Monday, August 23, 2010

“Guess Who’s Coming Out to Dinner” by Jack Logan

Michael stared at the house from his car, which he had purposely parked across the street instead of in the space that had been left available to him. The windows of the house still had the shades drawn from how bright had been earlier, but Michael was a cautious person. He watched the house absently, occasionally seeing a silhouette pass in the white curtains. He would have liked to think he was mentally preparing himself, but since he wasn’t thinking of anything he had to call it stalling.

Michael suddenly became aware that he kept stepping down on the gas pedal of his car, even though it was in park and the keys were in his pocket. The half thought flickered across his mind, that if somehow the car started moving in this state that he would be vindicated in leaving. He pressed down harder a few times and then gave up.

The car door slammed behind him, which was his first indication that he had started moving. The second was the cold, which combined with the wetness gave Michael the sensation of being a bath towel. January was a miserable month. Halfway through the first month of the new year and everything already seemed exactly like all the years before it. He had been convinced to make a resolution to go sky diving, but couldn’t have his mind acknowledge that it would be a life changing experience as opposed to a life ending one.

Suddenly the door was inches from his face. Michael now contemplated the use of knocking versus the doorbell. He felt knocking implied more dominance while the doorbell was for occasions that-. Michael realized that this is what people meant when they accused him of over thinking “stupid shit”. He knocked on the door and heard a new sort of hustle come from within the house. He wished he had used the doorbell.

A quick set of footsteps approached the door, which was then forcefully swung open. Michael shifted around in the mixture of cold and warm air, which he normally would have found a very pleasing sensation. Sarah smiled at him warmly, but her eyes betrayed her lack of humor regarding tonight. “Ready to meet my parents?” She said sweetly, which translated into “You’re not going anywhere” which would not have been said as sweetly, as a result of the several time Michael had postponed this meeting.

Michael chose to ignore the translation, “Want to go see a movie?”

Sarah stared at him for a moment, a quick trial going on in her head. She shook her head in a kind yet undeniably dismissive manner. “No, I think we’re going to do this tonight.”

Michael straightened himself up and walked into the house. Although the house had appeared a little plain on the outside, inside laid luxury. The floors and furniture were all wood, and although Michael could spend a solid five minutes fumbling with words to describe them all he wouldn’t come up with anything better than the obvious “expensive”. He could feel the natural warmth emanating from a fire in another room, its sharp crackling showing how well fed it was.

“There’s a coat rack in the hallway.” Michael turned around to see Sarah’s mother, who had come out to greet him. Her name was Nancy Jacobs, but Michael would never call her by her first name. She looked very similar to Sarah, only older and possibly made for television. All her curves seem to have more sharpness to them than was usual, but it could have been her clothes which were impossibly stiff. Everything she wore projected an image of an early American sitcom, but modernized enough so that it would be impossible to mention to anyone and receive a real reaction. They would just be able to stare at you, trying to convey they got the gist of your complaint but couldn’t articulate it.

“Oh, thank you!” Michael said with forced enthusiasm. Michael’s body automatically was ready to receive a handshake or a hug, but Nancy was holding her hands out to take his jacket. To hide his surprise Michael took off his jacket doubly quick, creating a small tear he wouldn’t discover until three days later. Nancy took the jacket and automatically folded it while she told her daughter how tall and handsome and well dressed her adorable boyfriend was.

“Hey that’s right.” Michael thought to himself. He was tall and handsome, although handsome was debatable, and the store clerk had assured him this jacket was sure to impress anybody, so what did he have to worry about. Sarah’s mom was already on his side, so all that was left that he HAD to impress was her dad. She also had two brothers, one older and one not. They were not labeled a priority. And her dad really had no reason to be against Michael. “I’m already sleeping with his daughter,” Michael thought, “so he really has nothing to prevent by splitting us up.” There was some satisfaction accompanying this thought, but Michael’s brain was telling him he might’ve made a logic jump. He decided to keep his theory to himself.

The three moved into the sitting room, and Nancy proceeded to fire off a barrage of simple questions which all could be answered with a yes or no. This was greatly appreciated. “So you want to be a lawyer?”


“I bet that requires a lot of studying.”


“Oh, but you don’t have any problem handling it do you?”

“No.” Michael was having a great time.

