I Drink Alone
“I drink alone,” crooned the gravelly voice of George Thoroughbred from the bluetooth speakers on top of the fridge. Plonq’s tail tapped sympathetically in time with the music as he bustled about in the kitchen, organizing cans and boxes in the order they’d need to be prepared for dinner. As the song came to a close and cross-faded into 40 Oz. To Freedom, the snow leopard paused and glanced thoughtfully at the speakers for a moment. The two previous songs in his playlist had been Brass Monkey and Have a Drink On Me. A tiny, self-aware portion of his brain struggled to notice a thematic link between the songs, but his dominant hemisphere mewled, “Didn’t I just hear this one?”
The short feline cursed the flaky shuffle mode in Spotify and stretched up to tap the next button on his phone. He distantly noted that it skipped to One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer, but the bulk of his attention was on his Christmas card. As he had been fumbling with the phone, the cat had bumped the card with his knuckle, and rather than just obediently falling over, it sailed off the side of the fridge and fell down into the gap between the refrigerator and the stove.
“Ack!” he exclaimed as he crouched in front of the stove and shoved his hand as far into the gap as he was able. He managed to pinch his middle and ring fingers on the card, and he gently extracted it from the trap. He shook off the cobwebs and wiped it carefully on his apron to remove a small smudge of grease from the back. He opened the card and read it again.
“Dear Plonq, hope you have a lovely Christmas in 2013
The cat had carefully crossed out each year and updated it every Christmas. Mom did not send out cards anymore, and had not even recognized him on his last visit, but Plonq liked to keep the tradition going.
Christmas was all about traditions.
He got up on his toes and carefully stood the card back in its place on the refrigerator. As he was placing it, he could not help but read the magnetic whiteboard on the freezer door. It had been wiped clear of all but a dire warning from the Christmas past. “Do not leave the turkey to thaw on the counter for five days.” The feline’s stomach knotted at the memory of the previous year’s fiasco. The worst of it should have been what he later came to call, “The Boxing Day of Projectile Everything.” Sadly, that was only the start. One might say that hindsight is 20/20, but the cat cursed his past self for eating turkey sandwiches with what were – now, at least – predictable results for the next week.
He hated wasting food, but in retrospect he admitted that there were probably logical boundaries that, once passed, would allow him to throw out the leftovers without guilt.
Fortunately, the warning had lost its importance after his life-changing encounter with a turkey vendor at the local grocer. He patted the room-temperature bird in its tight, polyethylene wrapping where it had been sitting on the counter for the past week. He remembered the encounter, and how his initial reaction to the vendor’s claims had slowly shifted from disbelief to awe and delight. This bird was the answer to every bad Christmas he’d ever experienced.
“Granny Kate’s Famous Fowl” proclaimed the label that arched over a colour picture of a perfectly browned, crispy-skinned, steam-gushing turkey on a platter. In smaller text curved convexly under the picture it said, “Discover the Christmas miracle of GMO turkey that is scientifically proven to please!” The pack was emblazoned with starbursts, each espousing the magnificent properties of the bird.
“No refrigeration necessary before cooking.”
“No oven required.”
The vendor had explained how the wrapping was lined with insulated foil that kept all the heat and goodness on the inside while it cooked. All he needed to do was peel open the vent on the top of the bag to prevent it from exploding, and pull the tab out of the back to begin the cooking process. It was, in a word, Plonq-proof. “Well, ok; two words,” he thought, barely containing a purr. He grabbed the bottle of merlot on the counter and raised it to take another swig, but he caught himself at the last moment. He gave the bottle a swirl, and realized that he was down to a quarter of a bottle. He had been planning to save it to have over dinner, but it had been too enticing sitting on the counter among the meal fixings. The cat shrugged and took another swallow of wine; a Chardonnay would probably go better with the turkey anyway.
He leaned closer to read the cooking instructions and then glanced at the time. If his mental math was right then it was nigh time to start cooking it. Plonq tore away the strip covering the vent, and then took another swig of wine to steel his nerves. For good or ill, it was now the moment that he had been eagerly anticipating, yet vaguely dreading ever since he had purchased this marvel of engineering. He rested one hand on the bird’s rump, put his other index finger through the ring and pulled firmly on the tab. After a moment of resistance it slid free of the bird and hung flaccidly and, dared he think it, anticlimactically in his hand.
