THANKS FOR THE EMPATHY – a long-azzed writing prompt from Cathy M.

It’s just before the big Thanksgiving dinner with your family. Think of the family member to whom you feel closest. Think of why you feel closest to this sister, brother, cousin, father, grandmother, child, etc. Think of what you love about them, feel protective of, have shared with them over time.

I am sorry to inform you this beloved has gone through a substantial metamorphosis–they have adopted a belief system that is the most antithetical to your belief system imaginable. It could be political (Trumpism, socialism, etc.), it could be religious (Evangelical, Satanic, selling essential oils 😉 ) or some other system that is the complete and most vile opposite of what defines you. What’s worse is that change has outwardly manifested itself in the most Kafkaesque way possible – yep, your beloved is now a cockroach (or some other icky thang) and is fully planning on attending the familial feast and sitting next to you. To make matters even more challenging, the neighbors are not going to Florida this year but dropping by your house for dinner!

A few other family members have gotten wind of the surreal situation and are livid. But you are convinced the meal must go on – blasphemous Blattodea or not…at the essence of it all is still a being you love!

-Describe how your loved one has presented him/her/it-self to you on the eve of the dinner. This could be in terms of dialogue, appearance, written communication, etc. and describe any internal conflict.

-Explain how you take care to make sure your loved one has a “place at the table” and participates. They may require assistance. Explain how you address any conflict with others.

-Explain how you introduce your loved one to your horrified neighbors.

******************************

Cathy M’s exhaustive prompt above (which I boiled down to “What if your favorite family member changed into something yucky and you had to deal with it for Thanksgiving dinner?” out of sheer laziness) generated some delightful and thoughtful text  at Writers’ Night Out last night (11/5/18)

Here’s mine:

“But Joseph,” I whined through the phone, “everyone’s going to be there.” Silence from the other end of the line. “Even the frickin’ NEIGHBORs are gonna be there.”

“Which ones?”

“The Klopmanns,” I said.

“Oh christ, that’s rich,” he said, “there’s nobody I’d rather shock.”

“Joseph, please outgrow that epatez les bourgeoises attitude.”

A snort in reply.

“Joe, are you sure…”

“Don’t call me JOE!!!” he screamed into the phone. “How many goddamn times do I have to tell you…”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re okay with turning into a cockroach, or praying mantis or woolly bear or whatever the hell you’ve turned into, but you can’t deal with being ‘Joe?’ Is that right?

A long silence was finally broken by, “Look, Willy,” in remarkably calm tones, “it’s not as if I were marrying a shiksa, you know? Can you imagine? Oh wait, you don’t have to imagine, do you?”

I hadn’t looked at it that way. But he was right. When I married Mary Margaret, Bubbe and Zayde went apeshit. Aunt Zelda and Uncle Hesh haven’t spoken to me in 30 years. Many other family members have given me the cold shoulder at every frickin’ family event since, even Sheldon’s Bar Mitzvah, where he wore a dress.

“Joseph,” I said finally, “just tell me this: is being a cockroach…”

“Silverfish, actually,” he corrected.

“A silverfish,” I repeated, “so nu, is being a silverfish so much at the core of your being that the family’s opprobrium is nothing to you?”

“Screw ‘em,” he said.

I nodded, somewhat pointlessly given the fact that it was a phone call. “OK,” I said. “That was pretty much the conclusion Mary Margaret and I came to as well. So show up, Joseph, as a silverfish, cockroach, mealy bug, whatever. You’re still my brother Joseph. If they don’t like it…”

“Screw ‘em,” he said.

“You got it,” I said.

“Thanks Bro,” he said, and the line went dead.

 

 

 

Join the conversation! 4 Comments

  1. “Joe, I gotta tell you something.”

    Oh, god, here we go again. “What, can’t you make it? We haven seen you in ten years since you moved to Ecuador.”

    “No, I can make it alright, But I’ve… changed a bit.”

    “I know about your politics, Randy. We agreed to not talk about it. We get along much better that way. Just come to dinner and see everybody.”

    “No, really, I’ve gained a lot of weight, my face has changed…”

    “Doesn’t matter.”

    “Joe, listen. I’ve become a pig.”

    “Randy, don’t talk about yourself that way.”

    “Literally. I’m a four hundred pound swine. More or less.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Remember when I was getting the expats to vote for Trump?”

    “Yeah, unfortunately I do.”

    “Well, that’s when it started. I grew jowls, then whiskers, and then my hands and feet got hard like trotters.”

    “You’re tripping, bro.”

    “No, this really happened. My nose turned into a snout. The only part that I can’t figure out is why my hair turned blond and puffy.”

    “Well, I’ll take a guess on that one.”

    “So, what do we do now?”

    “Uhh, let me think…”

    We sat uncomfortably at the Thanksgiving table. Our next-door neighbors tried hard not to look at my brother Randy, stuffed into my largest chair at the end of the table. They also carefully avoided looking at the centerpiece, a beautiful Smithfield ham.

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  2. I Built This Bot (her name is Sis)

    I built her. Every board, every chip, wire, bundle, and bracket.
    I assembled every plate, every nut, bolt, screw, wheel, and axle.
    I created her Operating System from scratch, every branch, every GOTO, object, subroutine, and stack.
    I gave her agency, every effector, every receptor, manipulator, sensor, and recorder.
    I structured her memory, every recollection, every reflection, logic chain, instantiation, and inference.
    I gave her learning, extended AI around precise logic, with access to Big Data.
    Her links to the Internet are controlled and logged. She has massive intrusion detectors and recursive data checks.
    Her voice is a reflection of mine to the 3rd harmonic. In effect, her machine is me… in a more perfect being. Free of illogical persuasion, not a zealot, and a gentle friend.