The three enjoyed a solid two minutes of pleasant, pedantic conversation before the youngest of the family, Jimmy Jacobs, or JJ as he would tragically be known for the entirety of his life trotted into the room. JJ walked with a clear purpose, at least to himself. If every step he took didn’t make some fragile glass vase shake on a thin table, then he would walk harder. He stopped right in front of Michael and stared up. Michael stared down at what seemed to be the most aggravated four year old. His face was contorted by anger and mistrust, all of which seemed directed at Michael. After a few moments of silence from everyone in the room, JJ punched Michael in the knee. Had he not been a puny four year old, it would have been called a haymaker.

Both women laughed uproariously. “Oh don’t mind JJ, he’s just shy!” Sarah said as she picked up her little brother, keeping him in her lap as she sat back down.

“Shy people don’t hit.” Michael said rather flatly. It didn’t matter since both Sarah and her mother were fawning over the little child. JJ stared maliciously at Michael. He had the eyes of a shoddy actor asked to play a pervert on a cop drama. He began to wedge himself into his sister’s cleavage, as if he was wearing her breasts as a hat. He smiled when he succeeded. Michael decided that he was a horrible four year old.

Michael looked around the room. While it was well adorned with what he was sure were luxury items, the only thing that caught his eye was a rather shoddy grandfather clock. The clock’s wood still had a certain luster, but its brass insides were badly tarnished. It also seemed to take just a fraction longer to rotate than it should, just over a second. Michael turned this over in his head, trying to discover why he even noticed it when he took a deep breath, smelling the air for the first time.

“Hey, whatever you’re cooking smells delicious.” He said smiling, turning to Sarah’s mom. Nancy looked up from her youngest, “It really does, and I wish I could take credit for it. Frank’s doing the cooking tonight. He’s roasting a boar.”

For a fraction of a second the room was silent, and Michael somehow felt that the silence was emanating from him alone. “Wh-Wow. I’ve never had boar…before.”

“Daddy brought it back from his latest hunting trip, you’ll be amazed by how big the thing is!” Sarah said, now bouncing her baby brother up and down on her knee. JJ was still smiling, much to Michael’s dissatisfaction.

“Oh, so he killed it himself. That’s… impressive. So where did he go hunting? I don’t think there are any boars around here, are there?”

Sarah shook her head. “Not around here. Daddy hunts in…” She looked over to her mother. She looked like she had stumbled across something she was slowly realizing was a puzzle. Her mother looked back at Sarah with absolutely zero concern or thought on her face. “somewhere else.” Sarah finished her thought with a smile and enthusiasm, but she seemed unsatisfied with her own answer. Michael decided to push past it.

“Well it smells great and I can’t wait for dinner.” Michael was aware that he had said all these things moments before, he figured that having a second go at the conversation would lead it to a more pleasant place.

“Daddy would love to hear that! You should go out to the back and tell him!” Michael considered a third try at the dialogue, but concluded three attempts was bordering on psychotic.

“I’ll go do that.” Michael replied, with tone, color, and soul seemingly having abandoned him. He waited for a moment to see if anyone was going to join him. Both women were focused on JJ, who was apparently doing something adorable with his hands. Michael stood up, imitating a slinky. He trudged down and out, to the lower deck of the house. The barbeque pit was about twenty five yards into the sizeable and heavily forested backyard. The front yard of the house had been perfectly manicured, most likely to fit the standards of some neurotic neighborhood committee, populated by people who had so little to do that they had fabricated a formula relating grass length to property value. But the backyard was well guarded from complaints by a tall and imposing bamboo fence. In the back, nature did what it wanted.

The smell of the roasted animal got stronger with every step. It pulled forth a strange sensation for Michael, a different kind of hunger. One that was based more on the tactile sensation of sloshing carcass around in one’s mouth than simple nourishment.

“You would be Michael.”

Michael’s head snapped over to Sarah’s father, who was steadily and easily cutting the boar into pieces fit for serving. Michael breathed a small sigh of relief that this wasn’t being done at the dinner table. Frank Jacobs was built almost exactly like Michael, maybe an inch taller. Lean muscle that was in no place surrounded by noticeable body fat, which was impressive since Jacobs was at least twice Michael’s age. He was dressed in a thin army jacket that was worn open over a blank grey t-shirt. The jacket was adorned with faded patches, none that Michael would have been able to identify if they looked brand new.

“Yes sir, Mr. Jacobs, it’s very nice to finally meet you.” A pause dangled around the two men for a moment, but Michael felt it affected himself more than Frank Jacobs. He was correct.

“Sarah is very fond of you.” Michael found it impossible to take comfort in good news. Instead he concerned himself with whether or not Frank Jacobs had yet turned around to look at him. Michael didn’t think he had, but the unspoken modern societal rules of courtesy dictated that as being impossible. The reason Michael had uncertainty was that he himself was having trouble looking up directly at Mr. Jacobs.