Nothing seemed to happen.
Plonq blinked and stared at the inert turkey sitting in its platter. The fact that neither he nor the turkey were on fire at that moment was a victory in itself, but he could not suppress a mild feeling of disappointment; he had been anticipating, well, something. He leaned close and pressed an ear to the bird. At first he could hear nothing over the strains of Gin and Juice blaring from his fridge top, but eventually he could make out the faint liquid hiss and pop of a reaction starting. He stood again, shrugged, and finished the merlot in one swallow. There was nothing for it but to wait.
The turkey claimed that it would be done in thirty minutes, so the cat quickly set to preparing the rest of dinner. He opened the cranberry sauce and slid it carefully out into its dish, pumping a victorious fist in the air when he managed extricate it in a single, unbroken cylinder of jelly. He flicked the switch on the kettle to begin heating water for the instant potatoes and gravy, and then dumped the frozen vegetables into a microwave-safe bowl. Plonq nibbled on his lower lip while he looked around for the next thing to prepare, but other than putting the vegetables into the microwave and dumping the buns into a bowl, everything was set for now. He noticed that the turkey was now quite audible, and its bag was beginning to balloon. He gave a curt nod and another self-satisfied purr before he retired to the living room to sit by the tree and rest while he waited for the water to boil.
Any thought of relaxation vanished when he stepped through the kitchen doorway and saw the pile of mittens on the sofa.
Ack! The mittens!
There was a note on the mittens reminding him that the donation period closed on Sunday at 17:30 so that they would have time wrap them and give them out to the homeless the next day. A surge of panic welled up in his gut as he looked frantically between the mittens, and the wall clock that read 17:00. He had been meaning to drop them at the shelter all week, but every day had brought a new, satisfactory excuse for inaction until now he had exactly thirty minutes to deliver. Plonq had promised them the mittens. They were counting on his mittens. If he did not come through with his promise, there would be a lot of cold paws on Christmas Day.
There was still time! Plonq dashed to the closet for his hat and coat, which he quickly shrugged on over his apron. He dug through the detritus at the bottom of the closet until he had uncovered the wheelbarrow that he had been meaning to move to his storage locker for the past couple of years. He grunted wryly at how his procrastination had paid off for once. He quickly packed the mittens into a big mound in the wheelbarrow and wheeled it out to the kitchen. He opened the back door, and as the icy December air swirled into the kitchen with a billow of snow, he closed the door again and sheepishly dashed off to the bedroom for pants.
He returned to the kitchen wearing pants and boots, ready for a second attempt at the outside world. The turkey on the counter caught his attention before he made it to the door. Its bag was fully inflated now, and it was belching steam out of its vent. What had caught his attention though was that it was starting to emit sounds that bordered on alarming. Plonq let out a mew of indecision. On the one hand, he had to deliver the mittens. On the other hand, he was loathe to leave the bird unattended in his kitchen, especially when he saw that the bag was bulging and distorting in places as if the turkey was thrashing around inside.
He stood, mesmerized and paralyzed by indecision until the only logical course of action suddenly clarified in his head. He quickly burred out a well in the middle of the mittens and temporarily donned a pair of them to protect his hands. They were held together by plastic tie, but he could separate them enough for his purposes. Plonq carefully picked up the bird and maneuvered into the well he had created in the mittens. The steam gushing out the top scalded his muzzle, but he barely noticed it in his frantic state. As an afterthought he tossed the unopened bottle of Chardonnay into the wheelbarrow as well.
The little snow leopard opened the door, wheeled the barrow out onto the back porch and closed the door behind him. He heard the kettle shut itself off as he was leaving and noted that he would need to boil the water again on his return. Dinner would be late, but he had an important promise to keep. He gripped the handles of the wheelbarrow with clenched knuckles and slowly walked it down the back steps, watching mittens bounce out over the sides with each step. There was a tense moment when he thought he was going to lose the turkey on the third to last step, but he eventually reached the sidewalk. He ran back up the steps to gather up all of the mittens that had escaped, and then he grabbed the wheelbarrow and began jogging toward the collection centre.
