Holiday Christian

“Marcus, What if we host Thanksgiving at our house this year?” Marina asked, her voice soft. 

I squinted my eyes, looking for the catch, but my wife’s wide smile seemed to have good intentions, for once. Marina, my beautiful over-achieving wife, knew I couldn’t stand her family. After the disaster last year I never wanted to see them again. Hosting her family could only be a disaster.

 But, this dinner could give us a reason to work together, instead of drifting apart. Lately we barely speak, Marina blamed me for the cold drafts that blew between us. Our first few years together were great, we traveled the world, following Marina’s career as an international lawyer, spending time in Europe, and visiting with her family in Tunisia. But back home here in California, something changed. Maybe because we couldn't get pregnant, maybe because here I had my own life. Our conversations, once lyrical , now clanged discordant, too much volume and treble from Marina, too much bass and silence from me. Our rough melody goes nowhere, the refrain of ‘Damn you, you forgot about me again’ came too often in our song together.

I made a choice to change the harmony.

 “Ok, we could pull off Thanksgiving.” At the kitchen table, I leaned over to grab some paper and a pen. 

 “Just your aunts and uncles? I could make the rice dish the family likes, chicken tagine with couscous, and of course stuffing, potatoes, turkey, cranberry sauce-”

I started scribbling. I’m a professional Fitness Instructor, but what I really want to be is a chef. I love to cook, Italian and Mexican are my go-to’s, but I'm working on the French sauces too, all from online videos. This dinner party I could hide in the kitchen and avoid her family. Marina, miss perfect, often burns toast.

 Marina shook her head back and forth. “No.”

 I looked down at my list. “I don't like cranberry sauce either.” I crossed it off. “It is really more of a traditional-”

“No turkey.” She sliced the air with a sideways chop.

“What? Thanksgiving is about Turkey, the American traditions-” I leaned forward to make my case.

 “Turkey’s so dry,” Marina’s face soured into a frown. “And last time-”

 “The deep fried turkey was not my fault!” My hands flew up. “Your cousin knocked it over, I didn’t think it would catch fire like that. I did pay for your Uncle’s wall to be painted-”

 “My Father will be here, I want to impress him.” Marina looked away.

 Finally the catch. Sam, my Father in Law scared me. A Christian priest in the Islamic country of Tunisia, I had heard stories of his fierce battles, using words like arrows to defend his church. Words he turned on his daughter as well, always pushing her to do more, be a success. His skin, like the man himself, had toughened into thick leather with his pack a day cigarette habit. We had only met a few times, and not since our wedding. I felt his glare on me the whole time. Marina said he worried I’d never be worthy of his daughter. I wish I could let him know I agreed.

 “We should make a goat!” Marina’s eyes unfocused, her face turned up, grinning into some imaginary world where goats were served on Thanksgiving. I just saw trouble.

 “When I was little we would visit my Grandmother's house and my dad would take us to the souks, the markets, and Nana would let me pick out the baby goat, and then we would kill it and have a big feast. Oh, it will be perfect!”

“A goat?” A vision of a huge, horned animal stomped through my mind, it turned to growl at me before it leapt up a mountain cliff, then gone. 

“Marina I don't know how to cook a goat. Who even sells goats in Oakland? I can get a turkey. No deep fryer this time, I’ll stuff it with cornbread stuffing, slow roast it, with garlic and lemon, it’ll be amazing!” My eyes wide, I nodded to encourage acceptance just like they teach in the ‘Sell Your Self’ fitness coach class I took.

 Marina’s eyes narrowed, her jaw clenched.

My pen swirled around the word turkey on the list. “See, it’s circled, we have to do it now.”

 At work with a client, my phone buzzed, two, then three times back to back. 

“Marina, what is going on?” I watched my client, hovering in the plank position, “I have one minute.” The woman’s body quivered in her pink Lululemon leggings as her muscles began to fail.

