Guest of Honor

News reports over the weekend touting the amount of “brio” (here’s the definition) possessed by one of the “suspected” Boston Marathon terrorists and the high school popularity of the other gave me a similar impression to that expressed so well by Barry Rubin. The media environment surrounding the attack brings to mind a short story of mine from December 2001. Rereading, I was surprised to see how well it applies still… or again, as the case may be.

On a recent Friday evening, on my way from the unemployment office to the voting booth, I walked past a popular restaurant, the entire dining area of which had been appropriated by a group of luminaries. Some of the regular patrons, rebuffed by the special occasion’s temporary doorman, were looking through a window at people who were important enough to intrude upon the weekly traditions of so many families.

Although this injustice put scorn in the smile that the sight, through the glass, of myriad tipsy politicians, academics, writers, and business people evoked upon my face, both the scorn and smile quickly melted into concerned horror. Floating around among the guests was a… thing. For lack of an accurate word that wouldn’t betray my honest story by insinuating fiction, I’ll call it a monster. It was equal parts mouth and stomach, with eyes all over its body.

As I watched, its yellow teeth enveloped a lady Senator, a recent proponent of a universal dental plan. The outside crowd had dispersed, so I ran toward the door to warn the diners. The doorman stopped me. Through urgent gasps, I tried to convey to him the threat to those inside.

“Sure,” the large man said. “I’ll go clear the room; you go back to the liquor store and call a cab.”

He crossed his arms and didn’t move.

Before I could comprehend the man’s actions, let alone explain that I was serious, not drunk, the monster slithered by, and I ducked. When I looked up, the doorway was empty except for a black shoe lying on its side.

I rushed toward the dining area, nearly toppling an elderly woman, who shared a last name with many important buildings. “Ma’am,” I said, “you’ve got to get out of here. There’s a monster in the building eating everybody.”

“A-haha,” she laughed, apparently mishearing. “You must mean our guest of honor. I haven’t seen him, yet, but I hear he’s quite exotic in features. As for food, I recommend the tartuffe limon. It was my contribution to the buffet.”

I hadn’t uttered so much as a correction of her French when the woman disappeared under the dessert table with a surprised, but subdued, “oh,” which was followed by a guileless belch from beneath the tablecloth. At the far end of the table, a paunchy man was discriminating among some deviled eggs. Pointing to where the patroness had disappeared, I shouted to him, “Watch out! I think your honoree is a monster!”

“Who are you to judge?” he scolded. “Your prejudice makes his noble acts seem wicked. I’ll have you know that he’s helped many a person to win the Nobel…” Before he could finish his thought or wipe the egg from his chin, the altruist was gone.

What followed was a carnage that I shudder to describe. The gore that splattered on the carpet and streaked the wall-length mirrors was worsened by the sounds, or lack thereof, that accompanied it. Apart from the prudent gasps of dignitaries as they took their final breaths, I heard no noise but the polite conversations continuing around the room.

“Have you met him?” somebody asked another, who replied, “Yes, at the White House.” A third commented, “A representative of a threatened culture.”

Unable to face the spectacle, I hid behind a column and only looked again when a stately voice proclaimed, “There is much that we can learn from our friend here for there is much that we do not understand about him.” The gentleman clapped the beast on the back, poking an eye there, and continued, “And the fault for that is ours.”

To prove compassion for this noble proclamation, the monster ate the statesman humanely — in one gulp.

With dumb confusion, the five remaining diners looked from where the advocate had been to the mouth into which he’d disappeared. The monster paused, perhaps of indigestion, but kept an eye on each of those who stood there in the otherwise empty room.

Then two broke out in unison, “Spare us, at least! We’ve supported you from the very time that you rose above society’s mire!” In the bloody mirror, I saw their pleading faces, and their fingers pointing suggestively, behind their hands, at me. If it understood their insinuation, the monster ignored it and gobbled them up, pointy fingers and all.

The nearest man, a much applauded professor of English, with patches on his elbows, knelt and, with arms outstretched, said, “Though I personally railed against the imperialist oppressions, perpetrated by fascistic elitist capitalists, that incentivized the agitated reprisals for which we all now answer, I comprehend the perceptivities of the Other and, in cognitionation of the acts wherewith Mother Nature will only benefit by the extirpation of all humanity…” But he managed to say no more before the blunt maw of death left only the echo of his voice and the jingle of the keys to his Volvo as they fell.

Then a famous opinion writer, to whom the professor had recently been talking, shrugged his shoulders and said, “What’s to be done? His appetite is of our creation, after all.”

I hoped, as the pundit met his end, that he would sate the appetite of which he spoke, but then the monster turned to the final morsel but for me, a young female student whose last words, with no one left to heed a speech, were, “All deserve to eat.”

The hall grew quiet. I heard a grumble in the monster’s stomach. It slowly backed me into a corner. I closed my eyes and awaited my fate. Nothing happened, so I peeked between my fingers. It was still there, all eyes on me. I breathed in as quietly as I could. I smelled its foul breath. I spoke.

“Aren’t you going to eat me — the one person who would have stopped you had any of the others listened?”

Then, in a deep voice full of gravel, but yet sincere, came the answer. “You’ve too much sense to have much flavor.”

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