Managing Dinner at Larson’s

“All I know is he’s an engineer.” Dell said. He was a thick, sprawling man whose hair was beginning to gray. They (Dell, Kit, Amber and Dee) were on the way to a dinner with Larson, a colleague from work, and Dell was driving. He leaned over the steering wheel. He was seriously wondering how this was going to go. Larson was a loner, and had probably invited Dell and his family because it was the right thing to do—connecting socially with colleagues. People at the office had a high-low opinion of him. Always took a long time to finish a project; but always had it finished meticulously right, right down to the last jot and tittle on the Project Report. Editing his reports, which was part of Dell’s job, was a breeze. Even Larson’s Engineerese was readable.

Kit was a pretty good match for Dell, pert, quick, slender, she tolerated sloth and messy without being disordered herself. Lady Clairol, her only major vanity, covered an early graying of her hair.

“You work with a guy, and he invites you to dinner, and all you know he’s an engineer?” Kit didn’t know Larson very well. Single guy, divorced more than once, Kentucky drawl, gracious, kind. Wine sipper in the beer guzzling social crowd she and Dell ran with. Dipped his head to all the women. Current gossip had him on an on-and-off with a nurse at the hospital. Always spoke of his past assignments with the Agency as Paradise, his current assignment was always inches outside the door of Hades and walking through. Dell’s other colleagues seemed to take him with a bit if wry.

“He was in the carpool for a while. Works out of the Field Office.” (Dell worked in the regional headquarters office.) “I only know him in the carpool. Didn’t particularly like our lackadaisy attitude toward time. Decided to drive himself.”

“Does he have kids?” Amber asked. It was just the kind of question she would ask. She did not mean did he have another ten-year-old like herself, she meant babies. As usual, to her disgust, she had not been consulted about this expedition, but had managed to grab her bag of toys and coloring books that she kept handy in case anyone needed a baby sitter.

“Uh, I don’t think so,” Dell said. He thought there might be children from one of the marriages, but Larson never spoke of them.

“Well, what are we going to do?” Dee said. For her adults were interesting, but anyone older than twelve was pretty much a social has been.

“You’re going to be the young ladies, you are,” Kit said.

“I got coloring books,” Amber said.

“Oh, Jeeze,” Dee said.

“Yeah, exactly,” Amber said.

Larson lived on a cul-de-sac, near the edge of town. Dell told Kit that during the twenty-six-mile commute to Window Rock, his conversation focused on his neighbors. He was about as pleased with them as he was about his current agency assignment. And Kit could see why. The place next door still had Christmas lights looping under the eaves and rattling in the wind. And the front yard vegetable garden was weed ragged and drooped with unharvested tomatoes and rotting pumpkins. Here it was almost Halloween.

Larson’s yard looked like it had been manicured from driveway to picket fence with scissors and tweezers. The little flower plot under the windows, was freshly tilled with two orange Chrysanthemum’s and neat rows of pansies still blooming and nodding politely in the evening chill. There were two grinning plastic pumpkins guarding the corners of the concrete stoop of the front door.

Amber came out of the car with her bag of baby stuff over her shoulder. But Kit, her premonition smoldering, told her to leave it in the car.

Larson answered the door almost before Dell touched the bell. He wore a white and green striped apron without a wrinkle or speck on it. The creases on the sleeves of his button-collar shirt was, as usual, iron perfect.

“Welcome, welcome,” he motioned the little family in. “The roast is nearly done.”

“Well, I guess we’re on time then,” Kit said.

Larson grinned, “Great,” he said. He nodded a bow toward her. He was a slender, bow legged man, with sharp blue eyes that drilled at Kit as if to measure and place her precisely where she belonged. “Great.” He motioned them into a room with a floor to ceiling glass case against one wall, and book cases along another. There was a table in this room with five places set in absolutely perfect formality for dinner. The table’s lion paw feet, was perfectly centered on a large oriental rug.

“Wine?” Larson said. There was a bottle sitting in ice on the side table.

