S.G. Browne

A Breathers Thanksgiving

To commemorate the holiday, I thought it appropriate to share the Thanksgiving chapter from Breathers.  But if you’re really looking forward to digging into some turkey, you might want to avoid the part about sloughage.  So don’t blame me if it ruins your appetite.

Happy Thanksgiving!

BREATHERS – Chapter 28

In light of my recent displays of “spirited rebellion,” as she put it, and my father’s exponentially increasing resentment towards me, my mother thought we might patch up our problems and differences if we all sat down and shared a nice, family Thanksgiving dinner together.

“Just like old times,” she says.

The three of us are sitting around the dining room table in a stifling, uncomfortable silence. My father shovels cranberry sauce and turkey into his mouth, refusing to speak to or make eye contact with me or with my mother, while Mom abandoned her attempts at making conversation after my father told her to “Shut it.” Now she just sits in her chair, holding back tears and biting her lower lip as she picks at the stuffing and green beans on her plate.

My parents don’t appear to be in the holiday spirit.

Meanwhile, I’m thankful just to be eating at the table. It’s the first time my parents have invited me to join them for a meal since my third day back, when one of the stitches on my face popped and a piece of rotting tissue fell into my mother’s homemade gazpacho.

Needless to say, Mom hasn’t made it since.

Fortunately, my stitches seem to be holding fast these days, better than I would have imagined after four months. So I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for a lot of things, more than I would have imagined barely more than a month ago.

I’m thankful for my support group.
I’m thankful for Rita.
I’m thankful for meeting Ray.
And I’m thankful my speech is returning.

It’s still rudimentary, but when your vocabulary has consisted of grunts and screeches that make Leatherface sound like a Rhodes scholar, anything is an improvement.

In addition to “I Eeta,” I’ve managed to vocalize a few other expressions:

“Ooo ook ate.” (You look great.)
“Sss eese.” (Yes please.)
“Hank ooo.” (Thank you.)
And “Ow oo I ell?” (How do I smell?)

Coming from a nine-month old in a high chair with creamed corn dripping down his chin, the brief explosions of half-English would probably sound adorable. But coming from a thirty-four-year-old decomposing half-corpse with mashed potatoes and gravy dripping down his chin, well let’s just say it’s probably not going to make anyone reach for the video camera.

So I keep quiet and eat my dinner and look around the table, at my disappointed mother and my brooding father, at all of the food and splendor of this silent, oppressive Thanksgiving feast, until my gaze falls on the turkey with its blistered skin and its vanishing flesh. The more I stare at it, the more I realize that I can relate to it, empathize with it, and it strikes me how much we have in common. True, it’s dead and cooked and partially devoured, but is that so different from me?

As it’s slowly consumed, the bones appear bit by bit, the cartilage and ribs revealing themselves as meat is stripped from the skeleton. Eventually, it will be nothing but a carcass. And I wonder:

Am I being destroyed by Breathers?
Is the process of decomposition gradually consuming me?
Or am I being consumed by the degradation of having to exist in a world ruled by the living?

The longer I stare at the turkey, the more I begin to feel a sort of kinship with it. The more I see it as a metaphor of my current existence. The more I began to understand why Tom would want to become a vegetarian.

Before my father can cut off another slice of breast or tear off another drumstick, I reach over and grab the turkey by its leg and drag it off the serving platter, across the table toward me.

“Hey,” says my father, his mouth filled with stuffing, pieces of it spraying across the table. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”


Take your pick. All I know is it feels right.

The turkey overturns the gravy boat on its way toward me, dumping its contents on to the tablecloth and into the cranberry sauce.

“Goddamn it!” yells my father, dropping his knife and fork and reaching for the turkey.

“Honestly, honey,” says my mother, happy just to have some sort of interaction taking place. “If you wanted some more, all you had to do was ask.”

Before my father can grab the other drumstick, I pull the sixteen pound Butterball into my lap, knocking my plate aside and off the edge of the table, where it lands on the hardwood and cracks in two, spilling my dinner across the floor.

“Andy!” says my mother. “Those are my best dinner plates.”

“Give me that turkey,” says my father, who gets to his feet and comes around the table with his head thrust out in front of him the way does whenever he means business. It used to scare the crap out of me when I was a kid. But I’m not a kid anymore. And I’m not giving up my turkey.

I push back in the chair and stand up, more sure of myself than I’ve been in months, and cradle the holiday personification of my essence against my stomach with my right arm as I back away toward the cellar door. Just before my father reaches me, he steps in my spilled mashed potatoes and goes down hard, smacking his elbow on the table.

“Are you all right, dear?” asks Mom, who is still sitting in her chair as if all of this is completely normal.

My father doesn’t answer, just gets to his feet and comes after me. I’ve almost reached the wine cellar door when he catches up and grabs hold of an exposed drumstick. I don’t think he even cares about eating the turkey anymore. He just doesn’t want me to have it.

Part of me wonders just what the hell I expected to accomplish. How I expected this to improve my situation. Another part of me finds this more fun than any recent Thanksgiving I can remember, so I start to laugh.

“This isn’t funny,” says my father, trying to pull the turkey away from me, but I’ve got a firm grip on the other drumstick with my right hand and I’m not letting go. Over my father’s shoulder, I see my mother cleaning up my broken plate as she complains about how we both ruined a perfectly lovely meal.

My father and I continue to fight over the turkey, each of us pulling on a drumstick, skin and meat sliding off in our hands. And I’m reminded of sloughage.

During the initial stages of human decay, liquid leaking from enzyme-ravaged cells gets between the layers of skin and loosens them. Sometimes the skin of an entire hand or foot will come off. As the process continues, giant sheets of skin peel away from the body.

Like the piece of skin that just slipped off the drumstick my father is holding.

If I hadn’t already ruined my appetite for turkey, that definitely did it.

An instant later, the drumstick in my father’s hand rips away and he stumbles back and falls into the antique black buffet hutch containing my mother’s tea cup collection. The hutch topples over backwards and lands with a thunderous crash of wood and broken china cups as I fall to the floor laughing with the turkey in my lap and my mother starts to cry.

Just like old times.

Filed under: Breathers — Tags: , , — S.G. Browne @ 10:12 pm