The Thin Hungry Man
An Unwelcome Guest
by Julie Carpenter
Adelaide was just thinking that it would have been much better to feed him outside when the thin hungry man leaned over the table and looked Adelaide square in the eye. "You know what? You know what? I wasn't sure that when the time came I would even know how. To eat I mean. I just didn't know. But I did it, didn't I? I ate."
He smiled at her, making the small clump of peanut on his nose quiver, then fall into his milk. "And something else," his voice became very quiet, "No one's ever fed me before. I mean you're the first person to ever feed me." He looked up at her with his deep brown eyes shining, almost liquid with adoration. He was quivering a little.
Adelaide sunk her head into her hands. "Oh my lord, what have I done?"
There was silence in the shining little kitchen for a few seconds. Adelaide just sat at the table without moving her head from her hands. The kitchen clock ticked cheerfully, as if trying to lighten the mood.
When Adelaide finally looked up the Thin Hungry Man still sat staring at her, never having been taught that staring was rude. He fixed his puppy dog eyes at her and smiled through a milk and jelly mustache. He looked as though he were trying to think of the right thing to say. Nothing came to mind so he gave another long satisfied belch instead. He hoped that expressed his satisfaction.
"Now what do I do with you?" said Adelaide. "I suppose a bath is the next thing I should do, but I don't even want to think about that." She was pretty certain that he would simply drown if left to his own devices and the thought of helping him…she glanced at the hot pink shorts and gave an involuntary shiver. Nope. That was not going to happen.
She took his plate and glass and walked to the sink where she began compulsively washing them. After washing the Thin Hungry Man's plate and cup and wiping down the counters she took the dish rag and walked over to the table.
"Look up," she said to the Thin Hungry Man. He looked up at her and she grabbed the back of his neck and roughly wiped his face and then the table. She sent him out to sit on the lawn furniture in the sun. “Wait for me she told him sternly. Right in that chair.” She couldn’t decide whether he was more like a toddler or a lap dog. She wanted neither.
She walked purposefully up the stairs to her bedroom. She always preferred to be purposefully doing things than be asking herself thinking what she should do. That only tied her up in knots of indecisiveness. She packed a knapsack with several peanut butter sandwiches, some bottles of water, some cream soda…she did not like cream soda….and an old blanket. She wondered briefly what he was going to do and then reminded herself that he was on the edge of the void and that could fare pretty well by just wandering about and collecting things. After all, if those insurance selling dogs could manage to make out like bandits by selling renter’s insurance to clowns and penguins, he could find some method of keeping himself together. He was, after all, a grown man, of sorts anyway, and he’d managed to live quite a long time without even eating anything. He was tougher than she was giving him credit for.
She steeled herself at the door against pity and unreasonable sentiment and went out to find him still sitting stiffly in the chair where she had placed him, as if moving even a few inches might have been defying her orders to sit in the chair and wait for her.
She walked up to him with a taut smile. “Here you are,” she said. She was trying very hard to be pleasant. She handed him the knapsack full of sandwiches. After a crisis of conscience, she had included a jar of her favorite pickles and a small bag of chips, both of which were somewhat hard to find on the edge of the void. She did not say, “Get lost,” as she had often done when shooing strange sets talking furniture or flocks of wild brooms off her property. She said, “Here is some food. This should keep you from being too hungry until you find your own. And…um…there’s a blanket in there too. You can sleep in it at night until you find a house or a tent or …um…somewhere to stay.”
She’d never felt guilt before when sending the lunatic travelers from the void on their way. She wondered if she were hormonal. It had to be done though. What on earth could she do with the Thin Hungry Man?
He smiled and took the knapsack and continued to sit in the chair. He apparently did not understand. He looked up at her with a half smile, his eyebrows knotted as he tried to puzzle out what he was meant to do.. She stood him up and helped him hang the knapsack onto his bony shoulders, all the while chattering about how he was sure to find clothes and shoes and everything he might need on the edge of the void. She finished by whirling him round and pointing down a path that would lead him back to the void.
“Now, you just go exploring and see what you can find,” she finished. “I am sure you will be fine and you will meet some new friends.” She gave him a sort of pat on his shoulder; it was meant to be a bit of a push more than a pat but she fancied he might think there was a little affection in it. He turned with a rather confused look, and she felt like she had kicked a puppy but….all in all she couldn’t fault herself. She continued to smile as he walked toward the edge of her yard and through a curved arbor covered in deep purple, bell-shaped clematis that made shivery tingling sounds when the breeze brushed against it. He disappeared behind an enormous butterfly bush, with flowers shaped like neon butterflies.
Adelaide called out, “Watch yourself! That bush has teeth!”
Too late, she thought, as she heard him give a little yelp.
Adelaide somehow didn’t want to think about it anymore, though she wasn’t quite sure why, so she returned to the cottage. She sat in a chair in the kitchen for a while, experiencing occasional pangs of remorse about sending him away, each pang soothed by the thought of all she had done for him. After about half an hour of this circular thinking, she suddenly felt quite fatigued and went up for a nap.
She woke to furious banging at her door. At first, the banging seemed to be part of her dream in which she was throwing hammers at the dwarves but they all turned out to have metal skulls and the hammers were bouncing back at her. But she woke in confusion, tangled in the blankets. She sat up and shook her head, trying to shake the dream dwarves and hammers away and hoping that whoever it was had gone away…but no such luck. The banging started again.
“I’m coming,” she yelled. “Don’t knock the door down.”
Blanche, the dwarves mother, and Colvin were standing on her doorstep. Colvin grinned a snide little grin, but Blanche looked very, very serious.
“What the hell?” asked Adelaide? “Are you using a battering ram?”
Blanche stepped aside and there he was. The Thin Hungry Man. He gave Adelaide a shy little wave.
“No,” said Blanche, “Just no. I have seven, seven, at home to feed and take care of.”
“I tried to send him on his way,” Adelaide said. “Just send him down the path into the forest.”
“We’ve tried everything,” Blanche said. “He keeps coming back. And look at this.”
She grabbed the Thin Hungry Man’s arm and held it out for Adelaide to see. It was covered in bruises. “I can’t be responsible for this,” Adelaide said, “The boys are too rambunctious for him.”
“Why is he my responsibility?” Adelaide asked.
“Nothing seems to be your responsibility,” said Blanche, “But I can’t take care of him. Just let him stay here for a day or two. We’ll send a carrier pigeon into the interior and someone will come for him.”
“Oh for goodness sakes,” Adelaide said.
“It’s the law,” Blanche said, “He has no purpose. He must be taken to the Queen.”
“Maybe he just hasn’t found his purpose yet…” Adelaide started, “You know I came out here to get away from everything.”
“Yeah honey, so did I,” said Blanche, “See how that worked out for me?”
Adelaide moved back from the door and the Thin Hungry Man stepped in. He dropped his backpack on the floor, sat down next to it and took out a sandwich.
“Fine,” said Adelaide, “But he’d better be out of here in a couple of days.”
“Doesn’t make any difference to me,” Blanche said, “By the way, I’m leaving Colvin. He can help out until you get rid of that one.” She shoved Colvin into the room and turned around and walked out.
“Got any beer?” Colvin asked as he walked into the kitchen, “By the way, don’t you think we should name skinny there?”