Michael’s inability to focus led him to drift to the boar’s head, which he now recognized as being severed. It was horrifying, but also a good conversation piece. “I thought that you usually cut this thing up on the table, like a turkey? You know, to keep it fresh or something.”

Frank Jacobs threw away a small shrugging motion, “Nancy and Sarah get uncomfortable when I carve it at the table.” Michael nodded, trying to convey that he thought this was a deep psychological observation. This was unsuccessful since Jacobs was still looking down at the roasted boar. Michael once again drifted to the boar’s head. He found himself drifting back to either early high school or late grade school, when he was prompted to read a book about a group of school kids who landed on an island. The book had a pig’s head and a statement on society.

“It seems like you are put off by it as well.”

Michael looked up and saw Frank Jacobs looking at him. In the short time he had been talking to the man, Michael had figured that Mr. Jacobs would have a worn and tired face. He did not. Whatever life had done to Frank Jacobs, he didn’t seem to mind it.

“No sir, not put off, not really. I was just remembering a book I read in school way back when.”

Jacobs glanced down at the severed head and back at Michael. “Lord of the Flies.”

Michael nodded emphatically. “Yeah that was it! So you read it?”

Frank Jacobs nodded slightly. “For the same reason you did.”

Michael was feeling better, and thankful for a book that he hadn’t thought of since he put it down thirteen years ago. “Yeah, I remember thinking that if this is such an important thing, than shouldn’t you makes us read it when we’re older. I feel like a lot of things went over my head back then, and the teacher seemed to get aggravated when we wouldn’t have the some big revelation about the reading.” While saying all this, Michael indulged himself in hand gestures.

Jacobs seemed to take a moment to ponder Michael’s words. “You could reread the book.”

Michael nodded in agreement with what he knew he wasn’t going to do. “Yeah maybe I should!”

Frank Jacobs smoothly arranged his knives and all the meat onto a large metal tray. “Oh, you’re done with all the… prep work?”

“Yes.” Frank replied, as he took a hold of the boar’s head and threw it far into the thicker part of the bushes. Michael stared at the man, wondering if it was acceptable to ask why. “It makes good compost.” Frank answered anticipating.

Michael was mentally nudging himself to move beyond it, not understanding why it had stunned him. “Oh, okay. Will that attract rats?”

Frank Jacobs picked up his tray full of boar meat and knives and started walking back to his house. “There are traps.” He replied.

Frank pushed the backdoor open with his foot and walked into the dining room. He placed the tray down in the center of the dinner table. He then took the knives to the kitchen and washed them off in the sink leaving them to soak. Upon his return to the table, he called out to the rest of the family that dinner was ready.

Michael had passed the dinner table on his way outside and it had been completely bare. In his absence Nancy Jacobs had completely filled the table with an overabundance of different vegetables and side dishes, all arranged ornately on a blue and white table cloth. Michael heard Nancy call out, “Great timing honey, Anthony’s car just pulled into the driveway!”

Anthony Jacobs was Sarah’s older brother. He was an investment banker, or something that someone with little knowledge of finance would call an investment banker. Michael had seen several pictures of Anthony, and he always seemed to be dressed in a business suit that seemed a bit too stiff.

The party began to assemble. Michael sat down at the middle of the table, Across from Sarah. Frank Jacobs sat at the head. Sarah’s mother came and placed JJ in the seat to the left of Michael, “Take care of my little angel, won’t you? Hahaha!” Nancy gave a plastic Barbie smile that indicated that Michael just received the best job in the whole world. Michael shifted his eyes over to JJ without moving his neck. The unattended child was once again staring at him malevolently. Michael wanted to strike the child. In a lightning blur Nancy had moved around the table clockwise and served everyone an equal portion of everything on the table. She somehow had arranged it so that while every plate was packed, no two foods were actually touching. It looked like the world’s most pristine TV dinner. Nancy set two more plates, one for herself and one for Anthony, and hurried off to greet her son at the door.

Michael looked around the table. Mr. Jacobs’ eyes were fixated on the meat, which was slowly cooling in the center of every plate. Michael got the impression the man would have preferred to have carved the beast at the table. For a moment the thought appeared that what Jacobs really wanted to do was eat the thing outside, but Michael waved the thought away as weird and pointless.

