by David Ritchie
Inspector Thompson casually glanced at the suspects as they sat. "I now know that one of you is the murderer."
The entire group broke out in nervous laughter. The family had not sat at a table together for years. Not since Dad’s ‘spells’ got worse. The clanging of the silverware was sudden as the family started eating Thanksgiving dinner.
“I’m not kidding! There is a murderer at this table!”
“Jesus, Dad. You’re at the dinner table!” James said.
His mother leaned over to James’ ear.
“Honey, you know dad is...well...ill.”
“Mother, dad is losing his mind!”
“I am not losing my mind! You...murderer!”
James looked at her and burst out laughing.
Mrs. Thompson was aghast. She looked back and forth between the siblings in a silent attempt to convey her wish that the two ignore their father. But her looks were no longer terrifying to the brother and sister.
“You’re a murderer, too!” Dad shouted to Frances.
“Dad, you’re at the dining table. With your family. We’re eating Thanksgiving dinner. Concentrate. C’mon. Look at us. We love you, and we only get to see you once or twice a year,” Frances said.
Dad usually ate only white meat. He always had a little white meat, a little dressing, and a little cranberry on his fork. But he reached over his plate to the huge platter, grabbed the drumstick, ripped it off, and sniffed it loudly, like a dog. Then he shoved it into his mouth, and choked. His mortified wife started to reach over to, well, do something.
“Don’t touch it! It’s the only clue I have to the murder!”
He took a huge bite out of it. He chewed it loudly with his mouth wide open, spilling bits and pieces of it all over himself. He stared at James.
“Humm. Yes. I think I’m getting a message.”
Just then he choked on a long, narrow bone. It came flying out and hit James on the forehead.
“Yes! You! You are the murderer! Put your hands behind your back...” He said as he started to rise.
“If I do anything with my hands, I’m going to put them around your neck, you crazy bastard!”
No one had heard such harshness from James. Ever.
Mrs. Thompson dramatically put her hands over her heart then passed out, deflating from her chair to the floor.
“See! See! I was right! You’ve murdered her, too! You dirty, murdering sons of a...!”
Frances couldn’t believer her eyes, or her ears. Dad never used this kind of language. The Inspector dove across the dining table, landing squarely in the mashed potatoes, splattering them onto the wall.
“You’re going to jail, you murdering…”
Just then James grabbed him by the neck and started choking him, with all the force of childhood resentment. When his father’s face turned blue, Frances hit James with the gravy boat across the forehead. James released his grip on his father, and slumped to the floor. Now both James and Mrs. Thompson were on the floor. Frances flashed to a Dali painting she had once seen.
Inspector Thompson inched himself off the table. He sat back on his chair; his eyes rolled back and he fell to the floor.
Frances was alone at the table. She relished the silence; picked up her fork, took a few bites of the wonderful oyster stuffing she had missed all these years. Then she looked around the room at her family, thought briefly about birth control, pushed her chair back, rose, walked into the den, picked up her purse and left the house.
David Ritchie is a past Vice President of the Washington Poets' Association. His poetry and fiction have been widely published in the U.S. and abroad, including: Absinthe Literary Review, Adirondack Review, Atomic Petals, Chiron Review, Chrysalis, Clay Palm Review, Concrete Wolf, Cortland Review, Dragonfly, Niederngasse, nycBigCityLit.com, Offshore (Albany University), Paumanok Review, Piedmont Literary Review, Poetry Northwest, Red River Review, Sage, Short Story, Still, The Dead Mule, and the University of Texas Press.