“I ordered a goat.” I heard in her voice the professional Marina, the corporate lawyer who always gets her way. “It will be delivered Wednesday night. I know you can do it!”

  “I, but I-” 

The call ended, my client fell flat on her face, and I saw my own future.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving the goat arrived. Cold and hard, I assumed it had been packed in a metal box. But no, I removed the paper to see an intact head, horns still attached staring at me, a hairless kid goat, frozen solid.

 Small, for a goat, 30 pounds. But that didn’t fit in any pan I owned. How do I defrost a goat ice cube?

 Marina sent me a Tunisian recipe in Arabic. After I translated it, I saw the spices I needed, rosemary, cumin, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, and lots of lemon and garlic. I didn’t have a BBQ pit, though.

I ran a bath in the tub and put the goat in. I went in to use the toilet, but couldn’t. After some effort, and soaking my shirt, the goat faced the other way. I can’t go when I'm being watched.

Early the next morning, I began the recipe, struggling to get the goat open as frost still covered the inside. But I had to get it in the oven, had to get it started. I bought the largest roasting tray I could find, and stuffed the goat in, its head turned up slightly, one eye looking at me, an ear cocked over it. ‘I hope you know what you're doing, ‘ it seemed to say.

I began cooking the side dishes, an eye on the clock. After several hours, amazing fragrances began circling the kitchen, then the whole house. I breathed out, this will work!

I went to change my clothes. I could prove my worth to Marina’s family, and to her father.

Sam arrived first, then Lisa, which shocked me. A few years older, Lisa knew Marina and family from Tunisia, and now living here in Oakland, I knew her as one of my clients. Well a little more than one of my clients, but I needed to put that out of mind.

 “You made goat?” Sam asked as I helped take off his jacket. “I don't believe it, but I know Marina could not boil water. This smell, we could be in Tunis.” He smelled he air. Marina frowned at the slight, but Lisa looked over and winked at me, acknowledging the compliment he had given me.

 “Let me get you all drinks.” I moved to the sidebar, Lisa came over to help. “What are you doing here? I told you we have to stop-” I kept my hands busy to calm my nerves, making several whisky sours. Lisa’s Louboutin perfume flowed around me, drawing me in. She hip checked me when my hands shook, spilling ice cubes

 “Marina asked me to come since Sam is here. He’s like an Uncle to me. This will all be fine. Just be yourself.”

 I breathed out, Lisa felt easy for me to be with. I had to work to be with Marina, all hard edges and ambition, harsh modern jazz, where Lisa touched me like smooth R&B. But I couldn’t give in, we had an affair, and it had to be over. 

Several more family members came in, speaking Arabic, French, and a few English swear words. I stayed outside the circle in a doorway, watching them interact, a cacophonous symphony of talking, arguments, and laughter. As soon as the food finished cooking my role would be over.

The screeching of the smoke alarm echoed through the house, then I heard the yelling. Marina’s hands were waving violently, trying to fan the black smoke pouring from the oven. I opened the door and a halo of fire circled the goat's head.

I put the goat on the kitchen island, the blackened charred head still had its horns, the eye sockets deep and dark. I had been to enough Catholic mass to recognize a demon haunting me. I wrapped the head in a tin foil keffiyeh and put it back in.

 Finally, 4 PM, the table glowed with candles surrounding the plates of food, the crystal and our wedding china sparkled. The goat, dark black with char, still looked good. Marina bubbled with joy, seeing the many dishes on the table in front of her father, Lisa there and then the aunts and uncles, with every language being spoken, in curses, yells, and laughter, except English of course. I couldn't understand a word.

 Sam gave a toast in Arabic, then French. He gestured to me both hands open, inviting me to do, something. The family all looked over, expectantly.

 Marina leaned over. “You get to cut the goat, my father is passing the honor to you.”

 I stood up, awkward, unable to contain the huge joy inside of me, exploding out though my giant grin. Finally I am part of the family, finally I belong!

