Chick is approached quickly by a guy, probably in his mid-forties, wearing a polo shirt. He leans in for a hug and Chick embraces him. I can see she waits for him to release before she removes her wings from him. Soon, most Cuddlers are hard at work. In fact, everyone is, except for me.
Swaying back and forth, shifting my weight from one turkey foot to the next, I anxiously wait.
Mikey has his lifeguard whistle around his neck. He’s never had to use that thing, but it's always there.
I feel invisible.
Heading towards the bathroom, I open the vodka, drink it, and return to my post.
A woman walks my way looking as though she might approach me. I raise a wing to entice her, but she turns away at the last minute and grabs a piece of jicama off the table. I've had it. I don’t even bother to excuse myself as I remove and then screw the cap off of the third bottle. No one can see what I’m doing under my costume. I’m hoping I look like I’m just scratching an itch.
Chick is facing me from across the room. Maybe she's looking at me, but it's hard to say, since I can't see her eyes. I wave. She waves back, but we get interrupted by a large woman who asks her for a cuddle. The woman's shoulders are bobbing up and down. She’s crying. She must have had some sort of release. It's not uncommon at these parties. (Mostly from people who haven't been touched lately.) The contact can be "emotionally awakening" as Mikey says. It's the same reason people get dogs, to have something to snuggle with. We never had any pets growing up. Dad said they demand too much affection.
Mavis swears that we used to have a pet fox that looked exactly like the one wrapped around our mother's neck, but I have no memory of this. Mavis says there used to be pictures in the photo album of us all around the Christmas tree, Dad drinking a Bloody Mary out of a coffee mug (Mavis assumed this because of the celery sticking out of it) and the fox, curled up in an empty present box, but when she went to show me the picture, it was gone.
As Chick wraps her wings around the woman, I watch her body swaying from side to side. Chick can be so maternal.
People have loosened up and are now moving away from us Cuddlers towards each other. It’s the ultimate goal – transferring the safety and trust of a plushie to regular people so that casual smiles and “hellos” on the street to strangers can be replaced by much needed embraces. We’ve been at war for as long as I can remember; apparently monkeys are losing weapons of mass destruction. I mean, who doesn’t need a hug?
Chick makes her way past a line of guests and ends up next to me. The feathers on her upper right shoulder look ruffled from the onslaught of that large woman's tears.
Maybe it’s the alcohol warming me up from the inside, but I am hyper aware of Chick standing within close proximity. I want her closer.
“You smell nice,” I whisper.
"Rule number two." she says back. She takes her job seriously. Another thing I like about her.
The drink goes to my head, and I look down to keep from getting dizzy.
I look down at Chick’s round calves. "You also have nice legs."
“Ew,” Chick says before backing away from me.
Have I disgusted her so much that she’s willing to break the rules?
She leans in and sniffs me, then crosses one wing on top of the other, scolding me. I try to put my wing up to my beak, asking for her silence, but it doesn't reach. I'm too late and she walks away.
I stare at the grain in the hardwood floors and then contemplate my turkey feet.
Finally, the words I’ve been waiting to hear all night. I look up to survey the turkey-loving Cuddler. It’s my father, still dressed in his refrigerator repairman suit, a newspaper wedged under his arm.
My body freezes as he comes in for a hug. The paper falls to the floor. His arms wrap around my shoulders and meet at the small of my back. He rests his head on my wattle and squeezes, mildly at first, and then he tightens his grip. I can hear a faint cooing sound coming out of his mouth, like a relieved baby.
It’s the first hug he’s given me in years.
I squeeze back, eager to make a connection. I want to shout, “Dad, it’s me!” and make a big reveal. But then I grow resentful. He doesn’t know who he is hugging. He’d rather embrace a stranger than his own son. In fact, he’s willing to pay for it.
My grip tightens as he moves to let go. I am owed more than this—much more. I feel his back pulling against my arms.
The smell of coolant reaches my nose.
“Hey,” he says quietly at first and then louder so that people next to him stop their embracing to look over.
I lift my wings and engulf him. I spot chick rushing over from across the room. I squeeze even harder.
His legs start to do this vibrating thing that looks like an odd jig. He wiggles his shoulders trying to shake me off, but I am unflappable. I plant my feet on the ground and tighten.
“I think you’re hurting him,” Monkey says.
Chick is at my side, trying to pry a wing between my father and I, but she lacks the strength to wedge us apart. She tries to penetrate her wing deeper, the friction causing yellow feathers to rise above us.
Why is she getting involved?
Dad is now making a gurgling sound.
Everyone’s yelling things at me, but their words blur together into one inaudible buzz.
Mikey runs over and starts blowing his whistle. I squeeze harder.
"Abort, Cuddler 82. Abort immediately!"
A few participants try to pull my arms away, but that only makes me grip harder.
My fingers start cramping. I only want to focus on the strength of my squeeze.
Chick kicks me hard in the shins again and again until I can’t hold on any longer.
The next thing I know Dad is on the floor. Someone brings him water. Mikey is apologizing profusely. Monkey and Bunny have their fuzzy paws on my chest in case I decide to stage another attack.
Chick is nowhere to be seen.
Dad doesn’t want to press charges, but I’m still fired on the spot. The Cuddle Party ends early. Guests are shaken. As I’m escorted out in full costume, I hear Dad muttering to Mikey, “Your fucking turkey.”
I don’t bother changing before I get home. Sure, the costume belongs to the Cuddle Corporation, but who the hell is going to want it? No one is ever going to want to cuddle with a turkey again.