Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned

Finish the Story: Family


Join in for a lighthearted, no-pressure writing prompt. Leave your perfectionist at the door and follow a dangling story thread to see where it leads you.

I always post my story doodle in the comments, and I’d absolutely love to see yours as well if you feel comfortable sharing it!

I stopped for a breath before cutting the turkey. I wanted to appreciate the moment. Seeing everyone there, sitting around the table, almost felt like we were family again. But if we had been a real family …


  • I stopped for a breath before cutting the turkey. I wanted to appreciate the moment. Seeing everyone there, sitting around the table, almost felt like we were family again. But if we had been a real family, we wouldn’t need a holiday to get everyone together. We wouldn’t need a special date, with special food to lure our relatives close enough to talk.

    I released my held breath in a long sigh. You can’t choose your family, I reminded myself.

    I sliced into the steaming bird and watched as the metal parted the skin and flesh, trying hard not to remember a different knife in different flesh.

    The table was silent.

    Ma sat to my right, hands still clasped in prayer.

    My brother, the stock market guru sat to my left, alongside his too-young bride and their too-quiet twin girls.

    Our littlest brother sat next to Ma. He also clasped his hands and bowed his head, but his lips never moved even in silent prayer. He’d lost the faith.

    Honestly, who could blame him?

    I parceled the turkey onto outstretched plates and tried to pretend everything was fine. As if it hadn’t been almost a whole year since the last time we all got together. As if it hadn’t been a dozen years since the incident.

    A dollop of cranberry sauce punctuated my turkey and stuffing like an accusation. I stirred the sauce into the bland beige of my food and hoped nobody noticed.

    We have to keep up appearances, after all.

    Silently, everyone ate their feast, even the children accepting every side dish without complaint. I didn’t like broccoli either, but I accepted the heaping portion Ma handed me without a word and grimly set to demolishing it.

    The meal ended at precisely the same time for all of the diners, each person placing their fork at the same precise angle on their plates at the same time, as if it were choreographed. All plates were empty.

    It was the way she would have wanted it. And we always did what she wanted, even after she was gone.

    Even moreso after she was gone.

    I cleared the plate while Ma went to the kitchen to retrieve the pies. Dessert for everyone. Pumpkin, pecan, and apple. All using her original recipe, with no deviation. These days, you could buy a pie crust at the market for a few dollars and save yourself hours of work. Not in this family, we couldn’t.

    She would not approve of anything other than homemade pie crust.

    I took a slice of apple, but I couldn’t taste it. No cinnamon, no sweetness, no sharp apple.

    It tasted like lies, ashen on the tongue. Like after-work parties laughing with friends or blind dates with women who had no families.

    We finished the pie and clasped hands around the table. Ma’s was warm and dry. Brother’s was cold, but also dry. We’d been here before. We knew the rules.

    From the other room came a muffled thump and the barest edge of a scream. She’d woken up right on time.

    We bowed our heads and I prayed. “Elder gods, thank you for this feast and for the bounty you heap upon us. Accept this sacrifice and know that we honor and praise you …”

    I used to feel bad for them, our guests. So one year, I released them when I pretended to go to the kitchen for pie.

    The thing about an Elder God is that you can’t promise them a feast and give them nothing. They always take. Grandmother had been our rock. The sturdy, unwavering light we all steered our ships toward.

    I had failed us that year, but it was Grandmother who paid. The quick deaths our guests receive was a mercy. I know that now. The things we had been forced to do to her …

    And so we meet every year. We feast. We pray. And we deliver a promise in hopes that we never have to do those things again.

  • I stopped for a breath before cutting the turkey. I wanted to appreciate the moment. Seeing everyone there, sitting around the table, almost felt like we were family again. But if we had been a real family I wouldn’t be the only one talking.

    The quiet coldness that lay like a heavy blanket over the dinner table was smothering.

    Bravely, I sallied forth into the gap. I put on a bright cheery voice, dredging it up from god knows where as the silence held.

    “Aunt Mildred!” I chirped. “It’s just so nice to see you. We don’t get the chance very often anymore, do we?”

    Aunt Mildred said nothing.

    “And Uncle Tom,” I said, turning to man sitting next to her. “Have you lost weight since the last time I saw you? It would have been over the summer, no? That park gathering we had? I swear, I feel like we could have rolled you down a hill back then. Look at you now! Trim as a trivet. You’ll tell me your secret, won’t you?”

    Uncle Tom said nothing.

    I waited expectantly, bright smile on my face, but they didn’t respond to my little conversational gambits, my bright and shining little conversation starters. Oh, why didn’t anyone say something? Couldn’t they feel the tension building up? Thick enough that I felt like I could soon start to claw it from the air with my fingers.

    “Cousin Derick,” I said, turning my face down the table to my cousin. Derick had always been the baby of the family. Everyone thought so, even though he was only three years younger than me. That’s what came about when you were adopted, I guess. “How’s school going? I heard you got nominated for the Dean’s List this year? They say that it’s pretty prestigious. How are you adjusting?”

    Cousin Derick said nothing.

    I felt the smile on my face grow just a tad brittle, like a thin lake in the heart of winter. Cold enough that you could be assured of ice, but how thick? Would you bet your life on it and step out into the middle of the lake? Feel the subtle shifting of the ice beneath your feet? Ears straining for that first sharp and dry crack that would herald doom and damnation?

    Someone say something! A voice within me began to howl, wrapped up in a straitjacket, careening from one padded wall to another, hair all askew, howling and howling and howling.

    “Mother,” I said. The words came sharp and abrupt, like the edge of a honed blade. “Mother, surely you won’t let us sit here like this. If no one else will address the elephant in the room, surely you will? I’ve never known you to shirk from hard truths.”

    Mother said nothing.

    “Really, mother?” I asked. My voice lost its bright and chipper edge, growing hard and flat instead. “You’ll perpetuate this childishness as well?” Without waiting for an answer, I turned to the person sitting at her right, as he always was.

    My father was the rock of our family. Always had been, always would be. I knew that if anyone, anyone could be counted on to end this silly fighting, it would be him.

    “And you, father?” I asked. “Of all people, if no one else will speak up, surely you will, won’t you?”

    Father said nothing.

    “Won’t you?” I whispered. I felt tears well up in my eyes, blurring my vision. The Thanksgiving table with all of the trimmings, all of the lovely dishes with delicious food, painstakingly made, slaved over by myself for hours. All of it useless.

    For a moment, my blurred vision wavered and I thought I saw…I thought I saw an alley. Squalid and cold on a bitter November evening. A tattered cardboard box in place of the table, scraps of food rummaged from the trash in place of the Thanksgiving feast, dirty mannequins in various states of disrepair in place of my family…but then it was back. The bright table covered to the brim with plates and dishes of delicious food. The faces of my family, sitting around the table.

    I wept.

    Even though they were quiet, even if none of them would speak to each other, speak to me, at least they were still here. Still here, still with me. Certainly none of them were dead, lost in a fire caused by a careless ninny who might have left the oven on too high one Thanksgiving and forgotten about it being on before leaving to spend Thanksgiving at her best friend’s house, excited and dealing with a serious case of butterflies in the stomach because her friend’s hottie cousin Kevin would be there from out of town, burning down the house and all of her family who’d come over the night before to spend the night.

    …Surely not.

    Surely not.

    “Please,” I whispered through my tears, unable to look up at my family sitting around the set Thanksgiving table. I knew that they’d all be glaring at me. Icy and cold disdain, freezing my guts and making my tears feel like little chips of ice as they fell against my cheeks. “Please say something…”

Tami Parker Other Duties as Assigned