The Interpreters

A knock. Then two more. Peter opened his front door. There stood his neighbor Dimitri stomping the slush off of his Oxford shoes. Peter had invited his neighbor Dimitri over for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Come in”, Peter gestured. “Let me take your coat. Welcome. Make yourself comfortable.”

Dimitri eyes glanced around the room until he saw the bookcase. “Ah.” He walked over to the bookcase.

After a minute he muttered under his breath, “You might as well read coffee grounds, Peter.” Dimitri put the Bible back on the shelf and walked into the living room shaking his head.

“Is everything OK, Dimitri?” Peter queried.

“Ah, yes, ahem, yes. Have you read Voltaire’s Candide?…say, what is that wonderful smell?

“Roast carrots from our garden. Didn’t Candide say, “We must cultivate our garden.”?

“Ah. Ahem. Yes. My cultivated garden is right here.” Dimitri tapped his forehead with his index finger.

“Any head carrots ready to be pulled up?”

“Ah. You make fun. But I take my intellectual cultivation very seriously. Everyone must make rational and practical choices from a well-cultivated garden. You can’t rely on superstition and dubious dogmas.”

“Smell that. That’s the smell of the dubious dogma is in the air. Man cannot live by carrots alone. There is roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and…”

“Ah. I discovered good food by the operation of my reason.”

“Was each mouth-watering experience an eye-opener?”

“It wasn’t a spiritual experience, if that’s what you are after. I tasted the food and found it to be reasonably good.”

“I see. You’ll get to operate your reason again when I cut into the turkey.”

“Is your mother-in-law joining us today?’ Dimitri asked.

“Yes. She is out on the patio smoking a cigar and reading Chekov.”

“Ah, Chekov, a doctor after my own heart. You said your mother-in-law is smoking a cigar?

“Yes. She likes Dominicans. She says it reminds her of her husband who passed away three years ago.”

“Ah, but smoking is bad for your health.”

“So is living with a woman who is miserable, my friend. Have a seat next to me.” Peter pointed to a chair at the dining room table.

Mary set the turkey in the center of the dining room table. The large bird was surrounded by hot dishes. Mouthwatering aromas spiraled upward. The kids were called from upstairs to “come and eat!” Mary knocked on the patio door and summoned Constance to the table.

When grandma entered the dining room, Todd, the family’s youngest exclaimed, “Grandma, whew! you smell like Grandpa!” Grandma smiled at Todd. “Grandpa liked his cigars. I miss grandpa.”

“And, I love my grandma!” Todd gave grandma a hug holding his nose.

When all were seated Peter gave the blessing over the food. Dimitri watched with arched brows and bared whited teeth as the family closed their eyes and bowed their heads. “Amen!”. Dimitri’s white brows recoiled.  Sounds of wine and water being poured. Clanking dishes being passed. Then the clash of forks and knives.

Peter set his napkin down on the table. He stood up with his wine glass.

“I want to toast another year of God’s blessings…

Everyone raised a glass. Dimitri lifted his glass just off the table.

“To the One Who holds all thing together and to my family – Mary, Todd, Charis, and my mother-in-law…

Constance looked up from her plate to see if Peter had winked at Mary. He hadn’t.

“…and to my neighbor Dimitri. Cheers!”

Dimitri bolted up. “I would like to make a toast, too.”

“To science and technology and reason that hold all things together and…to a well-cultivated garden. Cheers!”

Everyone gulped and then downed their drinks.

 

“I had a dream last night.” Peter passed the sweet potatoes to Dimitri. “I think it’s about being held back at my job. I want to do the project work the electrical engineers are doing.”

Dimitri put his forked carrots down, straightened up and arched his right eye brow. “Tell me about it.”

Peter proceeded to describe the dream:

“I entered a large mall-like area. It looked like my high school and the inside of a large mall at the same time. There were escalators and lots of people walking around in front of stores.

To my left I saw a stairway that went down to a lower level. I walked over to the stairs and went down.

The next moment I saw myself as a prisoner inside a prison. There were lockers like a locker room. And, prisoners walking around.

I looked up above me and saw a funnel-like duct work going up. I went up the ductwork thinking I was escaping.

