Mother set a final dish on the dining room table and straightened to examine her work.
Perfect, she thought, then took a deep breath.
“Supper’s ready!” she called and grinned from ear to ear at the whoops of hungry children and clatter of feet on the rickety old stairs.
“It looks wonderful, dear,” Father said, wrapping his arms around her waist from behind and kissing her neck.
“Oh, thank you, love,” Mother said leaning back, pecking him on the lips. “But you did the hard part.”
“Gross!” Little Timmy said from the dining room doorway.
“Tim didn’t wash his hands!”
“Did too, Margot!” Little Timmy said. “Moooom, Margot’s lying!”
“Oh hush, Margot. Nobody likes a tattle-tale,” Mother said. “Timmy go wash your hands in the kitchen. Does your father need to watch you do it?”
The boy’s shoulders slumped, “No…”
“Use soap,” Father called as Little Timmy shouldered through the saloon doors separating the kitchen from the dining room and a few moments later Mother heard running water and the lathering of soap.
“What are we having anyway?” Margot asked.
“Why, your favorite dear,” Mother said.
Margot gave a little squeal, “You mean…”
“They’re clean!” Little Timmy announced, bursting through the swinging kitchen doors, hands held aloft, dripping.
“You’re supposed to dry them, weirdo,” Margot said.
“Oh, yeah!” The boy gave a devilish grin and sunk his hands into her thick wool jumper.
“Ugh, Mom!” Margot shoved her brother away and straightened her sweater.
“Timothy Jackson Talbot! What has gotten into you today?” Mother said.
“Sorry, mom” Little Timmy tried and failed to look contrite.
“Don’t apologize to me, apologize to your sister.”
“Sorry Margot,” he said it with a slight smirk, but Mother let it go.
“Alright, sit down everyone. Dinner is getting cold,” Father said.
“Wow, Mom this looks amazing!”
“Thank you, Timmy, but you should thank your father,” Mother said shoveling a few pieces of deep-fried entrails onto the boy’s plate. “He’s the one who went hunting last night.”
“Thanks dad!” he said, picking up a piece of intestine with his fingers and popping it into his mouth like a sweet. “Can I go with you next time?”
“Heaven’s Timmy,” Mother said. “Use a fork and don’t speak with your mouth full.”
“It’s alright, dear,” Father said, a rib slathered in succulent barbeque sauce gripped between his fingers. “We’re hunters at heart! And hunting is messy business. Of course, you can come with me Tim. But only to watch and learn. We’ve got to put some meat on your bones before you can take down big game like your old man.”
“Hurrah!” Timmy cheered and dug into his entrails with abandon.
Margot, who’d been leaning over her blood and brains pudding, slurping contentedly, cocked her head to the side and asked, “Who was this anyway?”
“What was that dear?” asked Mother, who’d been scrubbing a grease off little Timmy’s cheek and had yet to take a bite of her own dinner, lightly seared liver flanked by knuckle bones.
“I was just wondering who he was,” Marot said. “Somebody we know? One of my school mates’ parents? We never really talk about it.”
“Margot, I don’t think this is appropriate dinner conversation,” Mother said, giving Father a meaningful sidelong glance.
Father cocked his head to the side in a mirror of his daughter’s expression for a moment then set the rib back onto his plate and cleaned his mouth and fingers with a cloth napkin before saying, “Perhaps we should discuss it, my love. After all, there are so many more ideas in the world than when we were young. It’s only natural Margot would ask questions at her age.”
Mother froze with a bite of liver half-way to her mouth, looking unhappy and said, “Fine but you are handling this one, dear. I haven’t the stomach for it.”
“Why does Margot always want to talk about boring stuff?” Little Timmy piped up. “I want to talk about the army of ants outside, I captured some of their scouts and they want to take over the whole…”
“Hush Timothy,” Father said. “Margot brings up an important question, and it’s something everyone in the family has to ask at some point.”
He turned to his daughter and said, “First, no, we don’t know this man, I found him hitch hiking near the highway. He said he’d lost his family in an accident and started wandering across the country six or seven months ago, even he wasn’t sure where he was going or why.”
“That’s so sad!” Margot exclaimed.
“Is it? Humans die. That’s what they do. It’s what they’ve always done. What does it matter if it’s today or in a century to us who will live forever?”
“But Dad, they think and make jokes and sing songs just like we do! Don’t they deserve to live out their lives?”
Father gave a thoughtful nod and picked up his half-eaten rib, inspected it for a moment and took a bite then said, “Margot do you know how many of their kind I’ve killed over the years?”
“Neither do I. Thousands by now, I’d imagine,” he said, taking another bite. Usually Mother would admonish him for speaking with his mouth full, but she kept her eyes forward, expressionless.
“Do you know how many people died in the nuclear blast at Hiroshima in 1945?” Father continued.
“No,” Margot’s voice was a whisper.
“About 145,000. Another 30 or 40 thousand died in Nagasaki a few days later. These animals killed hundreds of times more of their own in an instant than I have in more than a century on this earth. They are like lemmings with overdeveloped brains, running off cliffs of their own making.”
“My teacher said lemmings don’t actually run off cliffs,” Little Timmy interjected. “It’s what do you call it, a something legend?”
“Urban legend,” Mother muttered.
“Yeah, urband legend!”
“My point is,” Father continued, “although they speak, although they sing and make art and automobiles and aero planes, humans are just animals. Self-destructive, pitiable animals. We eat their flesh because without it we’d wither, grow weak and die, just like them.”
“And besides,” he said, pointedly snapping the rib in two and sucking on the marrow. “They taste wonderful.”
Margot gave Father a hard look, glanced at her mother, who still stared blankly at the wall and finally at Little Timmy who been gnawing on intestines throughout the conversation, finally she dipped her spoon into her steaming bowl of blood and brains and said, “They are tasty,” before slurping up a mouthful.
Mother relaxed instantly, her gaze shifting to Little Timmy’s plate, “Eat your eyeballs, son.”
“Ugh, but they’re slimy!” the boy protested.
“They’re good for you, boy,” Father said. “Help you grow up big and strong so you can hunt humans like your old man.”
The boy grimaced, popped the eyeball into his mouth and chewed with an audible squelch, “Yuck.”
The topic of conversation moved on to the children’s schoolwork and before dinner ended, they joked and laughed as if there had been no awkwardness at all. At mother’s direction the children cleared and washed the dishes while she and father retired to the living room for a well-deserved nightcap.
Thanks for reading Dinner Time! If you enjoyed it, hit that like button and leave a comment. If you’d like to check out more of my weird stories and musings about life, the universe, and the meaning of existence, then subscribe to Mindful of Madness. You can also find me on twitter @drewjokeringram or on Instagram @andrewingram88. My comedy album, “This Was A Bad Idea” is on Spotify, iTunes or pretty much anywhere else you listen to music. Thanks, my self-esteem depends on you.