The Thanksgiving Guests ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
She placed an ad in the newspaper: My husband and I have no family and are alone. We are looking for a poor family to spend a bountiful Thanksgiving with us. Please contact Mrs. Griselda Pinkwater at the phone number below. We look forward to hearing from you.
In the days leading up to Thanksgiving, she expected a flood of calls but received only one, from a woman named Carlotta Knuckles. She said she saw the ad in the newspaper and showed it to her husband. After they talked it over, they decided they would like to apply.
“There’s no applying,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “If you and your family want to come, you are welcome.”
“Oh, thank you!” Mrs. Knuckles said. “I’m sure we qualify as poor, but just how poor, I really couldn’t say. We have more than the air to breathe and the clothes on our backs, but still we’re poor.”
“Well, poor is poor,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “I’m sure you’re poor enough. And how many of you will there be besides you and your husband?”
“We have two half-grown children, Bixley and Chickpea.”
“Shall we say about one o’clock on Thanksgiving Day, then?”
Mrs. Pinkwater gave Mrs. Knuckles the address. Mrs. Knuckles wrote it down and the conversation ended.
“What do you think?” Mrs. Pinkwater said to her husband, Mr. Gunter Pinkwater. “We have some takers!”
“What do you mean?” Mr. Pinkwater asked.
“I’ve located a poor family to come and share Thanksgiving dinner with us. Their name is Knuckles.”
“That’s kind of a funny name, isn’t it?” he said.
“All names sound funny when you first hear them.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to get them here just so you can rob them?”
“Why would I want to rob them? They’re poor.”
“Poor in spirit or just poor?”
“I think we can rely on a literal interpretation in this instance,” she said.
“What if they plan on coming here and robbing us when it becomes apparent to them that we are not poor?”
“Oh, Gunter!” she said. “I’m too kind and too pure to ever think of anything like that.”
“Well, it’s your funeral,” he said.
“It will be my little social experiment. I’ll write a tract about it for the ladies’ club and it’s sure to get me elected president, or at least vice-president.”
“So that’s your motive,” he said.
On Thanksgiving morning, Mrs. Pinkwater felt her nerves on edge and began drinking large quantities of wine to soothe them. Had she made a mistake in inviting a family of strangers into her home? What if she had nothing in common with them and nothing to say? What if they were dirty and smelled bad? If she felt the need to get rid of them, she would just lock herself in her bedroom and let her husband eject them in his own way. He could always say that she had just come down with a horribly contagious disease and the house was under quarantine. God willing, it wouldn’t be necessary.
At a few minutes before the hour of one o’clock, the doorbell rang and Mrs. Pinkwater went to the door herself, rather than allowing the maid to do it. When she opened the door, she had the surprise of her life. The Knuckleses were not what she expected. They were a family of four tiny midgets.
“Oh, my!” she said.
“Mrs. Pinkwater?” the woman, who would, of course, be Mrs. Carlotta Knuckles, said in her squeaky little voice.
“Why, yes, my dear!” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “Please come in!”
She held the door while the Knuckleses came into the house in a single file. The maid stepped forward to take their coats.
“Mrs. Pinkwater,” Carlotta Knuckles said, “I’d like you to meet my husband, Mr. Quincy Knuckles.”
Mr. Knuckles stepped forward after slithering out of his coat and took Mrs. Pinkwater’s hand in his own and kissed it. “Charmed, I’m sure,” he said.
“And these are my children,” Carlotta said, “Bixley and Chickpea.”
Bixley shook Mrs. Pinkwater’s hand. “I’m Bixley,” he said. “I’m the smart one in the family.”
Chickpea put the tip of her index finger to the bottom of her chin and curtseyed. “I’m Chickpea,” she said.
“Why, they’re just so cute!” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “Are they twins?”
“Bixley is the older of the two,” Mrs. Knuckles said.
“Yeah, by two years!” Bixley said.
“Well, they’re the same size so I figured they were the same age.”
“Yeah, and not only the kids are the same size, but the parents are the same size, too,” Bixley said. “I’ll let you in on a little secret about midgets. We’re as tall as we’re ever going to be. There aren’t any tall midgets. We’ll all the same size, no matter what age we are.”
“We don’t really like the word ‘midgets’,” Mrs. Knuckles said. “We prefer ‘little people’.”
“I’m a midget,” Bixley said. “It’s good enough for me.”
Mrs. Pinkwater took the midgets into the living room. “Make yourselves at home,” she said.
Mr. Knuckles climbed into the wingback chair, turned around and sat down, his wingtip shoes straight out in front of him. (He looked like a tiny king on an oversized throne.) Mrs. Knuckles and Bixley and Chickpea struggled onto the couch, one leg up with the rest of the body following, as if they were climbing onto a life raft. Mrs. Pinkwater watched them, frowning, and decided it was best to not try to help them.
“I hope you didn’t have any trouble finding your way to our home,” she said in her best hostessy voice.
“Oh, no!” Mrs. Knuckles said. “No trouble at all.”
“How many rooms do you have in this house?” Chickpea asked.
“Well, let’s see,” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “Counting the two rooms in the attic, we have fifteen rooms.”
Mrs. Knuckles whistled. “I can’t imagine,” he said.
Mr. Pinkwater had been getting dressed upstairs and came into the room wearing his cashmere smoking jacket that he bought in London.
“Oh, there you are, dear!” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “Come and greet our guests!”