The next moment there were guards catching escapees in the duct work. The escapees were forced to return. I was among them.

What do you think that means, Dimitri?”

“I think it means that you should have gotten your degrees like I did. Then you can show them you are like them – university educated. I have something to show for all of my time studying climate. If you had a degree then you would have status like I enjoy at the university. I am well regarded and have full tenure.”

Peter responded. “I can do the work. The thing is…I’ve been interested in so many things I could never settle on one course of study. I teach myself what I am interested in and in what I need to know. The way I figure it, if I can understand electrical theory and physics and economics and can paint and write stories, then all the better. When they said I couldn’t be given those projects I felt I was being pulled back down to my ‘place’.

“Ah. If you are looking for a way to be at their level. You need a degree to show that you have a background of knowledge equal to the status you’ll receive. One must become knowledgeable and proficient in one area and then… and then you can apply your well-cultivated mind to all areas of your life. They call me doctor at the university and for good reason. I am looked up to as someone who has achieved superior knowledge above theirs in a certain area. They respect my well-cultivated mind and seek my opinions in all areas of life.”

Dimitri went on.

“They know me as a man of science.  I see things as they are – objects, data – and not as I wish them to be. I write papers and they are peer reviewed and well-accepted. I am published in the Journal of Climate Consensus.”

The dinner progressed. Second helpings were passed

“I was sorry to hear about your father’s death this summer.” Peter looked over at Dimitri. Charis, Peter’s daughter, came and put her arms around her father’s shoulders.

“Ah. That. Yes. He took his own life by…”

“Little ears, Dimitri, little ears.”

“Ah, yes. I see…. My father decided that there was no reason to live after mom died. Sad business. I was never an optimist or a sentimentalist so I knew it was inevitable. He said he drank to deal with the loss. His drinking and thinking of her drove him to the loss of himself.” Dimitris gulped down his glass of wine.

Charis came over and rubbed Dimitri’s shoulder.

“May I offer you some more wine, Dimitri? Constance held the bottle of wine in the air. Dimitri accepted.

“So, you have never married, Dimitri?” Constance asked as she poured the wine.

“I don’t think any woman could live with me. My standards are very high.”

Looking back into the kitchen, Mary wondered if this man of letters would put two and two together and offer to wash dishes later.

“Constance, you read Chekov? And, you smoke cigars?” Dimitri looked over at Constance.

“Yes.”

“I find it surprising that a woman…”

“That a woman likes Chekov?”

“No, I mean…”

“That I read Chekov outside on the cold patio?”

“No, I mean…”

“That I like Dominicans?”

“Ah. Yes. Cigars?”

“My husband would read Chekov and smoke cigars. Memories, really. Both are a revelation about his life.”

Holding up a carrot with his fork, Dimitri looked over at Constance. “It was Chekov who said to his wife, ‘You ask what is life? This is the same as asking: What is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot and nothing more is known about it.’ Dispassionate and clinical observance is what I require for my life.” Dmitri ate the carrot.

Constance whispered to Mary, “I see the carrot served its purpose well.”

Dimitri wiped his white goatee with his napkin. “Mary, for all practical purposes, that meal was a gastronomic revelation!” Dried mashed potato flecks fell from his beard as he spoke.

Mary thanked Dimitri and offered him some pumpkin pie. Through an extended yawn, Dimitri said “Yes” to pie and coffee. After dessert, Dimitri fell back in his chair, yawned like a lion and looked at his watch.

“I must be going. Tomorrow is a long day for me. Computer models to program. Algorithms. Tomorrow night I am attending a cocktail party with my colleagues after an award ceremony.”

Mary handed Dimitri a bag with the dinner’s leftovers. Peter helped Dimitri on with his coat.

Peter opened the door. “It would have been unreasonable of me to let you spend Thanksgiving alone.”

Dimitri stepped across the threshold and paused.

“Ah. Damn! It is snowing again! Not the best of all possible days.”

As Dimitri headed down the sidewalk Peter warned, “Be careful my friend. There’s a layer of ice under that snow!”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, All Rights Reserved

 

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