by John Kirkland
Stella and I were in the stage of throwing away boxes and packing material
when our new neighbor, Frederick Hauptnegel, appeared at the door.
“Ooh, helloo there,” Frederick projected in his thick Nordic accent. “Welcome
to Accordia, I hope you find things real nice, real nice!”
“Oh, thank you, uh, sir. Minnesota is a lovely state…what we've seen
of it.” Stella replies.
“The name is Hauptnegel, Frederick Hauptnegel. Please call me Frederick.
I stopped over to
ask you two
to dinner at my place, next door, you know…” shifting his weight, “the
Mrs. and I are pretty fair chefs…you should come over, you know.
About seven tomorrow?” The graying man stood with a blank smile, near the
“Oh Byron, I think we can make it…Certainly, Frederick, we would be delighted.”
I shook his hand and thanked him for the invitation. Frederick turned
and left the house. “I hope this guy isn't too weird, Stella.”
“Oh, he's just eccentric, By.”
“Yeah, but pajamas and penny loafers at one in the afternoon? Horned
rim glasses and a cigarette holder, sans cigarette. Stella you just
committed us to have dinner with Dr. Strange…he could be one of those Jeffrey
Dahmer types, with barrels of unwitting new neighbors in the basement.”
“Oh, By! You’re funny! Frederick is just a sweet older man. I’m sure
that dinner will be lovely. Maybe different, but that’s okay.
It’s not as though we know anybody else here. Accordia is very different
from Nashville. We have to adapt.”
“Maybe you’re right, darling.”
For the rest of that day I kept a watch on the house of our new neighbor,
Dr. Strange. I guess the stress of moving so far away from my warm
and beloved South was causing me great stress. My full thirty years
had been spent there, mostly in Nashville, even attending college at Vanderbilt
to get my MBA. Minneapolis was a mess, but the suburbs were a little
better. It was still too cold. It was July and forty degrees
at night. And I had to have dinner with the doctor.
Friday came, and Stella and I headed to the Hauptnegels. The house
was large and beautiful on the outside, but filled with strange artifacts
on the inside. Frederick was the head of the anthropology department
at a local university. He was not a conventional man. He talked
to us about his work, showed us a Trobriand Death Mask, and then headed
back to the kitchen for his grand creation. Only then did I begin
to fear that I might have to eat something that I dreaded. There
was a strange odor coming from the kitchen.
Suddenly Frederick burst through the door, platter in hand. “Dinner
Of all the things that he might have served his new neighbors, it just
had to be this.
“Oh, isn’t it…lovely, Byron?” Stella asked sheepishly.
“It looks great.”
On the platter before us was a whole baked snapping turtle, covered in
cranberry sauce. Fresh radishes coming out of the eye sockets. Fantastic.
Dinner with the neighbors for this masterpiece.
“Learned to appreciate turtle while in the Galapagos Islands, there, Bryan.”
“It’s Byron. Looks great.” I looked at Stella. We were both
thinking the same thing. There are some things you just don’t do
at a dinner party. One is to refuse the main course. I forced
myself to eat my helping, after helping Frederick pry the shell off.
selection was in poor taste. Stella and I both knew it. I mean,
obviously. You don’t serve cranberry in the summertime. He
should have used an orange glaze, or just barbecue the damn thing.
Cranberry in July, how passe!
John Kirkland, 1999