In response to Right to Brag by The Daily Post
I’ve recently completed the South Mississippi Writing Project’s Invitational Summer Institute. I feel like I can unashamedly brag about this because it is indeed invitational. You have to be identified as an excellent teacher of writing before the SMWP will even consider inviting you, and now I will be a teaching consultant for the SMWP and work with teachers in other schools in southern Mississippi.
One of the key principles to being a teacher of writing, is becoming comfortable in your own writing first. This is a key component of the summer institute, we did a lot of writing. I’d like to share a fictional piece that I wrote and am very proud of. Please feel free to comment for revision, praise, or other suggestions for this piece.
The Turkey Fryer
Our neighbors don’t believe in privacy. Year round, they leave the windows open, the front door, gaping, shielded by the glass screen door. They have no blinds, no curtains, only sheers. Their cat, his name was Tom, preferred it this way I think. I liked to watch Tom sit on the window sill, his intelligence far exceeding that of his owners.
He is a drunk, and she’s addicted to cigarettes- and something else, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. Sometimes, she puts on these big, black earphones with a mysterious blinking red light and dances in the yard, like a silent disco. Wearing a faded yellow bandeau her gut spilling over the tiny denim shorts, she gets lost in her own little world and noises escape from her mouth, noises that I still can’t make sense of. And I mean she really dances, once I even saw her do the worm, while it was raining, in the mud. My bedroom window is directly adjacent to theirs, the small gap between our houses can only be a yard or so. At night, he wonders if the house is bugged, and she screams that he ruined their future.
My parents had bought this small three bedroom house when they first married, an investment in their futures. Back then, I was told this had been a nice neighborhood. My parents were fairly tolerant, though, and since the house was big enough for the four of us- myself, my sister, and my parents, they decided not to sell. Not in this market.
“Get the damn turkey out before you burn the house down, sister.” Sometimes he called her sister, and I wondered what that meant. I mean, surely they weren’t incestuous or something. It wasn’t even a muted statement, I could hear it clearly from the comfort of my bed and over Vampire Weekend playing on the stereo I had begged for for Christmas last year. I turned it off.
Thanksgiving would be smaller this year, Mom had said. Dad was going to fry a turkey at the house for the four of us. I imagined him with the $49 turkey fryer we got on sale at the local “dig store,” wearing his obnoxious orange baseball cap and a George Foreman apron, waving at the neighbors with a canned beer in his hand- oblivious.
The only detail of Dad’s attire that I had missed was his black Crocks and above the ankle white socks. Dear God, I thought. Regardless, he didn’t like it when I stayed in my room for too long. “What were you doing in there, Mary?” He would say. “Cooking meth.” I always replied, and his chuckle always had a slight hint of worry.
The worst part about frying a turkey was that it had to be done outside, and all the neighbors could see us. Dad with his cliché outfit, and me outside standing near him. I looked great of course, in an oversized sweater and skinny jeans, but that was beside the point. I measured the peanut oil while Dad finished making all the connections.
The neighbor lady was outside smoking a cigarette, and she waved her hand and mumbled something incoherent in our direction. Dad politely raised his hand in acknowledgement with his cheesy smile and lowered something metal into the fryer, pointing for me to pour in the oil.
“Dad,” I nudged his elbow, “She’s coming over here.”
She was wearing a very tight, very low cut, and very sheer top with nothing underneath to cover her body parts. Tom was following her.
“Fryin a bird?” She pointed toward the metal tube that sat on the concrete driveway in our yard.
My dad nodded, trying not to look too closely at her. I couldn’t help but stare, her greasy blonde hair, the dirt under her fingernails, the boxers that peeked out of her blue jeans.
“We got us a bird in the oven, too.” She said. Awkwardly waiting for some kind of response. My dad, awkwardly engaged in conversation with a neighbor he knew so well, but yet had never met. I watched her mouth move and her snaggly teeth disgusted me.
And sometime during that conversation is when it happened, that Tom became interested in the peanut oil. Neither my Dad or the neighbor were watching him, but Tom began to experiment, placing his paw on the edge of the bowl and stretching his head toward the enticing smell, and he peered for quite some time into the pot of boiling water. It never occurred to me that he might actually do it, but suddenly, Tom pounced from his still, safe resting spot on the concrete and into the boiling grease. He didn’t pull himself out like a person pulls out of a pool, it was like he was ejected from the pot by a strong force of will. I don’t know if he was bald, or if his hair was just greased to his skin, but a slimmer looking Tom bolted over the property line in an instant before he fell over, dead.
I was frozen, heart racing, horrified. The neighbor lady ran screeching after the cat, a moment too late, screeching “bubba” the whole way there. My dad robotically poured out the oil, rinsed the pot, and began to heat more peanut oil. I got to go back to my room.