A Special Meal

A Special Meal

A Story by Martin Durso

A father handles the engagement of his daughter to a suspect suitor



A Special Meal

  Hopkins had offended me in ways that are difficult to describe without sounding like a paternalistic caveman.   Nevertheless, I had prepared a special meal to mark his engagement to our oldest daughter Julia.  Having it catered would have been easier but my plans required a personal touch so I only hired a few servers.

Our hors d'oeuvres included lamb pizzettes, chicken satay, baccala flatbreads, and mini crab cakes with just enough panko and mayo to hold them together.  For those who didn’t indulge in such fleshy pleasures, I had some nice cheeses, grilled veggies, and tomato bruschetta.   Salad and wedding soup were served once everyone was seated followed by filet mignon, salmon, and eggplant rollatini.   I had selected some of Hopkins’ favorite wines and made sure they were well paired to each dish.  Dessert included crunchy cannoli - ricotta only of course - pignoli cookies, truffles, and some excellent java served along with Hopkins’ favorite 120 proof brandy.  The meal was traditional -- no molecular gastronomy of any kind -- but it was delicious and much appreciated by our guests.

Weddings typically only come once or twice in a person’s life.  Yet, Julia had been engaged to a man nearly twice her age who was primping and prepping to say “I do” for the fourth time. Moreover, Hopkins had been Julia’s art history professor.  I had problems with all of this -- the age difference, his past marriages, and their introduction as student and professor.  My wife thought otherwise.  Indeed, she was just wild about Harry.   She cast aside my stated concerns by noting that Julia was 28 years old now and therefore separated from any dubious college flings by at least seven years.  My wife also was willing to overlook the similarities between the upcoming nuptials and Harry’s first three marriages.  His first was to a 20 year old museum secretary whom he met during his summer lecture series (an introduction to impressionism); his second was to a 23 year old who, like Jules, was a former student; and his third was to an art department secretary who just loved Renoir. 

“How does this not bother you,” I asked my wife.  “He’s had three wives and they were all younger, former subordinates like Julia.  And all three of those marriages ended badly after the wives turned 30.  Julia may only have a couple of good years with this creep.”   I found myself at a loss for words and thus concluded my opposition to the marriage with a low and long “uuuuu” sound, made while slowly shaking my head side to side with mouth slightly ajar.  Decidedly caveman like.

At least part of the reason for my inarticulate speech was that I just couldn’t understand how my wife did not view Julia’s prospective marriage to Hopkins to be as alarming as Munch’s Scream or as predictable as the last of Monet’s haystacks.  Yet, my loving wife disagreed with virtually everything I said.  She calmly told me not to call Hopkins a “creep” and that I was badly underestimating the strength and resolve of our daughter.  Maybe my bride of 36 years reasoned with a wink, I was a little jealous of Harry’s youthful vigor.  I was of course.  

  Harry was only ten years my junior but he looked like he could be my son.  After greying, my hair had deserted my scalp and migrated to my shoulders, ears, neck, and other spots where it did not belong; my six pack had long ago rounded into a keg.  By contrast, Harry had remained lean with a great head of hair (probably dyed and re-seeded somehow).  Moreover, Harry was funny and charming while I could be, admittedly, just a bit cross at times.   But not tonight.

Tonight, I swallowed my misgivings and brought up a big smile.  As Harry downed one stiff brandy after the next, I kept my G&Ts almost ginless.  I spoke more loudly than usual to create the impression that we were both getting baked but my aim remained as sharp as the cheddar that was sadly passed over in favor of the fancier hots.  We had both aged, the cheddar and me, with singular purpose.  The Widmer’s would enhance any toasted wedge on which it landed.  And me, the big cheese, I would watch out for my girls.  Tonight, as the party wore on, only the cheese from Wisconsin began to sweat.  I’m from New Jersey.

