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February 19, 2024

Dinner With Henry 2: The Inspection

By Bruce Memblatt

Andre was the first one in the kitchen that morning.

"Ah there is no one here but me!
How rare, how strange,
I need some coffee, and a new electric range!"

He peered toward the right as he sang and quickly checked the door that led to the kitchen to see if anyone was coming. Not seeing a soul in sight, he carefully reached his hand into his pocket and pulled a small snake out of his jacket. With a sadistic grin he placed the snake into Shakespeare's cupboard in the back of the kitchen. Of course, this was cause for more song.

"Wait till Shakespeare finds this!
He will surely piss!"

Just as he closed the door to the cupboard Diego marched in. That morning she had an unusually long face as Diego, though generally in some distant place, wasn't prone to dark moods. "What's the matter, Diego? You look so sad today. You know one of the things Shakespeare wrote about sadness, not our Shakespeare but the big one; he wrote 'There is sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power.'"

"I am getting old, Andre, old and unloved. I want a cigarette."

"Aw let her have one, chubby!" Shakespeare snapped as he walked through the door.

"Ah and the morning was going so well," Andre sighed, while he spooned coffee beans into the grinder that sat on the counter to the left of the stove.

"You haven't had a good morning since they stopped making the purple M&M." Shakespeare snickered.

"Hey listen, I like purple, you little fish! But this is serious -- Diego is very unhappy."

"Where is Henry today?" Diego said in tones so lethargic Shakespeare yawned.

"Yes, where is Henry?" Andre cried, and just as he turned to stir the coffee Simpson entered the kitchen. Simpson had a look of concern on his face that caused Andre to hold his spoon suspended in the air at a particularly unusual angle as it was pointing towards his nose.

"Andre, are you all right?" Simpson said, brushing off his jacket and straightening his tie. He continued, "About Henry, I've sent him out on a few errands; hopefully he'll be gone a long time. Please, can I have everyone's attention, you too, Sincere." Sincere rarely spoke as she was mostly preoccupied with her cans of worms, but at that moment she was in the rear of the kitchen chopping a block of chocolate into little cubes. Simpson cleared his throat and he began, "Today we're expecting a gentleman from the department of health to inspect the kitchen. So everything has to be, of course, spic and span. And I'm sorry, but as far as Henry is concerned the inspector can't see him. I know he's only half bug, but the inspector won't understand."

Andre immediately rose "But what about Henry's feelings? This is terrible!"

"Wait till the inspector finds out who we're serving!" Shakespeare giggled.

"Shakespeare, The inspector's duties are consigned to the kitchen. Henry's mother should remain a secret."

Shakespeare drew closer to Simpson and replied "And what about me, Simpson? What will he say when he gets a gander at my hollow eyes? Or Diego's' missing ear?

"None of those things are in violation of the health code but a bug in the kitchen ..."

"Henry isn't a bug! He's one of us. And he's clean."

"Henry is so clean!
Like a fine machine."

"I wonder if the inspector will have blue eyes. I love blue." Diego added and then she looked deeply into the cup of coffee in her hand as if she were gazing into a crystal ball.

"Please, everyone try to keep things in order. I expect the inspector should arrive around noon."

Upon hearing the time of the inspector's arrival Andre's eyebrows rose, "but it's Friday, Simpson. Alarm will be making her appearance at noon today!"

"I'll take care of Alarm," Simpson said softly and then he walked towards toward the door staring at Andre and Shakespeare intently before he closed it behind him.

"I think there is something more than meets the eye to Simpson and Alarm's relationship. I'll bet they have a past. Ah, amore," Andre sighed," but about this thing with Henry. This is an outrage! Eve Curie once said 'There is something more hideous, more atrocious than war or than death, and that is to live in fear.' Do we want Henry to live in fear? To be afraid to be who he is?"

"Shame we can't arrange that for you!" Shakespeare chimed as he scooted behind Andre and whacked him with a spoon.

"I detest this little pest!"

"Pest? Do you mean like a bug?"

"Yes, you are the bug; we should be hiding you..."

"I wonder if the inspector is tall?" Diego sighed.

"But seriously this isn't right! It's not right." Andre cried with such gusto Sincere dropped her can of worms.

At that moment Shakespeare tugged on Andre's leg and said, "Right or wrong, it doesn't matter; we have to watch our butts. Like I said before, Andre, it's all about who butters your bread, and Henry doesn't butter our bread She butters our bread."

