A little bit of philosophy over dinner.
First draft. Please do not quote or repost anywhere. Thanks!
Sabri found the dining room by following the sound of voices. When she entered, Mother and Papa stopped talking. Mother stared at her, a sad expression on her face. Papa smiled at Sabri. She paused, uncertain where to sit. Mother made an unobtrusive motion to the place setting across from her, and Sabri slipped into the chair. The cutlery and the glasses winked at her in glints of light and hints of reflection, intimidating her with their multitude and variety.
…a bowl with indeterminate contents. A chipped plate and a single fork, carefully hoarded, set in lonely splendor on a dirty table….
Hedi came into the room, sullen and silent. She avoided looking at Sabri as she sat before the remaining place setting.
Sabri put a hand over her mouth for a moment, trying to hide the trembling of her lips.
“Everyone is very quiet this evening,” Papa said.
Mother stirred, tried to smile. “Perhaps you should tell us about your day, Hayden.”
The door at the far end of the dining room opened. Sabri watched in astonishment as carts of steaming dishes, pushed by two women dressed in immaculate white aprons over full skirts, arrived. The women served the dishes to the family and withdrew with the carts. The whole thing had been done in silence. She picked up a fork and tasted the food and found it delicious.
“Perhaps I could speak about my day, Calli. We are dealing with an interesting case. A relative of our client has brought a petition before the court. She is contesting her aunt’s will and wishes the court to have her aunt declared unfit.”
Mother looked up, brow creased. “What will happen to her?”
“If she’s declared unfit? She will be sent to a sanitarium. Perhaps it’s not a bad idea. She lives alone and has nearly a dozen cats on which she spends lavish sums of money.”
“That’s not fair!” Sabri burst out. “It’s her money! She should be allowed to spend it on what she wants.”
And could have bitten her tongue when Papa stared at her in surprise.
“You feel she should be allowed to spend all her money on the cats and leave her niece with nothing?”
Sabri found herself swimming in a philosophical morass, uncertain how to continue. She fell back on muttering in a stubborn voice, “It’s her money. It isn’t fair.”
“My dear, fair has nothing to do with the matter. One could argue that it isn’t fair that the aunt has everything and the niece nothing.”
Sabri stared down at her plate, searching for words to continue the argument.
Hedi unexpectedly came to her rescue. “But we have more than the Millers. Should we give the Millers some of what we have?”
“I believe we did that very thing this morning,” Mother reminded in a gentle voice.
Papa stirred, tried to smile. “The matter is complex, and not just a simple division of belongings. Does the aunt have a right to keep what is hers to her niece’s detriment? Should the niece be given the power to control her aunt’s destiny? These are the questions I have been asking myself for several days.”
“Do unto others,” Sabri said, and felt a surge of elation that she’d remembered what she wanted to say.
Papa looked at her, curious. “Beg pardon?”
“Do unto others as you would have them do to you,” Sabri said.
Papa gave her a slow smile. “And that is the dilemma, Sabri. The aunt is “doing unto” the niece by giving her nothing, and the niece is “doing unto” the aunt by trying to take it away.”
“Philosophy over the dinner table causes indigestion,” Mother said. “Let’s enjoy the food instead. Sabri, what will you have for dessert?”
Sabri ate her piece of cake put in front of her and considered what Papa had said. It hadn’t occurred to her before that fair could switch sides.