My scheme was not simply or feverishly paternal; I had some secret information.  While my wife was right to remind me of Julia’s strength, I was right about Hopkins being a “creep.”  Shortly after the engagement was announced, our youngest daughter, Grace, informed me that Julia was not our only child whom Harry had known intimately.   His affections had earlier been expressed for our middle daughter, Katherine.   Kate was 20 at the time so there had been no crime but this disclosure burned a hole in my generous gut.  I told no one because Grace had sworn me to secrecy.  Grace insisted that I not tell my wife primarily because she was not sure just how far the “thing” between Hopkins and Kate had gone.  While I honored my promise of confidentiality, the details of the relationship were not critical to me.  Once I learned that there had been secret meetings with secret kissing and secret touching, I knew that Harry’s appetite for my daughters had to end.

When the meal was over, I had some Tennessee honey - another Hopkins favorite - served in crackle glass cups on which “Julia and Harry” had been artfully printed.  These little globes would be nice keepsakes for our guests; there would be no wedding favors.  

In Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, a naked couple float across a lake inside a little globe, protected from a world of carnal craziness only by crackle glass.  Some interpret it to be a warning about the fragility of passion.  I favor an adage of more general application:  “good fortune, like glass, is easily broken.” 

Like Bosch’s protective sphere, the crackle cups I had ordered were clear.  Only two were not:  Julia’s was pink; Harry’s was blue.  Terribly traditional I know but not without reason.  There must be no confusion about whose cup was whose.  To Harry’s blue cup I had added a special finish, one derived from autumn crocus, which grew in our yard, and carrot weed which you may know by a different name. 

  Once the crackle cups had been passed out to our guests, I gave Julia her pink tinted one and Harry his blue tainted one.  Everyone thought it was cute.  Then I made a nice albeit rather bland toast to the couple, wishing them joy and happiness, etc.  After Harry knocked back his bourbon, I refilled our glasses and offered a brief coda:  “And may Harry and Julia never disrespect each other or their families.”  I gave a big toothy grin after offering this rather uncomfortable salute and then crashed my cup into Harry’s.  Silly me. 

Crackle is a finish added to glass to give it a cracked appearance or texture.  This finish does not make the glass leak of course but crackle glass, like good fortune, really is quite fragile.   My “drunken” jubilation had been too much for Harry’s crackle cup which shattered into tiny pieces.  I humbly apologized and cleaned up the mess, promising to order a replacement for Harry’s cup in the morning.  My embarrassing error signaled to the crowd that the party was over.  Everyone left with a smile; some smirked but, later that night, I alone laughed like a mad man. 

I cackled because I had acted with impunity.  Harry’s boozing had provided just the sedative needed to keep him from vomiting up the tincture of autumn crocus, which are deadly due to their colchicine content, and carrot weed, which you may know as hemlock, that I had prepared for him.  By the time he expired, the evidence of my work was unrecoverable:  miniscule fragments of blue glass buried in a landfill.   No one even thought to look for a cause of death besides alcohol poisoning.  After consuming all his favorite drinks, Harry’s BAL was well beyond a safe limit.  

It didn’t take Julia too long to get over Harry and find a better mate.  Far faster was the spread of gossip about Hopkins.  He would soon be recalled by many as “stupid old Harry” -- the sot who drank himself to death after being engaged to that lovely young woman.  So you see, I had taken the professor’s life and his reputation. 

If there’s a reckoning in an afterlife, I can only hope that my judge will be a forgiving father.  Who’s to say?  While some claim foreknowledge, it seems pretty obvious that we’ve all been left to guess about such unearthly matters.  Hell, I don’t know where my clean socks are half the time.  What I do know for certain is that Julia is now cherished and happy, and that Harry Hopkins will speak enchantingly about impressionism nevermore.

© 2021 Martin Durso

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All the food talk made me curse myself for not having anything more than a lousy muffin for breakfast. Then, the mention of that May-December wedding caused the father in me to say, "Oh, hell no!"
I'm not sure what I expected in this story, but the ending was a surprise. Not a bad surprise--a good one.
This is a very good little tale, and I enjoyed reading it.

Posted 4 Months Ago

A clever piece of writing Montessor.

Posted 4 Months Ago

1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

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2 Reviews
Added on March 31, 2021
Last Updated on April 2, 2021