There were no turkeys left at the Diamond Foods.
Ervin stood in front of the empty turkey cooler. It was massive. At some point, there must have been dozens of turkeys. Probably hundreds, counting backstock. Now all that remained were thick, pinkish puddles on the bottom of the cooler and the stench of raw bird flesh.
“How could you be out of turkeys on the day before Thanksgiving?” asked Ervin.
“That’s exactly why we’re out,” said the Diamond Foods employee. His nametag said Robbie. He looked to be about thirty and Ervin suspected he wasn’t useful in many other areas of his life either.
“This is ridiculous,” said Ervin. “The day before Thanksgiving is when people most want a turkey.”
“You’re right,” said Robbie. “That’s why everyone else bought one earlier so they’d be sure to have one by now.” If he’d smiled, Ervin probably would have shoved him. “We get a limited supply,” said Robbie. “Once they’re gone, they’re gone.” He said it as if it was a scripted line he’d already recited dozens of times.
“Congratulations,” said Ervin. “You just lost a sale.” He immediately regretted saying it. It felt even more impotent than it sounded.
And it sounded very impotent.
There were four cars in the parking lot at Forton’s Foods and Ervin knew the silver station wagon parked at the far edge of the lot was Mr. Forton’s. Ervin had promised his wife Gina he’d be back with a turkey before noon. It was noon now and the sun had yet to show the day its face. Ervin crossed the parking lot with his hands stuffed into the pockets of his coat and a sense of foreboding weighing down his steps.
Forton’s Foods didn’t have turkeys either.
“I don’t carry turkeys,” said Mr. Forton, leaning on a push broom. “They don’t sell.” He was wearing a spotless sky blue apron. His curly white hair hung down over his forehead to the top of his eyeglasses.
Ervin no longer possessed the capacity to be surprised by Mr. Forton’s nonsense. Still, he couldn’t just let it stand without putting up some token resistance. “Of course they’d sell,” said Ervin. “They’d sell this week, at least.”
“What we sell is what we sell,” said Mr. Forton. “And turkeys aren’t what we sell.”
“What am I supposed to do?” asked Ervin. “Gina’s mad at me ‘cause I didn’t pick up a turkey earlier in the week. I guaranteed her I’d be able to find one today. She’s going to be either smug, irate, or some combination of the two if I come back empty-handed.”
“Eat cornbread for Thanksgiving,” said Mr. Forton. “That’s what we do.”
“As a main dish?”
“Sure,” said Mr. Forton. “Cornbread mix is on sale.”
As Ervin, empty-handed and doomed, left Forton’s Foods, he glanced at the bulletin board Mr. Forton had hung on the wall just inside the entrance for public use. Anyone from the community could tack anything they wanted to the bulletin board as long as it was no bigger than an 8 and ½ by 11 inch sheet of paper and contained no nudity. Every ten days, Mr. Forton tore everything down from the bulletin board and the cycle started over.
Today there was a lot of the usual fare: A flyer advertising the babysitting services of a girl who claimed to be capable of memorizing an emergency contact list with one glance, a flyer that had been re-photocopied so many times that the lost dog pictured on it had been reduced to two points of reflected light and the tip of a gleaming tongue surrounded by a square of inky blackness, a flyer with a phone number on it and no further explanation, a flyer exhorting Multioak High students to vote Craig Pillworth for homecoming king that was probably a joke judging by the accompanying photograph of Craig Pillworth.
But one flyer in particular caught Ervin’s eye. It read, Need a Turkey? I have plenty! Bring money and a thankful spirit! At the bottom of the flyer, there was an address but no phone number. Whoever had made the flyer had also tried to draw a cooked turkey under the text and then scribbled it out, though not very thoroughly. You could still see that the person had tried to draw a cooked turkey and failed.
Ervin wrote the address down on the inside of his left wrist. It wasn’t far. Gina would still gloat about how long he’d been gone, but the important thing was to have turkey with him when he arrived. From there he could improvise, he could lie about unforeseeable, adverse circumstances. He could save face.
The address on the inside of Ervin’s wrist corresponded to a small house on a big plot of land in a run-down neighborhood just over a mile from Forton’s Foods. Ervin parked in the driveway behind a truck with both back tires flat. He trotted up the buckling cement walk and knocked on the front door. A round-headed man with close-cropped red hair answered the door. He was wearing a red sweater under a pair of overalls.
