It was a ritual Charlie didn’t mind.
Ginny’s parents visited every second weekend. Ginny and her mother Pearl would cook lunch together, while Charlie and Alf awkwardly lingered.
The relationship between Charlie and Alf would never be described as strong, despite Charlie’s happy marriage to Alf’s daughter for the last four years. The men would occasionally chew the fat about sport, weather, and politics, although Charlie got the impression Alf performed his father-in-law duties out of obligation, not interest.
“Lunch is ready boys!” Ginny excitedly yelled from the kitchen.
They squeezed around a wooden table Charlie purchased from a second-hand furniture store. He thought it had character. Alf thought his son-in-law was cheap.
Before them lay a smorgasbord of slow-cooked beef and chicken, roasted vegetables with a gentle sprinkling of seasoning, crisp garden salad, home-made gravy, and freshly baked bread rolls.
Charlie and Ginny’s German Shepherd, Rusty, loitered underneath, much to Alf’s disgust. The delighted hound sat still, occasionally aiming his bold, brown eyes straight up at Charlie. The same brown eyes that lured in the young couple at the local pound several years ago.
As the chatter bounced around the table, Alf noticed Charlie discreetly fork slivers of meat onto a bread roll, wrap the bread roll into a napkin, and swiftly slide the napkin under the table. Seconds later, Rusty ran from under the table. No-one else was paying attention. Alf noticed the pesky hound had the bundled napkin clenched in his teeth as he disappeared down the hallway.
A few minutes later Rusty returned.
Alf was furious. Pearl and Ginny had slaved over the hot stove all morning, but his disrespectful son-in-law had tossed food away, and to the goddamn dog? Alf strained hard to keep his emotions in check.
Until Charlie did it a second time. Another bread roll filled with melt-in-your-mouth beef. This time the roll was buttered and sauce had been generously drizzled on top. Another napkin. Rusty disappeared again. Alf jumped up from his chair and forced it to slam against the wall behind. The silence roared as everyone stopped eating and glared up at the towering man with the ready-to-pop forehead vein.
“Sweetheart, what’s the matter?” Pearl nervously asked.
“Him. He’s the matter!”
Alf pointed at Charlie, the forehead vein straining to stay whole. Ginny flicked her eyes back and forth between her husband and father.
“Dad, what’s going on?”
“You cooked us a lovely lunch dear, and Charlie here has been shovelling it to that mutt under the table.”
His piercing, raging eyes were glued to Charlie. Charlie quickly glanced at the stunned women, hoping for an answer, or just some sort of backup. Not that anyone knew what was going on.
“My wife and daughter’s cooking not good enough for you, son?”
Charlie turned his attention to the empty hallway.
“Rusty! Come ‘ere boy!”
He gave a quick, sharp whistle and Rusty galloped back into the dining area, his tail wildly flapping from side to side.
“Hey son! I’m talking to you!”
Charlie ignored his father-in-law. He wrapped up a third bread roll, full of more meaty goodness, and slid it into yet another napkin. He bundled up the napkin and held it out for Rusty.
Alf was ready to explode.
Ginny’s attempt to entice Charlie to explain was more subtle than her father’s, but just as fruitless. Charlie winked at her and remained silent. He held Rusty by the collar and motioned for everyone to get up from the table and follow. Pearl and Ginny hesitantly rose. Alf wanted to stand firm, but Charlie let Rusty go and gently patted him on the backside.
“Good boy Rusty.”
The excited canine vanished as Charlie calmly led the confused party out the door, down the back alley, around a corner, and along a narrow lane that zigzagged under creaking fire escapes. Alf and Pearl hesitated before the final lane, but eventually succumbed. Rusty headed toward a pile of blankets jammed among overflowing trash cans.
“What the hell is going on Charlie?” Alf demanded yet again.
Rusty approached the blankets and nuzzled the dirty fabric.
Just as Alf felt his temperature rise at Charlie’s stubborn refusal to answer, he noticed the pile of blankets move. One blanket rose higher and higher until a black void appeared beneath. Two old, worn eyes emerged into the faint light that crept in.
Rusty dropped the napkin and wagged his tail. Charlie stepped in closer and knelt down. He gave a gentle nod as the eyes disappeared back beneath the darkness of the blanket. A hoarse whisper slipped out.
“Thank you Sir.”
Charlie turned around. Alf didn’t speak. He didn’t look at Charlie, Ginny or Pearl. His eyes were firmly fixated on the blankets. The hyper vein in his forehead slowly submerged back into the skin. Charlie winked at Ginny and turned his attention back to Rusty.
“Good boy,” he said as he ruffled the top of his head.
Thanks for reading my short story experimentation about a fictional man named Charlie Norman. All comments/feedback are very welcome. Check out my other Charlie instalments below: