The room was very quiet. Miss Adele’s teeth made little clicking sounds as she chewed. Miss Florence grunted as she tried to cut her meat and couldn’t. The knife slipped out of her hand and clattered to the floor. Mr. Benny looked around to see what the sound was but lost interest before he figured it out. Mr. Wilhelm was hearing nothing; he was asleep, his head hanging over his plate. Like the points on a compass, the four of them sat at a circular table.
“Don’t you think you should wake him up so he can finish his dinner?” Miss Florence said.
“Huh?” Mr. Benny said.
“Why don’t you wake him up before he falls out of his chair?”
“Let him fall,” Mr. Benny said. He was trying to soak up the gravy on his plate with a piece of bread but his hands were shaking so much he couldn’t manage it.
“My, but this is delicious,” Miss Adele said.
“What is?” Miss Florence asked.
“I don’t know what it is. There’s a little bit of tomato in it, I think, but I don’t recognize anything else.”
“You’re better off not knowing,” Mr. Benny said.
“What time is it?” Mr. Wilhelm asked, suddenly coming awake.
“Why should you care?” Mr. Benny said. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“It was six o’clock about an hour ago,” Miss Florence said.
“It’s anybody’s guess,” Miss Adele said.
“A funny thing about time,” Mr. Benny said but he began coughing and didn’t finish the thought.
“What month is it?” Miss Adele asked.
“It’s April,” Mr. Benny said.
“Is it still the same year?”
“Yes, it’s still the same year.”
“This year is going along rather slowly, isn’t it?”
“Like a great big turtle in a race with death. See who comes out ahead.”
“Just ask your body what month it is,” Miss Florence said.
“What do you mean?” Miss Adele asked.
“When your toes are freezing off, it’s probably December or January.”
“When you see Christmas decorations everywhere, you know it’s probably December.”
“Good thinking,” Mr. Benny said. “You ought to go to work for the FBI.”
“Oh, they wouldn’t want me!”
“I don’t seem to be able to stay awake long enough to eat dinner,” Mr. Wilhelm said, picking up his knife and fork and going at his food again.
“Don’t you sleep well at night?” Miss Florence asked.
“I sleep all right, I guess.”
“Sleep comes in large doses or really small ones,” Miss Adele said, but nobody knew what she meant.
“After dinner let’s play some cards the way we used to,” Miss Florence said. “That ought to be fun.”
“What do you mean ‘the way we used to’?” Mr. Benny said. “I’ve never played cards with you in my life!”
“When we were children, we used to play Old Maid,” Miss Adele said.
“I’m happy to say I’m not one of those,” Miss Florence said. “I’m a widow.”
“And how many times were you married, dear?” Miss Adele asked.
“It really isn’t any of your business, but if you must know I was married three times.”
“I’ll bet all three of your husbands tried to kill you, didn’t they?” Mr. Benny said.
“Why would they do that?” Miss Adele asked.
“Well, just look at her.”
“They did not try to kill me,” Miss Florence said. “They worshipped me.”
“Well, what happened to them, then?”
“Two died, and the other one, well, it’s best if we don’t speak of him.”
“I never got married,” Mr. Wilhelm said. “I didn’t have time. I ran a company that employed five thousand people. I worked night and day. I was married to the business.”
“Oh, brother!” Mr. Benny said.
“Didn’t you get lonely?” Miss Adele asked.
“I did not!”
“I bet you had plenty of lady friends, though, didn’t you?” Miss Florence said. “A handsome fellow like you.”
“I did not. There was someone once, though. We lived together for about ten years.”
“What was her name?”
“It wasn’t a ‘her.’ It was a ‘him.’”
“Oh, dear!” Miss Adele said.
“His name was Zachary. What he and I had together was very rare.”
“I never took you for one of those,” Miss Florence said.
“I knew there was something about him!” Mr. Benny said.
“Have you ever had the good fortune to meet another person in your life with whom you have a spiritual connection? It doesn’t happen more than once. It was that way with Zachary and me.”
“Now I’ve heard everything!” Mr. Benny said. “It’s like finding out that General Eisenhower liked boys.”
“I’m ashamed of nothing,” Mr. Wilhelm said.
“What happened to Zachary?” Miss Florence asked.
“Oh, that’s a crying shame!”
“He’s buried in his home town in Tennessee. When it’s my time to go, I’m going to be placed in the grave next to him.”
Mr. Benny rolled his eyes. “On that note,” he said, “I think I’ll leave you good people and go back to my room, if I can remember how to get there.”
A sudden flash of lightning and rumble of thunder made them all turn toward the window. Miss Adele screamed and turned over her water glass.
“It’s been too warm all day,” Miss Florence said. “I knew a storm was coming.”
“Storms scare me,” Miss Adele said. “I can feel the electricity in the air. It makes my skin prickle.”
“Your skin was already pickled,” Mr. Benny said.
“I’d rather die in a storm than some other ways I can think of,” Miss Florence said.
“Do you notice how we always get around to the subject of death?” Mr. Benny asked.
“Well, what’s wrong with that?” Miss Florence asked. “There’s nothing wrong with death. It’s part of life. I, for one, believe that death is not the end.”
“What is the end?” Mr. Benny asked.
“How should I know?”
“Heaven? Angels and fluffy white clouds?”
“I think that heaven is what you want it to be.”
“So, you’re saying that heaven exists only in the mind.”
“I’m not saying that at all.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“You don’t need to be rude,” Miss Florence said. “I can still get up from this chair and slap you silly if I want to. I’ve smacked old men around before and I don’t mind doing it again.”
With the next flash of lightning, the lights flickered and went out. Miss Adele squealed and put her hands to her throat. “What do we do now?” she said desperately.
“They’ll be back on in just a minute,” Miss Florence said. “No need to panic.”
“Hey, I like it better like this!” Mr. Benny said. “You all look much better in the dark.”
“The only way you would look good to me,” Miss Florence said, “would be if you disappeared.”
“Now who’s being rude?”
Somebody brought in a kerosene lamp, set it in the middle of the table and went away again without a word.
“Oh, how nice!” Miss Adele said. “Just like olden times before there was such a thing as electricity.”
Mr. Benny raised his wine glass. “Here’s to storms,” he said. “May they always be on the outside.”
“I hear music,” Miss Florence said.
“How lovely!” Miss Adele said. “Somebody’s playing the piano.”
Miss Florence in her spectator pumps and Miss Adele in her mules stood up and began shuffling their feet together in an approximation of dancing. Mr. Benny lit his one cigar of the day and blew out a cloud of smoke that looked, in the distorting lamplight, like ectoplasm at a séance. Mr. Wilhelm fanned his hand in front of his face and sighed as Miss Florence and Miss Adele danced away into the darkness on the far side of the room. And outside, the thunder and lightning raged as rain pounded against the glass and the storm gathered nearer.
Allen Kopp lives in St. Louis, Missouri, USA. He loves his two cats and has had over a hundred short stories appearing in such diverse publications as The Penmen Review, Belle Reve Literary Journal, A Twist of Noir, Burial Day Books, Dew on the Kudzu: A Journal of Southern Writing, Short Story America, Offbeat Christmas Story Anthology, Skive Magazine, Midwestern Gothic Literary Journal, Creaky Door Magazine, Gothic City Press: Gas Lamp, Churn Thy Butter, Wordhaus, and many others. His Internet home is: http://www.literaryfictions.com