“Uh, sure,” Dell said.

“Not me, thanks,” Kit said.

Larson lifted the bottle from the ice, dried it with a folded towel. “I’ve got soda, or orange juice, or water,” he said glancing to Kit and the two children. When he said “water,” he nodded at the carafe on the table. He drew out the cork from the bottle and poured the red liquid into a deeply belled wine glass. He handed it to Dell.

“Water’s fine,” Kit said.

“I’d like some wine,” Amber said.

Larson looked immediately confused. Children asking for wine was entirely outside his understanding of the social order.

“She’ll have water,” Kit said, “Or?” she looked at Amber. Who huffed and said, “Orange juice.” Dee said, “Me to.” Kit shuddered thinking of orange juice dripping from an over turned wine glass and down the table’s lion legs to the oriental rug. But it was too late, the girls had already spoken.

Larson smiled. He twisted the cork back into the bottle and lowered it into the ice. “The juice is in the refrigerator,” Larson said.

“Where’s the fridge?” Amber said.

“It’s in the kitchen, but I’ll get it in a minute.” Larson filled one of the wineglasses with water and handed it to Kit. He smiled and nodded his bow again.

“I can get it,” Amber said.

“No, No. You sit here, and I’ll have it in a minute.” Larson indicated a chair at the table, and put the carafe carefully in its place on the table.

“Just a jiff,” he said. He went through a swinging door. Kit caught a glimpse of a steaming pot on the range.

“Can I do anything?” she called.

“No, No. I’ll have it on in a minute,” came from the kitchen. They could hear the refrigerator door suck open and the click and gurgle of pouring, then Larson came back into the room with two clear plastic tumblers of orange juice. He placed them on the table, he bent at the waist toward each of the girls, smiling.

Then he went back through the swinging door. The family heard the noises of final preparation, an oven opening, scraping of metal on metal.

Larson came back through the door, pushing it with his back, and carrying a large platter with a dark roast on it. He placed this on the table, then turned. “Just a sec,” he said. He made two more trips to the kitchen, returning each time with a plate or chafing dish filled with salad, vegetables, and fruit.

The family waited. They wandered in front of the glass cases and shelves.

The glass cases were filled with Zuni pots, folded shawls, collections of arrow heads and flutes. One shelf displayed a variety of dolls in Native American dress. Two of these were large Zuni Kachina-looking effigies. Another shelf displayed photographs. One picture was a formal black and white of a family in a photographer’s studio. Dell recognized one of the boys, hair slicked down tightly, as Larson. There were other photographs of women standing or sitting in landscapes, smiling as if they believed the photographer was taking their picture. And Kit acknowledged that he was, but each and every picture was composed to incorporate the lines, shapes, colors, and light of the whole. The women, for all their beauty—and each had an individual loveliness—were merely a part of the fuller composition.

On one of Larson’s trips from the kitchen, Dee asked him, “Can I look at the dolls.”

“Yes, certainly,” Larson said. Then he stopped, realizing, apparently, that what the young girl meant was “can I take them out of the case and. . . .”

“But they aren’t for playing,” he said. “Sit down at the table, please.” He indicated the places where he had placed the tumblers of orange juice.  I’ll have it on in a minute.”

“Amazing collection,” Dell said. He swirled his wine and rocked on his heels. He was particularly fascinated with the rows of flint chips and arrow heads.

“Yes. I have something from everywhere. That flute is Vietnamese.” He pointed, then vanished behind the swinging door again.

“Well, girls,” Kit said, “let’s sit down. Looks like dinner is about ready.”

“I want to look at the dolls,” Dee said.

Kit squatted down beside her girls who were looking into the case with the Kachinas and Totem effigies. She put her arms around each of them, “They are nice aren’t they,” she loudly enough to be heard in the kitchen, she hoped.

Then she hissed a whisper. “Don’t. Touch. Do. Not. Touch.”

Posted in response to the Ragtag Community Word or the day, “fastidious

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