Dinner with Henry
by Bruce Memblatt
Part 1 appears|
in this issue.
“Forget the arts,” Shakespeare said as he picked up a spoon from the floor. “She hires us because we’re cheap labor who won’t gripe about her peccadilloes.” He pointed the spoon at Andre. “And you can take that to the bank.”
“Cheap! I am not cheap! You shoe, you ugly shoe. Soon you’ll be stew!”
“Hey, Henry where were you?” Shakespeare called as Henry entered the kitchen carrying several shopping bags.
“Simpson sent me out for a few things,” Henry said as he hopped over to the large freezer. “I had to walk blocks and blocks to find the right store in this neighborhood,” he continued breathlessly as he opened the freezer door.
Henry still needed time to adjust to Shakespeare’s eyeless face whenever he returned from an errand. There were some moments he felt like grabbing his belongings and running out the door, but the irrepressible cast always drew him back.
“Henry,” Andre asked,” do you enjoy art?”
“I do, but who has the time for art?” Henry said as he placed a brown paper wrapped package in the freezer. “Art is for those who can afford it,” Henry smiled. He was proud of his answer. He imagined it was even profound.
“Ah, Henry, so practical,” Andre said as his face grew pensive, “but you don’t need money to draw a picture, or sing a song.”
“Ever think of drawing something?” Shakespeare grinned. “Because your voice is killing me!” he cracked as he scooted behind Andre and pinched him in the rear.
“Now I will just sing more, you tiny little bore!”
“But Henry, you have a point: we deserve a raise,” Andre said as he kicked Shakespeare playfully. “We haven’t gotten an increase in ages.”
“Simpson won’t give us a raise, that penny pincher,” Shakespeare piped as he drew close to Henry. “He even reuses the soap. Let me help you with that, Henry,” Shakespeare said as he pulled the freezer doors open wider.
“Reuses the soap,” Diego said dreamily as she paced to the back of the kitchen.
“We should ask Her,” Andre said, surprised by his suggestion. “Well why not? But how?” He opened a package of butter.
“Why not get Henry to do it?” Diego cried from the back of the kitchen as she separated eggs into a small black bowl.
“Me? I’m new here, why me?” Surprised, he didn’t want to rock the boat. “And what about Simpson? Why not you, Andre, or Shakespeare?”
“Shakespeare?” Andre laughed. “Well he’s hardly a diplomat and I could get nervous and break into song!”
Diego stood up off her chair. “Henry, face it: you’re the most average person here,” she stammered. While she stood, eggs fell to the floor popping as they broke.
“When did you become so communicative?” Henry sneered as he faced Diego. His eyes caught a close glimpse of her scar and he winced. No matter how many times he’d seen the aberrations, he didn’t think he’d ever get entirely used to their stark surprise.
“She’s right, though, Henry,” Shakespeare cried as he stirred the chocolate sauce. “You’re the only one who can do it. But how to get past Simpson and how to get to her?” He tasted the sauce and added a drop of milk. “Simpson always leaves his door open.”
“I didn’t say I would do it,” Henry smiled as he placed a dish in the sink. “Why not tell Simpson we’re just going straight to Her? How could he stop us?”
“He watches over her like a hawk,” Shakespeare warned. “He’d sooner get rid of all of us than let that happen. And unfortunately, we may be cute, but we’re all too expendable.”
“Oh come on, Henry!” Andre pleaded. “We would be so grateful to you and think of all the fine things we could do! I’ll take you to the theatre. You’ll take me too the zoo!”
“The zoo?” Shakespeare laughed uncontrollably. “I have a plan, how to get past Simpson, but we’ll have to do something kind of lousy.”
* * *
The plan was set for Friday afternoon right before Alarm made her regularly scheduled appearance at noon. The night before, while Henry was getting ready for bed, he agreed Andre was right about one thing. He turned on his small transistor radio. There was a station he listened to whenever he could. It played all Sinatra every evening for three heavenly hours. It would take him back to the past, to Brooklyn.