 I swung my arms, a carving fork in one hand, a knife in the other. I flashed the carving set with a dramatic flair as I leaned over the goat, my partner in this adventure. My first shallow cut peeled off a glorious slice, releasing even more delicious aromas.

“Ahhs” erupted around me.

 I cut deep in the meat, and my knife caught on something. I sliced deeper, pulling it open. Inside I saw a different color. I reached in, with a smile covering my concern and touched the cold, uncooked flesh.

 “No! “ I screamed.

I stood in the kitchen with my head down. The goat lay on the kitchen island. I had tried to salvage the cooked meat from the raw, but gave up. Roughly cut and splayed open, the charred black exterior, juxtaposed the cold inside. Tears ran down my cheeks. Marina came in, took one look at the crime scene of gore in front of me, spun on her heels and left.

 Lisa eased in. “I'm sorry.” She whispered, and I lost it again, huge wet sobs of emotion crashed over me, a symphonic dirge.

Lisa hugged me, tight and close. Her touch, the smell of her, comforted me. Used to the feel of her and what we did together, my hands roamed down her body, down her back, her legs.

 “Marcus, I need to tell you something.”

 “What?” My lips searched for hers.

 “I’m pregnant-” Lisa spoke in a single ringing tone. 

  My body froze, as cold and raw as the goat. This couldn’t be happening, I pushed her away.

 “Marcus” Sam spoke once, loud. 

 Lisa looked up, and left the kitchen. I wiped my face.

“What are you doing with Lisa?” Sam's eyes shot thick, barbed-tip arrows.

“Lisa, she is just a friend-” I said. How long had Sam been in the kitchen, what did he see, what did he hear?

Sam stopped, his head tilted. “I heard her.”

 I breathed out, and put my hands over my head. Shame resonated through me, a timpani drum throbbing in my head. “It’s just a fling, it didn’t mean anything-”

 “Is that true?” Sam asked.

 I squeezed myself tight. “No, I love Lisa. I am myself with her, instead of trying to be someone else, someone who can cook a goat.” I waved at the carcass.

 “We both loved her wrongly, you too close, and me from too far away.” Sam said.

I turned to look at him, his head down, and his hands folded together.

“When I was younger, I made some poor choices. I had many girlfriends, even after I married Marina’s mother. Lisa, was.” Sam stopped, his body still. “Lisa is my, daughter. I tried to stay involved in her life, but at a distance. I think I made a mistake."

 “She doesn’t know?” I asked.

 “I was going to tell her on this trip. We all carry sins, my son. We need to acknowledge them, and deal with the consequences. You need to speak with your wife.”

 I looked down at the floor, I knew where my future lay, and had been too afraid to recognize it.

 “Let us take this as an opportunity. This goat,” Sam’s lip curled in disgust, “can still serve a purpose, if not dinner. Leviticus,16-10.” He straightened into a preacher’s stance, voice rising as he spoke to a congregation of one.

“We will give it all our sins, and send it into the wilderness. We have made mistakes in our life, but we can atone for them, and move on in forgiveness as better people.”

 We all went into the kitchen, one by one to whisper in this strange, brightly lit confessional, surrounded by pots and pans, dirty dishes and half finished bottles of wine. The Moroccan tiles provided a colorful backdrop to the scene.

Our confessor lay mute, ear cocked, carved open, exposing his secrets, so we would feel comfortable exposing our own. The blackened goat head stared at me, innocent of all we were doing to it. “I stole, I lied, I cheated.” The sins poured forth, ugly, thick bile from the bottom of our souls. The voices choked and sobbed, finally letting out the terrible deeds buried too long inside.

“I cheated on my wife, with her sister.” I whispered into the charred ear. “Please forgive me.”

The goat didn't move, didn’t seem to care about this, the worst thing I have ever done in my life.

I left the kitchen, and Marina entered, I wondered what sins she carried.