There seemed to be some commotion coming from the hallway. Michael could hear the hum of stressed, but contained voices. Sarah was craning her neck to the side in an attempt to see something, but couldn’t make the angle. He briefly considered poking his head out, but was distracted by JJ. The horrid little child was one by one putting his green beans onto Michael’s plate. Each time it was a quick motion and might have gone unnoticed if children of the age of four had the ability to be subtle. Instead he came off as a Vegas card dealer, but throwing greens instead of blacks or reds. This was a true affront to decency, and Michael would have bet anything that the terror had not even been made to wash his hands all day. When JJ had placed about half of his green beans on Michael’s plate, Michael scooped the entirety of the green beans on his plate, both his and JJ’s, and ceremoniously dumped them back on to JJ’s plate. The child made a wet hissing noise that sounded like the combination of an oxygen tank with a leak and a large rat.

Michael was gloating over his victory, watching the four year old scowl at what was now an overflow of green beans on his plate. Meanwhile Sarah’s sister sat down next to Michael, wearing a scarlet red dress that had a few decorative cloth flowers on the left strap. The dress clung tightly to her, except it was a bit loose around her flat chest. The gears in Michael’s head sputtered and backtracked. Sarah had two brothers. And both were sitting on either side of Michael. Anthony was moving very carefully as to not tear the dress that didn’t quite fit him. He had a business man’s haircut, as well as pearl earrings and possibly a light coat of natural colored lipstick.

Coming down off his shellshock, Michael looked around at the rest of the family. Sarah was astounded, mouth hanging completely open. For an instant Michael wishes he had a camera, as Sarah never let herself have her picture taken with her mouth open. She maintained it made a person look half as smart as they were. Her surprise indicated that her brother’s decorum was not business as usual. A Spanish gentleman wearing a suit Michael wished he owned had discreetly taken a seat next to Sarah. The man looked as if he was here only as an observer, someone devoutly intent on not saying a word. Nancy was frantically pulling on her eldest son’s arm, trying to escort him out of the room. Her eyes kept dashing between everyone in the room, and her smile was so rigid it looked as if she would bite through her own teeth. Frank Jacobs only reaction had been picking up his knife and fork, and after recognizing his wife’s frantic state putting them back down.

In this frantic moment lay the only time in the evening when Michael seriously considered running to his car and driving away. He forgot about this course of action when he looked down and saw that the green beans had reappeared on his plate. Immediately he shot his hand down, scooped them all up, and shoved them all into his mouth. He chewed very purposefully at eye level with JJ, particles of green bean juice misting the child’s face. On one final bean related note; Michael found the green beans to be delicious and wished he had eaten them at a slower pace.

Michael turned his full attention, while at the same time trying to look as if he was not paying attention, to the small war occurring to his right. Nancy was still pleading with her son, begging him to “go upstairs and come down normal.” Anthony was boldly ignoring her, while at the same time ensuring her that he heard every word. He portrayed this by steadfastly looking forward and keeping his chin slightly elevated, giving of an air of forced quite dignity. This unfortunately clashed with his dress, which really was a fun and festive number to be worn at a more relaxed occasion.

Then the commotion stopped. Michael strained to see what had happened. In her frantic pulling, Nancy had broken off one of her finger nails in Anthony’s skin. She stared in horror at her own hand, no longer flawless. Jagged. She quickly ran out of the room to find a nail file.

The night previously held some awkward silences, all of which would now be forgotten. Aside from the quiet the only thing Michael noticed was that Sarah, for the first time ever, looked furious. Michael couldn’t take anymore. He turned to Anthony, put on a smile which had zero chance of looking natural and said, “Hey.” This was at least his intention, but he accidently added one or two extra e’s, and maybe an a.

Anthony in response assumed the defensive, “I’m sorry, who are you?” This was stated with no sign of apology or inquiry into Michael’s identity.

“Fucking liar rude prick!” Sarah screamed from across the table. “You fucking know who he is, that’s the whole fucking point of the dinner!” Sarah was red in the face, with tears streaming down.

Anthony shot back, “That’s the point! You could bring home anyone you want and it’s fine, but for me, for me!” Anthony ended by violently poking himself in the chest, while Michael wondered who “anyone” was in regards to Sarah. Anyone is a tricky word, it is singular but can imply a large number that can make men feel inadequate.

As the two eldest siblings fired back obscenities, the rest of the table tried to imagine they were dining alone. JJ had already eaten all the boar on his plate, and was now finger painting with his remaining vegetables. Frank Jacobs nursed his beer and imagined being off in some remote jungle, where he would not have found a drink so easily. Michael and the man who had yet to be introduced occasionally glanced at each other and participated in non vocal communication. Mostly nods and shrugs.

Sarah doubled her volume, “And don’t think I don’t recognize that dress you asshole, you better pay for it in full because it’s ruined from here on out!”