Henry glowed to the crooning that came over the air. They were playing “High Hopes,” the one with the bit about the rubber tree plant and the ant. He perched on his bed, careful not to disturb his wing, and grinned as it played. Maybe things could get better. Then he thought about the next afternoon’s possibilities and he wasn’t so certain. Life’s curious swamps could get muddy.
* * *
It was just about noon when Andre was watching the clock above the sink as he was preparing a meringue. Shakespeare was attentively standing near the door next to Henry while Diego was ambling by the refrigerator looking for her shoe. As the clock struck twelve, Alarm’s familiar scream filled the kitchen like a siren gone mad.
Shakespeare leapt and stood several feet in front of Alarm as she made her way quickly through the kitchen. “Wait, please, wait, it’s important!” Shakespeare cried as he waved his arms, shouting to Alarm.
But her scream only grew as she sped briskly towards Shakespeare, red hair and wedding gown flowing in her wake.
Suddenly Andre darted out from the side of the stove and grabbed Alarm from behind. “Listen please,” he cried loudly, covering her mouth with his hands. “Your fiancé, he’s here!”
Alarm quickly became silent “He’s in the office down the hall. Please follow us.”
She began to scream wildly again as she followed Shakespeare and Andre down the hall towards Simpson’s office. As they drew closer, Simpson heard the commotion and scrambled into the hall.
“What is going on now?” Simpson shrieked. “Dear Lord, you’re madder than I thought.” He grabbed Alarm’s arm and pulled her into his office. Alarm suddenly became silent. Simpson slammed the office door quickly behind them.
“Henry, run!” Andre roared, waving at Henry. Wasting no time, Henry fled past Simpson’s office and down the long hall up to Her door.
The door. Henry was surprised by its average appearance, for such a secretive She should have an elaborate door with tight security. Security guards carrying machine guns like some Mexican police force. But it was just a steel door and it wasn’t even locked. But then again, why lock it? Surely no one was going to rob her.
Henry knocked before he pushed the door open. And then he saw an amazing room. The ceiling was glass. It was expansive, huge. The sun streamed in. It was a greenhouse. Plants and ivy grew up the walls. It was like stepping into a forest, but they were on Delancey Street in the Lower East Side of Manhattan.
Suddenly, strange sounds like thistle bristling and something large walking on brush. Insect legs stood high above, narrow and long, enormous walking with a heavy tripedal gait. Had he finally lost his mind? Henry scampered between the scaly legs as they drew closer. Then the head appeared, stern, black eyes popping, “Oh my God! It is you, mother!”
Henry was stunned. He hadn’t seen his mother since he left Brooklyn. So many years had passed, and to think she was here of all places. She was She.
“Henry?” she buzzed in a high piercing sound that beamed into his brain. “Still half-man, half-insect.” Her black eyes dangled from above as her furry head jutted from side to side. “I told you years ago, half-bug won’t do. Go away,” she spat, “and don’t return until you’re all bug.”
“But mother, I don’t know how to change,” Henry cried as he leaned against one of her legs.
“Henry go. You’re half-human and tiny.” His mother’s voice stung. “Go before I have to eat you.”
Henry stormed towards the door as her legs lifted and she crawled mechanically into another room.
As Henry walked back to the kitchen, he bristled. If she only were a little human. She hadn’t even gotten word to him that she’d been moved. How was he supposed to change? Why should he? Impossible. The situation was impossible, he thought as he opened the door.
“Henry there’s a sink full of dishes!” Andre shouted.
“I can’t see the sun!” Diego cried as she stormed to the back of the kitchen.
“Dante said, ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who, in time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality’,” Andre pondered as he stirred the beginnings of a cream sauce.
“Hey guys, you’re not going to believe this,” Henry called.
“Dante had never eaten your food!” Shakespeare snapped as he ran behind the stove.
Henry sighed. No one was paying attention. The subject had changed.
“I will cook you a goose that will turn your head chartreuse!”
“Does anyone have a curling iron?” Diego breathed.
Copyright © 2011 by Bruce Memblatt