Did the goat turn darker, blacker from receiving these sins?

I took one more look as the door closed, maybe.

Sam and I packed the goat in a garbage bag and brought it down to the dumpster, our sins and troubles, we dumped unceremoniously with a clang. 

At New Fortune, our neighborhood Chinese restaurant, Sam, Lisa, Marian and I came together, speaking in low voices, focusing on a future, a path forward. We were all at fault, and none of us. After looking at the menu, I chose the vegetarian option. 

November 30, 2023 21:28

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00:24 Dec 04, 2023

I really laughed about the goat. I had memories of the Mr. Bean story where he tries to cook a turkey. I wondered why you hadn't clicked it was a funny story. However, one thing I do know is that Turkeys take three days to thaw. Probably longer for a goat. Marina set him up to fail. I sensed doom and failure and was not surprised the inside was frozen. The Goat for Azazel that carried sins away is not actually Christian. This Jewish practice predates Christ. But when you mentioned father-in -law Sam being such a strong character as a priest,...


Marty B
04:44 Dec 04, 2023

You're right- frozen meat does take a long time to thaw, though I also don't know much about cooking a goat! Leviticus is from the old Testament/ Torah so I knew it predated Christianity, but I didn't know the name of the story, 'Goat for Azazel'- thankyou. Sam is a hypocrite!, and Marina is challenging too. Marcus gets all the blame, even though others carry fault as well. Such it is to be a Scapegoat- Thank you for your great comments!


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Philip Ebuluofor
17:51 Dec 03, 2023

I think I like your works. There is always something hidden somewhere you must go away with. Fine work as usual.


Marty B
18:50 Dec 03, 2023

Thank you for the good words!


Philip Ebuluofor
12:16 Dec 06, 2023



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James Lane
17:08 Dec 03, 2023

Loved how Marcus is thinking "If only I can get this goat cooked right, all will be good", while you subtly dropped the actual relationship issues like: "I wish I could let him know I agreed. " "Well a little more than one of my clients." Also great job with Sam - didn't expect the twist / how he handled the news. Well done!


Marty B
18:51 Dec 03, 2023

That dish really got their -goat- ! Families will bring out the worst in everyone! Thanks!


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AnneMarie Miles
17:33 Dec 02, 2023

This is convoluted in the best, most realistic way. Families have secrets, marriages have secrets. There's pressure from all angles, and it seems to get tighter around the holidays when everyone gets together because we become face-to-face with all those secrets. I think this story was paced nicely and all of the details were revealed nicely. The idea of cooking this holiday goat when Marcus had no experience (or interest really) with it and therefore was only doing it to please his wife was a good conflict to heighten his already problemati...


Marty B
00:27 Dec 03, 2023

Families are complicated! That I spent the week with my wife's large extended family in no way influenced this story... ! Im not sure if a Thanksgiving goat would catch on, maybe I should try it out? ;) Thanks!


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Mary Bendickson
06:29 Dec 02, 2023

What a tangled affair. Thanks for commenting on my temptation story.


Marty B
00:27 Dec 03, 2023

You had a great story, also Christian themed- Thanks!


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Michał Przywara
21:32 Dec 01, 2023

A very tangled mess of a family! Mariana certainly came across as domineering, paving over her husband. No doubt he's played a role in their failing marriage, but it's also easy to see why he's unhappy. But she seems to really love her father, or at least wants to please him, where Marcus is afraid of the man, and most curiously Sam is actually very friendly towards Marcus. More than that, he barely seems to care about Mariana at all, instead focusing on Lisa. So maybe we see why Mariana is so insecure - and while Sam is self-aware enough ...


Marty B
00:24 Dec 02, 2023

I appreciate your read on this dysfunctional family. Each person has been complicit in the marriage falling apart. Yes, the goat is the only innocent one, and gets all the blame. How it is for a scapegoat. ;) Thanks!


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