The Dinner

                Her mother, Elaine, walked in with a magnanimous smile on her face before he finished biting into me.  He looked at me as if I just escaped his mouth.  She walked over to hug her daughter and then headed towards me.  She was the same height as her daughter and outside of her mother’s darker skin, the two were nearly identical.  It was clear where she had gotten her beauty from.  Even in her mid-forties, her body still found a way to retain a bit of its peak from her golden years.
“Ehhis, how have you been?” she said in a voice of warmth.
“Mighty fine, thank you kindly!  How about yourself?”
“Oh, I’ve been quite alright.  Quite alright!”
Her long, sandy brown hair reached the middle of her back.  She turned towards my lady, “I’m just waiting for this daughter of mine to bring some grandbabies into this world.”
“Mother!”
“Oh please, the last thing she needs is a baby, especially by this old-”
She cut her husband off, “Oh hush, old man!  This house is too quiet!  It’s time to hear the pitter-patter of tiny feet running through here.”
“Mother, please.  It is not the time.  It is not the time,” my lady said.
“Well”, her mother interjected, “Supper is ready.  Shall we?”  She smiled.  Geoffrey, their butler, came in and directed us to the kitchen.  We walked down long hallways, passing artwork and statues along the way. Our footsteps made unnerving echoes throughout the hallow halls with each steps.  As we walked a few steps behind her parents, my lady whispered to me sternly, “Ehhis, please do not incite my father at the dinner table.”
“What?  I’m not even trying to.  It’s him talking to me with aggression.”
“I know him but I know you too and this is his house, so do your best to keep your tongue in check.”
“I ain’t makin’ no promises.”
“Ehhis!”
Her whisper went slightly above a secretive tone.  Geoffrey and her parents turned towards us.  We smiled as if nothing was being said.  They turned around and we continued,
“Ehhis, I know you.  Do your best to be respectful.”
“Respect is not given, it is earned.”
“How ironic.  Father says the same thing.”
We finally arrived at the table.  Geoffrey pulled out everyone’s chair but I sat down before he could reach mine.
“Ehhis”, her mother said, “its fine.  It’s his duty.”
I turned to her,
“I understand, ma’am.  But I can take care of it myself.”
Geoffrey looked offended, yet, appreciative at the same time.
“Well, would you like to serve the food as well?” her father said.  I began to get up, but my lady restrained me, subtly forbidding me to respond to his sarcasm.  Geoffrey served the food.  Smothered pork chops, steamed vegetables, mashed potatoes, hot water cornbread and lemon-aid.  The dinner was filled with the clanging of silverware against plates and nods of approval of the food that was served.  Geoffrey did his job of refilling our glasses with ice cold lemon-aid and providing seconds of whatever we requested.  Out the corner of my eye, I noticed the interactions between Geoffrey and Elaine.  The indirect, flirty smiles that they exchanged when they thought nobody was watching.  They looked like they enjoyed the thrill of almost being caught, like it was something that drove their relationship.  I pretended to take a drink, watching their interaction through the distortion of my glass.  It would take a blind man to not know there was something amiss between those two.  Luckily, she was married to one.  We finished our food.  Her father wiped his mouth with a napkin, then sipped a cup of tea with his pinky finger extended.  I thought of the artwork that hung on his wall and the records that were buried in the drawer.
“So, miss Elaine” I smiled warmly at her.
“Yes, dear?”
“I noticed there were a few paintings and records by Negro artists around the house.  My lady said they were yours.  Why are they tucked away beneath everything else?”
My lady sensed what I was doing.  She tried to interject but I cut her off and directed the question back to her mother.  Her father looked as if I just reviled him, placing his mug gently down on the table.  Elaine looked at him with a thwarted countenance and then turned towards me.  “Well” she said, “there is really not enough room for all of the artwork we have.  So, we just decided to put the ones up that fit the décor of the rooms.  It gives it a better ‘Feng shay’ as father puts it.”  He nodded his head as if she correctly gave the answers they rehearsed for times like this.  He added, “You do know what that means, right?” his hands were folded onto his protruding belly.
“Not really.”
He laughed, “It figures.  You’re not good for my daughter.  You have no class.”
“Charles, that’s enough,” her mother said.
“Why are you defending this fool?  He has nothing to offer our little girl.  He’s not doing a thing but suckin’ her dry” he paused, “well really, suckin’ me dry since I’m the one givin’ her all the money.”
“It ain’t always about money.  If you knew that, then maybe things wouldn’t be the way they are between us.”
“Oh?” he said, looking at Elaine, “and how are they?”
