Feast: A Short Story About Love, Sex & Thanksgiving

When we worked at Nerve.com eons ago, when it was an honest to goodness literary magazine about sex, we had the pleasure of working with amazing authors, both titans and up-and-comers. One of our favorites was O. Henry Prize-winner Keith Banner. His latest collection of short stories, Next to Nothing, recounts “the troubled lives of ne’er do wells and outsiders”  — much like his Nerve stories, which were reliably emotional without being sentimental, humorous without being silly, and provocative without being senseless. Every year, as Thanksgiving approaches, we fondly recall one of his craziest yet most heartfelt pieces. He’s kindly allowed us to reprint it here this week. You’ll never think of mashed potatoes the same way again!

by Keith Banner

Wednesday they could be seen walking beside the street, two young guys in dumpy clothes carrying heavy plastic grocery sacks. The sky was beige and snowy, the area flat with a stripmall parking lot and dead trees. The stockier one was named Carson, the taller and thinner one Brad. Their
apartment complex was just beyond the strip-mall, and inside the complex muddy paths snaked from building to building.

“All the trees are brown,” Carson started singing. “And the sky is gray.”

Brad said, laughing, “Please please don’t sing. Do not fucking sing.”

Carson continued to sing his heart out, all the way to their one-bedroom apartment.

Inside was what you might expect. Lumpy sofa. Posters of Citizen Kane; The Smiths; Antonio Sabato, Jr. smiling in a Calvin Klein underwear ad; an Escher print, black ducks transforming into white ones, that they got one afternoon at a head-shop while buying a beautiful blue bong that Carson lost somewhere. A pickle jar filled with pennies and nickels. A bean bag chair losing its styrofoam beans. It smelled bad, old smoke and the sour dark scent of dirty clothes turning mildewy. The bedroom had a mattress on the floor and stacks of old textbooks that someday they were going to return to the bookstore for cash, as neither of them went any more to the community college where they had met two years ago.

They put the food into the kitchenette, and then Brad sat down on the beanbag and lit a Salem Light.

“Get your ass in here,” Carson said, faced with the task of putting up all the food. But he was only joking. He loved the abundance of food. “You’re the one who fucking wanted Thanksgiving,” Carson said.

“You did too,” Brad said.

“I don’t really give a shit,” he lied. Carson looked lovingly at the huge frozen turkey, then out at Brad who was blowing smoke-rings.

Outside the window, three kids passed in winter-coats, screaming and laughing. It went completely dark as Carson put the turkey into a sink of luke-warm water to thaw. Brad started watching a fuzzy version ofWheel of Fortune. It was raining freezing rain.

“Give me a cigarette lazy-ass,” Carson said, flopping down beside Brad on the beanbag.

They smoked, then both drifted into drowsy calm. Carson imagined what cooking all the food would be like because he had never done Thanksgiving before and Brad couldn’t cook and God would he miss Brad, and Brad was thinking of his sister and how his sister last week when she asked him to come over for Thanksgiving told him not to bring Carson, and Carson was thinking of candied yams which they had purchased in big heavy cans and in the grocery store he had thought about what people must think of them, two dumb fucks
buying a turkey and all the trimmings, but no one cared really. At the check-out, the cashier said without inflection, “Some feast.”

Brad rolled over, looking at Carson. They pushed their faces together and kissed until Brad could almost taste whatever Carson was tasting, a mix of cigarette smoke and sour breath. Then they got naked. Brad licked around Carson’s lips and chin, the silence inside the apartment almost like what might be inside a sealed envelope. This silence made their pleasure seem special, Brad licking until he got to Carson’s stomach, licking the bitter sweat inside his belly-button, Carson’s dick swelling against Brad’s neck as he licked. There was this eerie happiness right then, Carson touching Brad’s hair, Brad’s tongue in his belly-button: all the food they just bought connecting to the sex they were about to have, and then Carson went half-moon with his body so they could suck each other at the same time. They kept it up until they came at almost the same moment, which was something they had been working on.

