving tradition by sitting in the living room and playing cards. Brenwyn didn’t seem to mind. She did a final mop-up around the sink and looked up at Marc.
“Tell me again that you are not horribly disappointed with a vegetarian Thanksgiving?”
She had promised him red meat, but he hadn’t delivered on his end of the bargain. He still walked with a cane, if only for the moments that his strength suddenly gave out.
“As long as it’s home-cooking,” he reassured her, “I’m thrilled.”
Eleazar called out from the living room:
“And some hapless bird is alive because of your humane actions.”
“The corporate farms set their kill quotas on projected demand.” Michael carefully studied his cards, not looking up as he popped Eleazar’s balloon. “No matter what, that turkey’s going to die.”
“At least we will not have their bad karma to bear,” Brenwyn said with a smile and a nod. She carried the first of the serving trays over to the dining room table.
“A little bad karma is good for you,” Eleazar said. “Nothing like a hint of damnation to add spice to life.”
“Then your love life must be like Szechuan cooking.” Michael looked at Eleazar with an expression that was either disgust or exasperation. “If you were shot by an angry husband today, would you go to Heaven? Or would your soul just take the express elevator to Hell?”
“Don’t talk to me about damned for your love life,” Eleazar countered. “According to the Old Testament, decent people should be throwing rocks at you.”
Brenwyn returned to the kitchen for a second trip. She raised her eyebrows in amusement as she passed Marc. He merely shook his head, having heard this argument a dozen times before.
“Good thing for me there are no decent people here,” Michael said.
“Michael,” Marc growled in a low warning tone.
Michael looked first at Marc, then at Brenwyn, and he cringed.
“At the card table,” Michael said. “Sorry, Brenwyn.”
“No need for apologies, Michael.” Brenwyn was being especially gracious today.
“Could you cut out the Judeo-Christian dogma?” Marc asked with a shudder. “Makes my skin crawl.”
“Fear not, milord,” Eleazar declaimed. “Brenwyn’s karma will run over our dogma. It was a just a stray dogma anyway.”
Brenwyn shook her head as she ferried more plates to the dining room.
“Perhaps you could finish your game and wash up?” she said. “I shall be setting out the main course shortly.”
“Excellent!” Michael said. “Oh, I almost forgot.” Michael picked up a card and laid down his hand. “Gin! I’m going to the bathroom, now.”
Michael stood and turned to leave.
“You’ve done me in again, you varlet!” Eleazar slapped down his cards in frustration. “What do I owe you now?”
“A week’s laundry,” Michael said as he turned the corner into the hall. “No reds with lights this time.”
“I told you that was an accident,” Eleazar called after him. “Besides, you look good in pink, milord.”
Brenwyn came over to Marc and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Thank you.”
“What for?” Marc didn’t think he’d done anything worthy of her gratitude, though he would take it.
“Protecting my sensibilities. Defending my honor,” she said. “It is very sweet.”
“Chivalry is not dead—it just feels that way.” Standing for several minutes, even with his cane, had his legs and back complaining. “You’re sure I can’t help with anything?”
“You can go sit down and wait for dinner.”
“I feel so useless.” Though it sounded like a great idea to his legs, he couldn’t just surrender.
“You are not useless,” she said, stroking his cheek. “You are decorative.”
“I love you too, but—”
Brenwyn cut him off short: “But your self-worth and male ego are dependent on what you can do, not who you are. Forget about it, beloved.”
“I can’t just forget.”
“Then suppress and sublimate,” she said, “as you do with your other manly impulses.”
“Good,” she said as she scooped up the vegan antipasto platter. “Now, sit down before I take away your cane.”
Brenwyn glided in with the last two trays of vegetables and set them in front of Eleazar. As she returned to the kitchen, he squeezed a black olive from the tray onto his pinkie. He waved that at Michael like a finger puppet and then sucked it off his finger with a pop. Michael looked to the heavens for guidance.
With the two ‘children’ seated to his left, it felt like a real family to Marc, with all its bad and good. Brenwyn had gone all out, decorating the table and the dining room with wheat, corn, pomegranates, and apples. Stars and Brigid’s crosses made of the wheat straw took the place of the construction paper turkeys he grew up with.
“Prepare yourselves for the guest of honor,” Brenwyn called from the kitchen.
She returned with the vegan turkey breast on a garnished tray. Six drumsticks, also synthetic, stuck out of the turkey-like object. Brenwyn set the tray down to polite applause and seated herself at Marc’s right.