Lady and I looked back and forth between them like siblings watching their parents argue.  Lady took a drink of lemon-aid and I looked towards Elaine.  She had a scowl, mirroring the same face my mother gave my father when she was going to lay into him with her words.  She never cussed at him in front of us but she knew how to give the most sanctified tongue lashing my ears had ever heard.  I wondered if Elaine had the same type of skill.
“Oh trust me” she said, “you don’t want to talk about that now.  Not here.  Not in front of them.”
“Oh come now” he said as if he was just insulted, “the likes of him?  And Lady?  Non-sense.  Speak woman.”
She began tapping her finger nails on the table from right to left, one after the other.  Geoffrey walked back in, refilling glasses with Lemon-aid.  He knew he stepped into a war zone. I could tell he was uncomfortable when he poured the drink into my glass and splashed a few drops onto the table in front of me.  “I’m sorry, sir” he said, wiping up the small accident.  Charles took another sip of tea while his pinky was still erect.  She was hesitating to answer, either searching for the words or trying to figure out how to say them.  She finally spoke up,
“Fine.  Let’s talk about how you can’t even get your little man-man to act right when it’s time for coitus.”
Her father’s eyes bucked open as he slammed his glass on the table.  My Lady’s eyes widened as she gasped.  I looked between all of them at the table.  I didn’t know exactly what she meant but I picked up on the context clues and assumed the rest.  I was right.
He sat up in his chair.  His face was slowing turning beet red.  Geoffrey quickly exited out the room before things got worse.  My lady’s mouth hung wide open.  Elaine continued, “Yeah, I didn’t want to embarrass you in front of them but since you pushed me to do so, there it is!  Hell, you deserve it the way you’ve carried on with Ehhis this night.  It’s completely ridiculous!”
Charles stood up, “Woman, have you lost yo’ mind?  I ought’ to put you back on the first ship back to Africa!”
“Charles, sit your behind down!  You can barely tie your own shoe without me around here to help you!  Had it not been for your parents, you wouldn’t even be in the position you are in now and you’re talking like you’re some big shot.”
I smiled as I drank more of my lemon-aid.  My lady smacked me on the arm and Charles looked towards me, “What are you smiling at, boy?! I’ll put you on the same boat!  You’re the reason she’s fired up right now!”  I smiled wide, completely enjoying the situation he found himself in.  Elaine was much more reckless with her words.  I felt as if she was partly defending me in her responses, “This ain’t about him, Charles!  This is about us!  Sit your wobbly behind down, you know good and well Ehhis ain’t the cause of none of this!”  I knew Lady got her beauty from Elaine but it wasn’t until now that I saw where she got her feistiness from as well.  Elaine was a firecracker.  His face was completely red.  Geoffrey came out of the kitchen and walked towards me.  With a vague smirk, he filled my glass up with water.  The ice clanged on the sides of the glass pitcher as he poured.  Charles interrupted him,
“That’ll be enough, Geoffrey.  Our guest was just leaving!” I stood up and tipped my hat to Elaine.  “No, don’t leave yet” she said, “there is one more thing I need to say and I want you to hear this.”  She stood up at the table.  Her eyes on fire, chest moving up and down at a rapid pace from her breathing.  Geoffrey looked up towards her and subtly shook his head.  I saw their interaction and looked towards my Lady.  We made eye contact, then we both looked at her father as he peered between all of us.  His face was still beet red.  “Well, speak, woman!”
She examined him intensely.  She had something to say and it seemed that she was holding onto it for ages.  I imagined that it was that very thing that was trying to push its way out her chest as she breathed heavily.  “Spit it out!” Charles said impatiently.  She finally exploded, “I cheated on you 24 years ago!”  The room went silent.  My lady and I sat with our mouths hanging wide open, looking around the room at each other, not knowing what to do next.  “And that’s not it!” Elaine added, “I’ve been cheating with the same man since then.”  Our facial expressions didn’t change as she continued, “And Lady is not your daughter!  She is Geoffrey’s!”  I looked at my Lady and she turned to look at Geoffrey as he stood by the door just as uncomfortable as he could have ever been.  The silence in the room was deafening.  I put my head down, wanting to sink under the table and disappear.  Charles sat lifeless at the head of the table.  He passed out and rolled off his chair onto the ground.  The craziest part about that is that nobody went over to check on him.  Not one soul. 



Check the short promo for this upcoming novel!

Strange Fruit in the Concrete Jungle

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