After, Carson fell asleep. Brad went into the bedroom and got on the phone.

“We’re not showing up tomorrow,” Brad told Liz, his sister.

“You’re welcome,” Liz said.

“Not without Car,” he said.

No response.

“Why?” Liz said.

“Why what?”

“Why do you stand by that son of a bitch?”

“Come on,” he said.

“Whatever. Happy Thanksgiving,” Liz said and hung up.

Lying on the mattress, Brad watched the ceiling for a while. Outside the window all he could see were bare tree-limbs cracking against the black sky, frozen rain glowing like glass against the branches.

They woke up around midnight. Smoked some pot and got naked again, kissing and sucking but not going anywhere with it. Finally, still naked, they watched Comedy Central while they still had cable, drank Car’s favorite, Peppermint Schnapps from the bottle, until they fell asleep against each other.

Thursday Carson got up before dawn, after sleeping only three hours. He showered and stuck the thawed turkey into the oven. He read the directions on the Stove-top Stuffing box, then decided to take a smoke break. In the apartment, he felt so safe, and within this safety, Carson imagined what he looked like the day the cops came over. It was like very peaceful, being arrested. He looked into the peephole. He saw them, and thought, Should I run? He thought about talking his way through, but in the end he just opened
the door and they came in and in a stilted voice the black-guy officer read him his rights and they didn’t even handcuff him. They just escorted him up the cement stairwell to the cruiser.

It was $4500 in bad checks. Carson wrote them on two different accounts, one closed, the other one totally made up. The ease with which some tellers and cashiers accepted his checks had given him a sense of pride and self-reliance, as if he had an aura about him, as if he could just like go up to people and fuck with them and it would be, “Go right ahead. We love being fucked with by you, kind sir.”

But on Monday he was going to court and then probably to jail.

“Brad,” Car said, smoking, looking out the window. It was snowing now. “Brad!”

Brad was dead to the world. Car got a whiff of the turkey cooking, and then it was like he got demonic amounts of energy and started making instant mashed potatoes and cooking stuffing and baking rolls and by nine-thirty in the morning it was ready and he made Brad get out of bed and eat.

“This fucking early?” Brad said, terrified at the sight of all that food sitting everywhere: bowls of corn and peas on the carpet, a turkey that looked as if it had been pulled apart and then put back together sitting in the corner on two paper plates, mashed potatoes, stuffing, yams, the whole nine yards just everywhere.

“Buffet-style,” Car said.

At one point in the day-long meal, Car started feeding Brad kernels of corn one at a time like the way a Roman emperor would be fed grapes by his slave, and Brad said, “You are so full of shit Car,” and Car said, “Yes sir.”

Then Carson stopped doing the corn thing. All of a sudden, he looked like a rat in a cabinet when the cabinet door opens, all caught and dim-eyed and scared.

“Feast before famine,” Car said.

Brad kept his mouth shut.

“Feast!” Car yelled, so horny it made the food go bad in his stomach. A total ache just opened up, like a crater. He crawled over to Brad and took Brad’s pants off, like he was changing a baby’s diaper. Car then put some mashed-potatoes on his finger and spread Brad’s legs, and Brad gulped, “What the fuck is this, man? Nine and a Half Weeks?”

Which made them laugh, but they did not stop.

The mashed potatoes felt totally weird, warm and gushy going up, but at the center was Car’s finger, and there were more potatoes, until Brad felt completely full there, like he’d just shit his pants.

Car started eating the potatoes in Brad’s ass, lying on his stomach, hungry as hell. The potatoes filled his mouth, and his tongue dug up into Brad. Car could not stop. Brad started moaning and jacking himself off, thoughtless with it, also aware how stupid it might appear to strangers. But then again, it was stupid only from the outside looking in. Inside, it was beautiful. It was all they could do. Like Car was eating him alive, Brad thought, and then he stopped thinking at all.


Keith Banner’s latest story collection, Next to Nothing:


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