Thanksgiving Turkey

“Hello,” an overly cheerful woman said. Miniature blinking red and green lights highlighting the outer edge of her name tag with the name of Darlene. “Only one tonight?”

“Yes. My son and his family couldn’t make it because of the weather,” I said.

“Well, you’ve come to the right place. With these,” she showed me a pair of glasses, “it will be like they are here with you.”

“That sounds impossible, but I’m intrigued,” I said.

“No one has complained to me yet. Please, place your phone into this device to pay.” After it chimed, Darlene returned it and gave me a pair of VR glasses. She stood and watched me before finally asking, “Aren’t you going to put on your glasses? Your family waiting for you.”

I scoffed but put them on and gasped. My son, Mike, was standing beside me and smiling. My daughter-in-law, Sandra, was fussing with my grandson, Timmy’s, static-filled hat hair. And Timmy was making a face while brushing at Sandra’s hands.

“Okay, how many are eating tonight?” Darlene asked.

When I looked at her again, she and the restaurant appeared the same as when I walked in. Yet, here stood my son’s family. “Well, there’s me and I see my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson.”

“Perfect, then I’ll take you to a pod for four. Please follow me.”

“Grandma, I lost a tooth. See?” Timmy wiggled his tongue in the gap. He lost a tooth last week. I already knew because Sandra had posted a picture on her profile. She had captioned it with ‘All he wants for Christmas is a new front tooth’.

“You’re looking good, Mom,” said Sandra. I cringed. I hate it when she called me ‘Mom’. I’m not her mom. Why can’t she call me by my first name? Sandra stopped fussing over Timmy and stared at me open-mouthed.

“Here you go. Enjoy your meal and Merry Christmas,” said Darlene as she looked at each of us. I tipped my glasses down. How can she see them? All four of them looked at me, but said nothing. Then Darlene walked away.

“Of course she can see us,” snapped Sandra.

“Wow, this place allows them to say ‘Merry Christmas’ instead of ‘Happy Holidays’,” said Mike. How did that happen? Darlene wasn’t wearing the glasses.

Sandra rolled her eyes, then snorted, “Yeah, she’ll keep saying that until they get sued.”

I put my coat on the back of my chair; the images of my family did the same. They followed me up to the buffet and appeared to have picked up plates and began dipping food on to them. I shook my head at the image. At the buffet, I loaded my plate with turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, and two rolls with several pats of butter. I topped it off with a glass of sweet tea. Sandra loved to tell me what to eat, but since she isn’t really her, she won’t. Nothing would ruin my Thanksgiving dinner.

As I walked back to the pod, I overheard Sandra instructing Timmy on what to put on his plate. I settled into my spot and slathered a thick layer of butter on the still warm roll. Mike was the first to come back. On his plate were potatoes, corn, turkey, two rolls, pats of butter, and about six green beans. He also had a glass of cola.

Timmy returned wearing a frown. On his plate was a small piece of turkey, a pile of green beans, and a tiny dollop of mashed potatoes with no butter or gravy. He had a glass of plain milk. Sandra followed with a large green salad, topped with a thin slice of turkey, a single bread stick, and a glass of water.

I thought, it’s the holidays for goodness sake. Live a little.

Sandra gave me a sharp look and quipped, “We are careful with our health unlike you and Mike.”

Did she just read my thoughts?

Mike coughed and cleared his throat. “Mom, you’re talking out loud.”

My ears burned and face felt hot. I changed my line of thinking to Timmy. I thought, how much did the tooth fairy leave for Timmy’s tooth.

“She left me a dollar and a quarter, Grandma,” said Timmy.

I stared at him and asked, “Who?”

“The tooth fairy. You just asked him,” said Mike.

“Are you okay, Mom? Ah, I mean, Vera,” said Sandra. “Please tell me that isn’t sweet tea. Did you check your blood sugar?” She turned to Mike. “And you better check yours. That’s a bunch of starch and that’s regular cola, isn’t it?”

I swallowed hard. As I thought, mind your own business.

Sandra gasped. “I’m only looking out for you.”

“Hey, Mom, did you get the fresh fruit basket we sent?” asked Mike.

Thank you, I thought. They had sent me a beautiful basket of apples, oranges, and pears arranged in the shape of a tree. I smiled as I remembered the orange I ate earlier today.

“Good, I’m glad you enjoyed it. The news said the orange crop was especially good this year.”

I wondered how to turn these glasses off and a moment later, Darlene walked in. “Is there anything I can help you with? Are you unhappy with your experience?” She looked directly at me.

Mike, Sandra, and Timmy looked at me with quizzical expressions. “Um, it’s okay. Just very different than anything I’ve ever experienced. It takes some getting used to,” I said.

“If you need anything, please let me know. We want you to enjoy your meal.” Darlene left the pod.

I guarded my thoughts until we said our goodbyes. I thought things like: What did you get for Christmas? Are you liking school? Does your new puppy have a name yet? It was an exhausting hour. I knew they weren’t really there and will have no memory of the meal. But, I will never be able to forget my blunders . We finally finished eating dinner and had dessert. After we said our goodbyes, I whipped the glasses off. I stomped up to Darlene. She waiting for the next wave of customers.

“How was everything? Would you like a recording of the meal sent to your social media for you to relive at a later time? Or, perhaps share with family members who couldn’t be here?”

“No, delete that recording right now! That was the most stressful hour I’ve ever experienced by myself. I know my family wasn’t really here, but they might as well have been.”

Darlene smiled. “So, it was realistic?”

“Too much so. Tell the manager they need to offer different degrees of reality. A much less accurate version would have kept my blood pressure in check. If you ask me, this technology is an overcooked turkey.” I set the glasses down on the counter and walked out.

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