“I need a turkey,” said Ervin. “I saw your flyer at Forton’s Foods.”
“Sure thing,” said the man. “I’m Cyrus. Come on in. I’ll show you what I’ve got.”
Cyrus led Ervin through the cramped, dimly-lit living room and into the kitchen where a giant, rusty deep-freeze took up the majority of the available space. Cyrus opened the top of the deep freeze with a sharp creaking sound and a blast of frigid air came out. “See if any of these catch your eye,” said Cyrus.
Ervin walked over to the deep freeze and looked inside. There were at least twenty turkeys inside, a Diamond Foods price tag still affixed to each one. “How’d you get all these?” asked Ervin.
“I bought ‘em yesterday evening,” said Cyrus. “Last ones in the store. Last ones in town, probably.”
“Well, you’ve got me over a barrel,” said Ervin. “I guess I’ve got no choice but to be a victim of your little scheme here. I’ll take one.”
“Sure thing,” said Cyrus. “Sticker price plus a ten dollar convenience charge and a sincere ‘thank you.’”
Ervin snorted. “‘Convenience charge.’ Would’ve been more convenient to pay less at the store.” He pointed at a 25 dollar turkey in the deep-freeze and pulled two twenties out of his wallet. “Got change for 40?”
“Sure thing,” said Cyrus. He took the bills from Ervin and fished a wad of money out of his pocket, extracting a crumpled 5 and handing it to Ervin. “Now I just need the sincere ‘thank you’ and you can take your bird.”
“What?” said Ervin.
“I need a sincere ‘thank you’ from you before I give you your turkey,” said Cyrus.
“But I don’t have the turkey yet,” said Ervin. “So why would I thank you?”
“Because you’re about to get it,” said Cyrus. “And this way I can make sure you don’t just walk out without thanking me sincerely.”
Ervin tried to reach for his turkey but Cyrus slammed the deep-freeze closed. Ervin yelped and pulled his hands back. “You almost broke my fingers, you nutcase!”
“You were trying to steal the turkey,” said Cyrus, both hands resting on top of the deep-freeze, keeping it well closed.
“I already paid you,” said Ervin, his temper rising fast. “You got your money.”
“That’s not the full price,” said Cyrus.
Ervin rubbed his hands together, fuming. “Give me my money back.”
“Sure thing,” said Cyrus.
Ervin sat in his car in Cyrus’s driveway, fingering the two twenty dollar bills and glaring at Cyrus’s front door. There were very few dignified options available to him. Maybe none. He could either go home empty-handed and face Gina’s scorn or he could pay Cyrus the ridiculous convenience charge, swallow his pride, and thank him. Both options made Ervin cringe.
His cell phone rang in his pocket. He took it out and saw that Gina was calling, surely trying to find out what was taking him so long. Ervin didn’t pick up. The ringing stopped and a short time later the phone beeped to indicate that Ervin had a new voicemail message. He did not want to hear it. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against the steering wheel, taking four deep breaths to get as close to calm as he could. Then he got out of the car and stalked back up the walk to Cyrus’s front door. He pounded on the door with the heel of his hand.
After a short wait, Cyrus opened the door looking wary. “Change your mind about the turkey?”
“I did,” said Ervin. “I suppose I’ll take one after all.” He was proud of how casual his voice sounded.
“And you’ll give me a sincere ‘thank you’ this time?”
“I will,” said Ervin. “There won’t be any problem.”
“Good,” said Cyrus, breaking into a smile. “Oh, but I should tell you, the convenience charge is now 15 dollars.”
Ervin lunged at Cyrus, screaming invectives. Cyrus staggered backwards and tried to slam the door in Ervin’s face but Ervin managed to wedge his foot in the door. “Give me a turkey!” Ervin shouted, ramming his shoulder against the door.
“Now you’ll never get one!” shouted Cyrus, leaning against the door from the inside.
“You’re a crook!” shouted Ervin. “I won’t be exploited!”
Cyrus stomped on Ervin’s foot until he was forced to pull it back and the door slammed closed. Ervin spat on Cyrus’s door and limped back to his car.