“Wow, six legs,” Michael said. “You don’t get that with a farm-raised turkey.”
“Maybe a Chernobyl chicken,” Eleazar quipped.
Brenwyn pointed to the large fork and carving knife set beside Marc’s place at the table.
“Would you care to do the honors?” she asked.
“Certainly.” Marc stood to perform his Thanksgiving duties. “Dark tofu or light?”
The others started passing around serving platters and filling their plates as Marc carved.
“I hope you all like this,” Brenwyn said. “It is my own concoction. The commercial turkey replacements all taste too—artificial.”
“I’m sure it will all be most appetizing,” said Eleazar. “Pass the simulated gravy, please.”
Michael looked awkwardly around the table.
“Excuse me,” he said. “This may sound really uncool, but isn’t somebody going to say grace?”
Eleazar looked as uncomfortable as Marc felt. Brenwyn smiled, looking just the slightest bit amused.
“I don’t think I’m—” Marc started to say.
“Well, I’m not either,” Eleazar blurted.
“Well, it just seems wrong not to give thanks,” Michael said. “At least, for this terrific meal. And I’m agnostic.”
“Thank you,” Brenwyn said with a nod. “I could say a few words. If you could endure a Wiccan blessing over a vegan turkey?”
“Sounds just about right to me,” Marc said.
“Let me think for a moment.” Brenwyn put a finger to her lips in silent thought. “How about this?
‘We thank you Goddess for your world’s gifts:
the beasts, the plants, the sea.
For all dear friends and all we are
and the strength to be what we must be.’”
“You made that up just now?” Michael was openly impressed.
“Not my best work,” she said with a self-effacing shrug. “But poetry and casting spells, they are the same thing: stringing together words to get the desired effect.”
“Cooking. Poetry,” Michael said. “I never realized you had so many hidden talents.”
Marc started carving the main course rather than attend to another man’s unbridled founts of love for Brenwyn.
“You’d better keep an eye on her, milord,” Eleazar said with a wink and a verbal nudge, “or I might try to steal her away from you.”
Marc’s hand tightened unconsciously on the knife handle. He slipped the blade under a slice of faux turkey and flipped the tofu and sprout amalgam across the table to land on Eleazar’s plate.
“Here, eat up,” Marc grumbled, “so you can compliment her cooking, too.”
Marc lofted another slice farther down the table to land on Michael’s plate. Brenwyn held up her plate to discourage any more aerobatics. Marc placed the six drumsticks on a platter and offered it to her. Brenwyn nodded her approval.
“You’ve got to try the cranberries,” Eleazar said through half a mouth full. “They’re most delectable, milord.”
Eleazar quickly brought a hand up to catch the food falling from his mouth.
“No more sincere compliment than that, I guess,” Marc said.
“Is everything all right, Marc?” Michael asked after a long sideways glance at Marc. “You seem tense.”
“No,” Marc grunted. “No, I’m fine.”
“You were about to splinter that knife handle,” Eleazar pointed out. “That’s either tension, milord, or lockjaw’s setting in.”
“It’s just the holidays,” Marc replied. “Don’t worry about me.”
Brenwyn looked knowingly at Marc.
“Marc comes from a family,” Brenwyn explained, “whose every gathering starts with petty bickering and escalates to a drunken row over the pumpkin pie.”
“We must be related. I have the same family.” Michael visibly twitched, probably thinking about his own last family Thanksgiving dinner.
“Mine, too.” Eleazar seemed paler, too.
“I am surprised that you are not with your family today, Eleazar,” Brenwyn said.
“I didn’t know you could be surprised,” Eleazar said.
“Disappointed, then,” Brenwyn said. “Do you not think that Alice misses you?”
“Not in the least,” Eleazar replied. “As long as a significant portion of my paycheck appears in her accounts, she is satisfied.”
“You see,” Michael said with undisguised glee, “he gets to pay alimony without the messy paperwork of a divorce.”
“You could be free to find happiness with someone else,” Brenwyn told Eleazar. “Are you frightened by that?”
“I’m afraid of Alice,” Eleazar said. “She’s this unpleasant to me now; imagine what a divorce could be like.”
Marc could tell that all three men played out that scenario in their heads. A dreadful silence fell over the room.
“Well, don’t let your food get cold,” Brenwyn said to break the silence. “As my grandmother would say: ‘Eat, you look skinny!’”
The three men laid into the feast without another word.