"Oooh speaking of butter, I have to put up the sauce!"

Henry had just climbed out of the subway station at Seventy Second Street and Broadway. He'd spent the entire morning wondering why Simpson sent him all the way uptown to buy rutabagas. And not just any rutabagas, Simpson said, they could only be found at one fruit market on Seventy-Fourth Street. It was odd because he knew his mother wasn't particularly fond of rutabagas, so why send him all the way up there for this curious batch? Perhaps Simpson was more eccentric than Henry had suspected. As he walked past Seventy-Third Street he pulled out his umbrella and he noticed Simpson's store was just about a block away. It looked like an ordinary fruit store; a stand outside was filled with assorted fruits and vegetables, and more fruits and vegetables inside. There was a small supply of deli foods, beer and milk in the freezer in back, counter, cash register, it looked like every other fruit store in the city and the rutabagas didn't look like special rutabagas. There wasn't a sign to indicate their rutabagas were the finest rutabagas this side of Jersey. As Henry began to pick up a shopping basket, the clerk behind the counter turned around. The man was small, around seventy years old, Henry guessed. He began to point at Henry like an angry traffic cop and he shouted, "we don't allow bugs in our store!"

Flabbergasted, Henry replied."Hey I'm not a bug, I'm only half bug, give me a break."

The clerk was unimpressed and continued, "Bugs are filthy, and there is no such thing as half a bug!"

Henry, still stunned, said, "Well you're looking at one. C'mon, please! My boss sent me all the way up here for your special rutabagas."

"Okay, I don't want a long story, take some rutabagas, then get out of here! Special?"

"Never mind," Henry sighed, and as he placed the rutabagas in his cart he shook his head and thought about how pleasant it would be back at Delancey Street where he didn't have to worry about his unusual makeup. Well, except for his mother's biological darwinism. He had felt so content that morning before he left, happy to have a place where he didn't have to hide, and where by a trick of fate he'd found his mother.

Noon arrived and Simpson escorted the inspector into the kitchen. His name was Claude. He towered over Simpson, as he must have been nearly seven feet tall. A handle bar mustache sat on top of his mouth and he spoke with a thick Nordic accent. His hair was grey, but he was equipped with the blue eyes Diego had hungered for earlier that morning. As they walked through the door all eyes were on Claude. It was Shakespeare who approached him first with a quick wink. "Hiya, Claude," Shakespeare whispered and much to his surprise, Claude seemed unphased. At that moment Simpson stated "Okay, everybody. You too, Sincere, I want all of you give Claude your utmost attention while he conducts his inspection. I'll be in my office." All the authority Simpson's voice could command seemed to come in that one instant, but he quickly began to retreat from the kitchen after shaking Claude's hand.

As Simpson closed the door Diego began to approach Claude, but before she had a chance to speak he cleared his throat and addressed the group. "Listen, I don't know what kind of freak show you people are running here. You without the eyes, and you without the ear, and whoever that crazy woman is in the back with the can of worms, I thought when I walked through that door it was Halloween, but it's not Halloween. Unfortunately, as much as I'd like to, I can't fail this kitchen based on your peculiarities -- it's not like you're bugs or rodents -- but I don't want any funny stuff, just go about your business while I inspect the kitchen."

When he finished speaking Andre threw down his cap and cried, "What nerve, what an outrage! You are a kitchen inspector not God!" Before he could finish Shakespeare kicked him in the leg. "Ouch! What are you doing you little toad!"

"Just keeping you on your toes!" Shakespeare giggled, but Andre could tell Shakespeare was frightened by the timbre of his laugh.

"Don't be afraid, Shakespeare, there's nothing that inspector can do to us." Suddenly Diego made her second attempt at approaching Claude. She marched over to him as he was going through the freezer and whispered. "You have the most beautiful eyes." Unexpectedly, Claude turned to her, looking for all the world like an embarrassed school boy, and sighed, "I do? Why thank you?"

"Diego, I'm Diego."

"What an enchanting name," he swooned, while he checked under the freezer for mouse droppings.

Then Diego pointed toward the door and said "I like blue."

"Um, I see," Claude groaned, raising his eyebrows. "And, Miss Blue can you tell me how all this dirt got under the freezer?"

At that point Shakespeare pulled on Andre's shirt and led him to the rear of the kitchen where he whispered to him like he was Al Capone, "This guy is looking for trouble, first dirt under the freezer, who knows what he'll come up with next."

