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The Gourmet
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 door.  
   “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 is served!”
   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.
  Frederick’s 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