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FREe holiday dinner

Phillip Sterling

The last time I volunteered at the VFW, an old guy came in toward the end of the day and asked if there was still potatoes and gravy, some corn, maybe a roll? Coffee? 
          Coffee’s still hot, I said. And rolls will be brought around as soon as they’re out of the oven. White meat or dark?
          Neither, thank you kindly, said the man. Never touch the stuff. He took his tray to a table in the corner, where a few minutes later I brought him a basket of rolls. 
          You don’t impress me as vegetarian, I said, in my friendliest voice.  
          He was a grizzled, unshaven guy of maybe sixty, although unlike many of the others who came in, he had no smell of homelessness on him. His jacket—standard Army issue—appeared to have been laundered many times. 
          Before I enlisted, he said, I worked at Kroger’s, in the meat department. The week before Thanksgiving we had all we could do to keep the freezers stocked with Butterballs and Jennie-Os. We’d start early, every day. That’s when a woman came in—first thing on Wednesday morning—and, standing in front of the freezer I was loading, she began to cry. Big sopping tears. Then fell to her knees wailing and moaning and no one could stop her. Eventually the manager called the police, who hauled her away.
          The guy picked a roll from the basket, tore it in two, took a bite. She was a young woman, he said, chewing, and neatly dressed, with reddish hair, something like yours. 
          A tingle inched along the back of my hairnet. Why? I said.
          I never found out, said the man. But I haven’t eaten turkey since.


​Phillip Sterling’s books include the collection In Which Brief Stories Are Told (Wayne State U Press), the microfiction collection Amateur Husbandry (Mayapple), and five collections of poetry, most recently Local Congregation: Poems Uncollected 1985-2015 (Main Street Rag). A collection of essays and memoir, Lessons in Geography: The Education of a Poet, is forthcoming in fall 2024.  
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