Andre covered his mouth with his hands and softly replied "We have to keep an eye on this monster."

They heard Claude calling from the front of the kitchen. "Could one of you individuals tell me why the pipes are so rusty?"

Immediately Shakespeare grabbed a pot from under the counter. He was about to head toward Claude when Andre grabbed his arm and murmured," No, put that down, you crazy midget, you'll get us all fired!" Diego, seeing Andre and Shakespeare huddled in the rear of the kitchen scampered toward them and breathed, "Relax, I will work my charms on him." This was met with much sighing and laughter from Andre and Shakespeare.

Claude, not getting a response to his question started walking towards the huddled threesome when Henry suddenly started to enter the kitchen. Andre saw Henry coming into the kitchen and he darted towards the door. When he reached the door he grabbed Henry quickly and cried," What are you doing here, Henry?"

Stunned, Henry replied, "Uh ..."then he suddenly noticed Claude in the back of the kitchen and pointed at the apparent stranger, shouting, "Who's that?

"Who's who? "Andre yelled, while he tried to block Henry's vision. At the same time Claude happened to be going through Shakespeare's cupboard. As he was going through the cupboard, he noticed Henry because of the commotion up front, and began to shout, but he was interrupted by the snake Andre left there earlier that morning as it began to crawl across his shoes.

Later that evening, Henry was sitting on his bed, fiddling with the radio while the day's events entered his thoughts. He still didn't understand why everyone tried to keep him from entering the kitchen, or why Andre and Shakespeare looked so frightened. All they had to do was ask and he would have left for the day. He could have gone to a movie instead of running around uptown for mysterious rutabagas and getting his wing wet. As he spread his wing across the mattress, Andre knocked on the door. Hearing the knock, Henry slowly got off his bed and opened the door, but before Henry could say a word Andre cried, "I'm so sorry, Henry. I was an idiot! But I was concerned about your feelings. And this! This was just despicable, that little worm, that varmint kitchen inspector!" As he finished speaking he sat down on the bed.

Henry replied, "It's okay, Andre I'm half bug and the world is cruel."

Upon hearing Henry's lament Andre jumped up and shouted, "No, no, the world is a beautiful place! Well, perhaps tomorrow morning it won't be so beautiful when Simpson deals out our punishment." Then he looked directly at Henry, but Henry turned away and looked towards the floor. And he sadly whispered "What can he do to us, really? I have things on my mind, secrets I've been hiding. This thing with Simpson is nothing."

Simpson was the first person to enter the kitchen the following morning. He'd been pacing back and forth between the freezer and the stove when Andre entered the room. "Good morning, Andre, did you sleep well?"

Andre, a bit unnerved by Simpson's sarcastic tone curtly replied, "Oh, fine." Then he noticed Henry and Shakespeare walking through the door. But he wondered why Shakespeare was carrying a box under his arm. What was he up to now?

"Good morning, Mr. Simpson. Would you like a chocolate? Here, have the whole box!"

"Mister Simpson? Chocolate?" Simpson's lip began to quiver. "You can't win me over with chocolates, Shakespeare. Now I have something to say: because of yesterday's ... um ... activities we were leveled a heavy fine..."

At that moment Diego marched into the kitchen and pined "Where is Claude?"

"Diego, let me finish. Claude is gone and he gave us a fine. Now as I was saying, I thought it over and rather than letting you all go, I am docking ten dollars off your wages every week until the fine is paid, well, all of you except for Henry." He smiled at Henry and having doled out his punishment he headed for the door.

"This is an outrage! We can barely live on our wages now! Ten dollars!" Andre shouted.

"Oh, and one more thing: no more snakes, Andre this is your fault," Simpson said softly as he closed the door behind him.

"Ah, he is right. It is my fault. What was I thinking? I got you all in trouble. I am so ashamed.

"I am a sad clown who wears a frown ..."

"And too much cologne!" Shakespeare snapped.

"Too much cologne? I want to smell good for the kitchen, you little barbarian! Henry, do you like my cologne?"

"I hadn't really thought about it, but now that you mention it. It is a bit strong."

"Mea culpa! I am an evil chef who wears too much cologne. I will go outside and rip it off!"

"You can't rip off cologne, needle brain." Shakespeare snickered as he grabbed Andre's hat.

"Put my hat down, you toothpick!"

"I wonder when Claude will return," Diego whispered ...

Article © Bruce Memblatt. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-03-22
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