“It looks better on me!” Anthony yelled back.
Sarah’s eyes darted over to Michael, and Anthony’s followed. Michael realized he had been swallowed into the debate. He coughed a few times and turned to Anthony, and in his most diplomatic tone said, “Well, a dress like that needs, ah…”

Michael groped the area around his own chest, the universal guy sign for boobs. He figured Anthony still knew it.

Anthony was about to reply, but his father spoke first. “You were recently seeing a young girl.”

Anthony slowly looked over at his father for the first time at the dinner. “Gabriella. Well, I had to break that off, obviously.”

Another silence crept up, a forced calm. Anthony’s dinner guest broke it, “She was my cousin, sir. That’s, ah, how we met.”

Frank Jacobs looked at the young man, and then back to his son. “That will make any dealings with their family very awkward.”

Anthony looked down, with an air of having been defeated. “Yes, I suppose it will.” At the moment Anthony said this, Michael muttered under his breath

“Can’t have an awkward family gathering, that’s the worst.” Sarah was the only one who seemed able to decipher this, and shot him a dirty look.

Nancy moved swiftly back into the room, her nails all having been shortened and smoothed out to equal length. She threw the heaviest coat onto her son, and spent another second making sure it covered every inch of his dress. She seemed satisfied. Michael noticed it was a woman’s coat, and wondered why this was a major improvement. Nancy glided over to her seat next to Frank and after taking a moment to reposition all the silverware that had been shuffled, began to eat. Her knife strokes cut at the plate every time. Frank Jacobs immediately followed her lead, going right for the cooled boar. He sloshed it around in his mouth approvingly. His eyes moved to the upper right corner, recalling some distant but fond memory. He glanced down at his watch, made a brief calculation regarding the time, and resumed eating.

“Mom, dad, I’m gay.” Anthony said, hunched into his mother’s coat. Nancy cut her plate again while Sarah released a small laugh.

“I think we all gathered.” His sister gave him a weary smile which he returned. Michael looked around. Everyone at the table, except for JJ and Mr. Jacobs, seemed too tired to fight. Some people still had the urge, but lacked the fire. Michael breathed out happily and ate some of the boar. It was far too salty in his opinion, and he decided to get a hamburger as soon as he escaped.

The meal moved slowly, and without much talking. Whenever someone did say something, almost everyone at the table looked up and somehow conveyed that they recognized that whatever was said was deeply important. None of it was worth writing about.

After dinner, Michael found himself sitting alone in the room with the fireplace. The fire was fading, but the warmth still reached out to him. Anthony walked into the room, having redressed himself in jeans and a collared shirt. He sat down next to Michael, with a couch cushion separating them. “You changed.”

Anthony cocked his head to the side. “Well I have to get the dress cleaned, it’s casual Friday at my office this week.” Michael laughed.

Anthony shifted uncomfortably, “About tonight- I”

“I don’t really want to talk about it.”

“Thank God.”

Anthony rolled over thoughts in his head, trying to remember something about Michael. “Sarah said you’re going to be a lawyer?”

Michael nodded “Yep, studying for the bar right now.” Anthony picked up a small piece of wood on the floor and flicked it into the fire.

“Did you always want to be a lawyer?” Michael looked over at him. “Well when I was a kid I wanted to be a fisherman for the longest time… but then I learned that fishermen had to go out on those dangerous boat trips in the horrible waters like you see on TV. I thought they just sat around and fished. I would have been really into that.”

The fire dulled a bit more. The two sat in silence until JJ trotted into the room, walking in front of the couch where both were sitting. He looked at Michael and scowled. He then turned his head to Anthony and said “Faggot.” The two stared each other down for a minute, and then Anthony gave him a swift boot to the chest. Michael noticed that Anthony was still wearing his size eleven heels.

About thirty minutes later Michael was getting ready to leave. Nancy brought him his coat, while all the time her eyes dangling toward the floor. Frank Jacobs was sitting in front of a restocked fire reading the paper, as was the man who Michael had finally been introduced to but had forgotten his name. Sarah ran down the stairs and gave him a hug and a kiss. She held onto him a few seconds longer than she usually did. Anthony waved goodbye from the steps. Michael waved absentmindedly and said “Thanks for dinner I had a great time.” Nancy looked up and glared at him with bloodshot eyes. A bit of drool escaped on the right side of her mouth. Frank Jacobs briefly looked up from his paper at Michael, then stared back down.

Michael left immediately, and didn’t call Sarah until three days later.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story, the depiction of an evil four year old has been haunting my dreams for days.