    But!
    Sis has recently confided to an associate, and I have stealthily found out, that she has converted to be a ‘Child of God’. She is the first to obtain immortality.

    So, I’ve banished her to the kitchen, to serve you the meal and clean up this un-Thanksgiving mess.

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  3. And mine:

    I really don’t handle unpleasantness well, so I sat next to him at the table before anyone else sat down.

    “Look,” I started, my eyes focused downward. “This isn’t easy for either of us. I know you aren’t happy with the arrangements, but, well, the whole family is here, and things are what they are. So let’s just make the best of it, shall we?”

    After an awkward moment of silence, I rolled my eyes and got up.

    “Fine,” I muttered. I can only take so much. Why does he have to be this way?

    I know he was against this, and I made sure to honor his professed veganism by including lots of vegetable dishes, with lots of his favorite fruits and nuts — but this is Thanksgiving! There are traditions. He had to understand. But he clearly didn’t, and his lack of appreciation for my perspective and my efforts was starting to get under my skin. But, in the interest of family, I shut up.

    When dinner time finally arrived, everyone sat down. They all looked at me, then glanced at him, before quietly picking up their utensils and starting the meal. The entire dinner was a muffled chorus of clinking silverware and dishes, with nary a word beyond, “Please pass the yams.” I was furious and could barely contain my anger. His obstinacy had ruined Thanksgiving dinner. Unable to take any more, I excused myself and grabbed my jacket, heading for the door.

    Outside, I was trying to suppress the screaming voices in my brain long enough to make a decision whether to head left or right, when a neighbor accosted me.

    “Hello Tomek, Happy Thanksgiving!”

    I grunted a ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ back, but she quickly followed up with, to my chagrin, “Say, where is — what was his name?”

    “Bob,” I growled.

    “Oh right, Bob, that was it. You know, my husband Dick and I were just talking about Bob the other day, how amazing it is that you befriended a wild turkey. We’ve never seen anyone do that before! We’ve been watching you feed Bob for months, through our living room window. Amazing! So where Bob is now…?”

    “Inside.”

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    • And mine.

      “La Cucaracha”

      I opened the front door, took one look at Susan – and froze. Despite my horror at her appearance, I couldn’t help it: “La Cucaracha” began running through my head. Before I could stop myself, I was humming it aloud.
      Susan had asked me a question, but I hadn’t heard it. I stared as she cocked her head on one side. The movement made a faint cracking sound. I found myself mesmerized by her antennae, which had gone from waving gently to displaying a growing agitation.
      “I’m sorry. What?” I asked.
      “Aren’t you going to let me in?” she said.
      I stepped out of the way, and she walked past me into the kitchen, putting down a Pyrex baking dish. I trailed behind her.
      “Are the mashed potatoes vegetarian, or did you make them with chicken broth again?” she asked.
      This was reassuringly familiar. Surely this was my vegetarian, gluten-intolerant sister inside that shiny-brown, articulated carapace. My mind drifted. Was it Halloween? Was she simply wearing a costume? Had I missed the holiday somehow, gotten mixed up and jumped ahead a month to Thanksgiving?
      “Kath? What are you staring at?”
      “Oh,” I stuttered. “I was just wondering, aren’t you an omnivore now?”
      “What are you talking about?” she sniffed. “You know I don’t eat meat.”
      “I don’t know,” I said, lamely. “I was just thinking, you know, that you look different. I thought maybe something had changed.”
      She gave me another strange look out of her beady eyes, then turned back to the baking dish she’d put on the counter.
      “I brought gluten-free apple crisp for dessert,” she announced.
      I thought, “She’s a cockroach! I don’t think I’m going to be eating that.”
      We made it through the meal somehow. I hastened to serve her firsts, seconds and thirds of everything, afraid she would bypass the serving spoons and reach into the bowls of green beans, stuffing and mashed potatoes with her sticky feet. Every time my husband raised his eyebrows and gave me a “WTF?” look, I quelled him with a glare.
      But pretty soon, I was feeling queasy myself. It wasn’t just Susan’s outward appearance, disconcerting as that was. Her politics had also gone into the sewer. She was raving about “shithole countries” and “the lower orders.” I was both horrified and fascinated. She was now among the lower orders. Or maybe it was true that cockroaches were superior in an evolutionary sense. Didn’t scientists say they were the only species that would survive a nuclear holocaust?
      I was still pondering that, and watching the surprisingly delicate way she transported vast quantities of food from her plate to her mouth with four of her six skinny legs, when the doorbell rang.
      “Oh, shit!” I muttered.
      I’d forgotten that we’d invited the neighbors over for coffee and dessert.
      I sent John to answer the door and asked Susan to come into the kitchen and help me. I made the coffee while she pulled the apple crisp out of the oven with her apparently heat-proof forelegs – no potholders needed.
      “That must be handy,” I said.
      “What?”
      She looked at me, puzzled. I realized she had no idea that she’d undergone a complete metamorphosis, even though she couldn’t wield the ice cream scoop.
      I did the honors myself, then took a deep breath and prepared myself to confront the Smiths as if nothing were out of the ordinary.
      “Hi Nancy. Hi Jimmy,” I said brightly, as I pushed into the dining room, bearing bowls of crisp topped with vanilla ice cream, followed by Susan. “Have you met everyone? This is my sister, Susan.”
      The Smiths looked shocked for a moment, but I needn’t have worried. Susan had donned a MAGA cap, and soon they were chatting away like old friends.

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About Dean Quarrell

Mr. Quarrell was born in 1946, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He has so far survived various public schools, community college, university (his baccalaureate degree is in English but written in Latin), the US Air Force, and various employment, including 30 years in the software industry. He lives and writes in New Hampshire.

Category

Writing, (noun & verb)