The turkey had begun to pulsate, belching out blasts of steam from the wheelbarrow in front of him as if it was a locomotive, driving him down the road. For all its alarming sounds and appearances, it was starting to smell very good. The icy air burned his normally sedentary lungs, and his shins began to ache from the strain of ploughing the wheelbarrow through the growing layer of snow on the sidewalk, but Plonq persevered. He arrived at the collection centre with five minutes to spare. The cat doubled over, hand on his knees while he panted and regained his composure. The smell of cooking turkey had been driving him nearly mad with hunger all the way from his apartment. About a block from the shelter, a little plastic spire had slowly risen from the vent hole and released a small flag that sprung open to reveal the word, “Done!”
Once his panting had relented a bit, Plonq wiped his muzzle on the sleeve of his coat, and pressed a button next to the door that was labeled for deliveries. Somewhere in the warehouse a farty-sounding buzzer blarted out his presence to those inside. He didn’t have to wait long before the door cracked open and let out stream of light and steam.
“Hello?” said a tentative voice as a bespectacled badger poked her muzzle around the edge of the door and peeked outside. At first she fixed on the frost-rimed, icicled muzzle of the snow leopard standing out in the snow, then her eyes roamed over small mountain of mittens. “Oh. Oh! It’s the mitten guy!” she said excitedly. She threw the door wide. “Come in, please. We were worried that you had forgotten.”
“Sorry,” said Plonq as he wheeled the mittens awkwardly through the door. “I’ve just been running behind all week. I hope I brought enough.”
“That’s more than enough,” said the badger whose nose was working overtime, “but why do they smell so much like roasted turkey?” By now, the smell had drawn over the rest of the crew who had been sorting donations. Their arrival was heralded by a chorus of voices.
“What smells so good?”
“Did we order food, because I’m starving?”
“It smells like Christmas in here.”
“I thought we were going for sandwiches later.”
To his horror, Plonq saw the slavering crew approaching behind the badger, eyes fixed on the wheelbarrow. There was a tall, gangly young fox wearing an ironic, camo sweatshirt and a tattered toque. Following him was an equally short, elderly ermine in a dowdy sweater and loose-fitting jeans. Bringing up the rear were a rotund cheetah with her head shaved in a reverse Mohawk and an astonishing number of ear studs, and a grizzled old goat.
“You brought us … a turkey?” said the cheetah in hushed amazement.
“And wine,” said the badger, snatching the bottle out of the wheelbarrow and presenting it for view. Tears welled up in her eyes as she clutched the bottle to her ample bosom and turned back to the stunned snow leopard. “Bless you sir. We usually feel kind of forgotten on Christmas. This is a really special thing you’ve done for us.”
Tears welled up Plonq’s eyes as he watched his turkey wheeling away in the hands of the cheetah. “I, uh, ya, I guess,” he stammered, craning to watch over the badger’s shoulder as his precious turkey disappeared into the break room. His empty, yearning stomach tried to spur him into action, but he could not think of any action he could take at this point which would not make him look crass. He turned at the feel of a tap on his shoulder, and found himself facing the tall, gangly fox.
“Thank you,” said the young fox. He wiped a tear from his eye, and then suddenly wrapped the snow leopard in a tight, foxy hug. He released the cat, grabbed his hand and pumped it several times. “Thank you,” he repeated. “It’s because of generous people like you that I don’t let cynicism take over my life.”
He turned to the old goat and clamped an arm around his shoulder. “Come on, let’s get it while it’s hot.”
“I don’t do meat,” bleated the goat sourly, but he let himself be led back to the break room.
Plonq watched the last of them leave, and stood silently by the exit, trying to derive some Zen-like enjoyment from the lingering smell of his bygone turkey.
They’d said something about going for sandwiches; that implied that there was a sandwich shop nearby. The little cat sighed. He adjusted his coat, cinched his toque down tighter and turned to open the door. “Perhaps they have turkey sandwiches,” he thought with a flicker of hope.
With that, the diminutive cat stepped out into the night.