“How do you do,” Mr. Pinkwater said politely.
Mrs. Pinkwater watched him to see if he registered any surprise at a roomful of midgets, but there was none. “How about a drink before dinner?” he asked.
“Scotch and soda,” Mr. Knuckles said.
“I’ll have the same,” Mrs. Knuckles said.
“How about a little white wine?” Chickpea asked.
“I’ll have a beer,” Bixley said.
“Do you allow them to have alcoholic beverages, dear?” Mrs. Pinkwater asked Mrs. Knuckles.
“Oh, yes!” Mrs. Knuckles said. “They’re not children, you know.”
“What will you have, darling?” Mrs. Pinkwater asked his wife.
“I’ll have some more of that wine that I was having before our guests arrived,” she said.
Mr. Pinkwater went out of the room and in two minutes he returned bearing a tray with the drinks on it, always the perfect host.
“Dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” Mrs. Pinkwater said as she sipped her wine. “I hope you brought along some great big appetites!”
“I haven’t eaten since yesterday,” Bixley said.
“It certainly smells wonderful,” Mrs. Knuckles said, draining her drink and holding up her glass so Mr. Pinkwater could get her another. “Could I help in the kitchen in any way? Peel the potatoes or anything?”
“Oh, no, honey!” Mrs. Pinkwater said. “Everything is under control. The cook and the maid have taken care of everything.”
“You have a cook and a maid?”
“They have servants,” Mrs. Knuckles said to her husband.
“We could have had a house like this if we had stayed with the circus,” Mr. Knuckles said.
“You were with the circus?” Mr. Pinkwater asked.
“For twelve years. That’s where I met my wife.”
“After the children were born,” Mrs. Knuckles said, “I insisted that we leave the circus once and for all. I didn’t want the little darlings growing up in that kind of environment.”
“Now I’m working as a part-time janitor in an office building,” Mr. Knuckles said, “and people make fun of me, as if a midget could never have any human feelings. In the circus nobody made fun of me. Everybody respected me. I belonged there.”
“He blames me for the way his life turned out,” Mrs. Knuckles said.
“Who else am I going to blame?” he said.
“I’m going to be a professional wrestler,” Bixley said. “There’s big money in that for a good-looking young midget like me.”
“How many bathrooms do you have?” Chickpea asked.
The maid announced that dinner was ready. They all went into the dining room and Mrs. Pinkwater showed the midgets where she wanted them to sit.
“Do I need to get something for you to sit on?” she asked. “A phone book or a pillow?”
“Oh, no, dear, we’re fine,” Mrs. Knuckles said. “We’re used to sitting in chairs for regular-sized people.”
The midgets took off their shoes and squatted on their haunches on the chairs so that the they were high enough to eat. Awfully uncomfortable, Mrs. Pinkwater thought, but she tried not to think about it.
“Now I’ll say grace,” she said, clearing her throat. “Thank you, Lord, for the food of which we are about to partake; for our heath, home, and country, and on this Thanksgiving Day, thank you especially for the company of friends. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.”
“Amen,” Mrs. Knuckles said, but she was the only one who bothered.
After dinner Chickpea sang My Heart Belongs to Daddy and The Lady is a Tramp in a surprisingly strong, clear voice, while her mother accompanied her on the piano. Then Mr. Knuckles and Bixley moved some of the furniture out of the way and gave a demonstration of tumbling to the delight of Mr. and Mrs. Pinkwater.
“I keep in shape,” Mr. Knuckles said, patting his belly, “for the day when I can return to the circus.”
Mr. Pinkwater was showing Mr. Knuckles his collection of antique firearms in the den when the police arrived and took Mr. Knuckles away in handcuffs.
“How the hell did you know I was here?” Mr. Knuckles said as he was being taken out the door.
“What did he do?” Mrs. Pinkwater asked Mrs. Knuckles.
“Any number of things,” Mrs. Knuckles said.
“Do you mean he’s a criminal?”
“Not ordinarily. I mean, not by nature.”
Mrs. Pinkwater patted Mrs. Knuckles on the shoulder. She wanted to pick her up and hug her to express her sympathy but knew it wouldn’t look good in front of the police. Instead she said, “If there’s anything I can do to help, please let me know.”
“I suppose I need to get to the police station and see if he’s going to be eligible for bail or if they’re going to keep him permanently,” Mrs. Knuckles said.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“Oh, no, dear! I wouldn’t dream of imposing on you in that way.”
At midnight, Mrs. Pinkwater was sitting in front of the mirror in her boudoir brushing her hair when Mr. Pinkwater came into the room.
“It was a wonderful day, wasn’t it?” she said.
“If you say so, dear,” he said.
“I think I’m going to invite them to our Christmas party.”
“Quincy Knuckles might still be in jail then.”
“That’s all right. Carlotta can come with the children. We can ask Chickpea to sing some Christmas songs. She has a lovely voice. And, I ask you: who else has a midget singing at their party this season?”
“I’m going to be on a business trip then,” he said.
“I want all the ladies of the club to meet Carlotta Knuckles. They’ll adore her. If she doesn’t have an evening gown, we’ll get her one. Something sparkly.”
“Where do you buy a sparkly evening gown for a midget?” he asked.
“They prefer ‘little people’. It’s more respectful.”
“You’re in love, aren’t you?”
“Tired is what I am,” she said as she crushed out her cigarette and got into bed.
Copyright © 2014 by Allen Kopp