The Bird Who Came to Dinner
Susan Charkes

We figured out afterward that the invitation had been misaddressed. Delbert took responsibility; the maid was sacked as a precaution. If only we had paid attention to the grammar checker (“who” should have been “that”). Decorum dictated that a place be set, no matter how useless the utensils. Mother, bless her, drew the bird into conversation by inquiring how the traffic had been on the way over. “A breeze,” the bird replied with a dry chuckle. By the time the soup arrived a lively yet lighthearted debate had ensued regarding the relative merits of a tailwind versus a headwind. The debate became more pointed when George growled that voting for a tailer would stick in his craw, and Nola countered that the thought of marrying a header turned her stomach. Glaring at George, Aunt Edna began sharpening her nails with her steak knife. Mother sought to turn the tide by asking Olga about her new job at the incubator. Olga turned white and looked about to crack. Paul tossed a dishtowel over her head. We had barely started in on our salad before Uncle Erwin chided the cook for charring the mealworms. A nervous chatter arose as we awaited the main course. Mother, bright as ever, complimented the bird for a captivating rendition of “My Blue Heaven.” Laura ruined it all by shrieking, “Too slow! Too slow!” Father’s habitual frown deepened into a scowl as he pursued an obstinate corn kernel round and round the rim of his plate. Just as Tommy began squawking that Timmy had swiped his suet pudding, Timmy broke out screeching that Tommy had snatched his cricket biscuit. As Aunt Helen sped to the larder to fetch the twins more grub, Uncle Ike speared her pine nut pasty. The cook dashed through the dining room with a pair of shears, leaving napkin shreds in her wake. Dessert was a disaster; all the commotion had flattened the seedcake. No sooner had the plate been set down than a forking frenzy churned the confection into a clattering of crumbs that whirled down the length of the table and out the open window. The bird followed, harrumphing, “Globalization! Same old same old wherever you go.”

Susan Charkes lives in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her poetry chapbook, sp., is available (The Operating System, 2017), and her poems have been published in Arsenic Lobster, Cleaver, Denver Quarterly, Gargoyle, The Matador Review, Paper Nautilus, Posit, Prick of the Spindle, Schuylkill Valley Journal, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Wax Paper, and elsewhere.

more by Susan Charkes:
One Floor Over the Cuckoo's Nest