Back at Forton’s Foods, Ervin went straight to the bulletin board and tore Cyrus’s flyer down, ripping it into pieces.
“Hey!” shouted Mr. Forton, hurrying across the store with the push broom still in hand. “Nothing comes off of the bulletin board for another three days! That’s the rule!”
“I don’t care,” said Ervin. “I don’t care about your rules.”
“This is my store,” said Mr. Forton.
“I don’t care!” shouted Ervin. “This is bigger than your rules! This is for the greater good of the whole community!”
“Get out!” shouted Mr. Forton.
Ervin hurled the ripped up pieces of flyer on the floor and left. Behind him, Mr. Forton was already sweeping the flyer scraps into a neat pile.
At the Diamond Foods, Ervin found Robbie on his hands and knees cleaning up an olive oil spill. “There should be a limit on how many turkeys a person can buy,” said Ervin. “One per customer.”
Robbie looked up at him and sighed. “Sir, that’s not reasonable.”
“Two at most,” said Ervin. “Otherwise you get extortionists. You get profiteers. Do you know what carpetbaggers are? Did they teach you that in school? They ruined the South.”
“We can’t control what people do with the turkeys once they leave,” said Robbie. “Once a customer buys them, he can do whatever he wants with them.”
“You’re passing the buck!” shouted Ervin. “Take some responsibility!”
Robbie hung his head wearily. “Sir. Would you like to talk to a manager?”
“No,” said Ervin. “But you tell them what I said.” His phone rang. It was Gina again. He didn’t answer. This time she didn’t leave a message.
Ervin sat in Cyrus’s driveway for almost twenty minutes before he could bring himself to get out of the car. He trudged back up the sidewalk to Cyrus’s front door for the third time. He knocked loudly but not angrily. He was resigned to his fate. This was just how it had to be.
“What do you want?” Cyrus’s voice came through the door muffled and suspicious.
“I need a turkey,” said Ervin. He took his wallet out of his pocket. “I’ve got…let’s see…46 dollars and 22 cents. That’s all the cash I have on me. I’ll give you all of it and I’ll say ‘thank you’ and I’ll be on my way.”
There was a long pause from the other side of the door. Then Cyrus said, “Fine. But I need the ‘thank you’ first. And remember, it has to be sincere.”
“Do you want me to say it through the door?” asked Ervin.
“Yes,” said Cyrus. “Through the door.”
“OK,” said Ervin. “Here goes.” He cleared his throat. “Cyrus, thank you for the turkey.”
“No,” said Cyrus. “I’m sorry, but that wasn’t sincere.”
“Yes, it was!” shouted Ervin.
“No, it wasn’t,” said Cyrus. “Try again.”
Ervin saw red.
When Ervin came into the kitchen through the side door, Gina gasped. “Ervin! What happened?”
“Broken glass,” said Ervin. “I went through a window.”
“A window,” said Ervin. “A plate glass window.” He sat down at the kitchen table and rested his bloodied hands in his lap. “I don’t have a turkey either.”
“That’s the least of my concerns right now,” said Gina, crossing the room and taking one of Ervin’s hands in hers and dabbing at it with a wet washcloth. “But that’s why I was trying to call you. Didn’t you listen to the message I left? We don’t need a turkey anymore. The Prewlins invited us to their house for Thanksgiving dinner and they said they already have a nice big turkey. They said there’ll be more than enough for everyone.”
“Great,” said Ervin. “And what do we have to do?”
“Well, they said we could bring a side dish or something if we wanted, but that we didn’t need to.”
“You watch,” said Ervin. “They’ll expect us to be so grateful.”
“Ervin,” said Gina. “What are you talking about? Don’t be like this.”
“Oh, I’ll thank them all right,” said Ervin, rising to his feet. “If that’s what it takes, I’ll thank them. But I will not mean it!”
Gina let go of Ervin’s wounded hand. “What happened to you, Ervin?”
“So it’s a national holiday,” said Ervin. “Big deal. You can’t force gratitude.”“Not everyone does things just to get thanked,” said Gina. She took Ervin’s other hand and began to clean it like she had the first one. It felt nice, soothing. Ervin would have to remember to thank her later. At a more opportune time.