the dinner party

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic


The Dinner Party

 

This was his greatest challenge. The test that his tireless research and methodical practice had prepared him for.

Mr. Leslow had invited him to dinner.

“Hey Rob, how about you come on down this Friday night, you and your wife, we’ll have some dinner.”

He had, of course, been expecting this.

“Why, I’d be honoured Mr. Leslow. What time should the Mrs. and I show up?”

“7 o’clock.”

“I look forward to the occasion.”

It had taken his boss longer than he would’ve thought to invite him over. Everyone in the office, at some point or another, was blessed with the “ceremonial dinner date” with Mr. Leslow. It was an initiation, a personality screening of sorts.

Except no one dined like Rob did. Dining was not art to him; it was indeed a science. Every interaction calculated was down to its finest detail, every formality scrutinized, and each compliment crafted to perfection. He radiated confidence and was never nervous, as everything was planned. Everyone who had ever invited him to a dinner party had always wanted him back. When they would inevitably request his reappearance though, he would be ready with an excuse not to go. A surprise for his wife, a work event, or an unexpected trip with his friends were some of his favourites. It made him feel proud inside that he could so easily impress his hosts; but after making these impressions, they were of no use to him. They could not be used to further boost his ego.

Those other dinner parties were just the training though, training for this ultimate test, the final exam, his rite of passage to an immortal state. This wasn’t just about his ego; it was about status and success. It held a grand importance for his future and his relationship with his boss. He knew that if he could champion this one night, avoid all inconsistencies and errors, supremacy would be his. That is, of course, if nothing were to go wrong.

He trained with his wife, who’d also taken an interest in his peculiar craft. In the days leading up to the famous night, he and his wife would study long into the morning. Everything was accounted for; there was no chance of error, all was black and white. And when the hour of dining was upon them, they knew they were ready.

“Ah, Mary, how you look wonderful tonight!” He handed Mrs. Leslow a bouquet of flowers.

His mind flashed back to his notes. Slight uniqueness in presentation and sentence structure leaves a sense of intrigue with the compliment’s receiver. Make a good first impression with the boss’s wife by complimenting her and bringing her an appropriate gift.

He made a clear show of looking in the direction of the kitchen and making an exaggerated sniffing action.

“What’s that delicious smell? You must have a world class chef hidden somewhere back there.” Clear hyperbole that establishes a sense of jovial camaraderie among the hosts. Also a natural compliment when attending a dinner party that displays conformity with etiquette.

“Hope we’re not too late. Traffic was a little heavy coming off the 195,” offered his wife. An excuse at the beginning of the evening lets the hosts remain the hosts. It gives them a sense of being in charge and makes the guests look empathetic.

“Oh, no worries at all. I know how the highway can be a pain, even at this time of night,” replied his boss.

Their small talk was being reciprocated. Both parties were treading lightly, testing the waters; a good way to start the evening.

After the standard foyer mummery, everyone was ushered to the table. Everything was going to plan so far. He was an excellent reader of emotions, one had to be with a specialty like this, and he could tell that his hosts were reacting positively to his and his wife’s comments and their overall presence.

Food was served; salmon. A sudden, strong rush of uncomfortable feelings welled up inside of him, like a wine bottle of dread being uncorked.

Salmon was his weakness; the one thing he could not prepare for. Up until this point in his career, he had never been required to face such a task. The dry texture and accentuated fishy taste combined to make stomaching it almost intolerable for Rob.

As the rest of the dinner was brought out, the feeling of uneasiness increased. He started to panic, but he reminded himself how important his success tonight was, regained his composure, and took a bite.

The taste was sickening. He forced himself to chew it and was eventually able to push the lump of agony down his throat. He imagined everyone watching him, analyzing him.

Dinner party hosts are always on the lookout to see if their guests are enjoying the food; it is the focal point of the evening, after all. He could see them casting occasional subtle glances at him as he ate. He flashed them a polite smile.

“The food is excellent.” Concise, to the point, and exactly what the hosts want to hear.

They thanked him and seemed at ease with his response.

He had apparently hidden his initial discomfort adroitly, but the remainder of the dinner was torture. He had to maintain the façade of enjoying the food and continue to participate in conversation. Time passed though, and it seemed as if he was in the clear. His suffering had gone undetected, and his confidence rose. The growing nausea persisted, however.

The night continued with the exchange of anecdotal stories and flirtatious joking and laughter all around.

“No, no, no, I specifically said that YOU were in charge of packing the toiletries, I was- “

“Nuh unh mister, I wrote on the list that that was YOUR job”

“We’ll agree to disagree.” Polite laughter. Funny and relatable stories about the struggles of being in a relationship often strike a note with the other pair and creates a mutual bond and understanding between the two couples.

He was back in full stride. He told compelling stories, reacted to others’ stories accordingly, and was in the middle of one of his favourite jokes to tell, when it happened. A tragedy that he knew would have rippling effects in his personal and work life. It was unavoidable in nature but pivotal for his future; a dinner party nightmare that would send the evening spiralling towards conclusion faster than a bat out of hell.

“Oh my god, Rob, let me get you a napkin.”

“Honey, are you okay?”

He had thrown up all over the table.

There was no way of knowing that it was about to happen. It came up in an instant, and by the time he realized the horror that was about to take place, all hope was already lost.

He knew he had to do something, but he was flustered. Excusing himself profusely, he stood up from his chair and tried to clean up the mess with a napkin.

“It’s okay Rob, I’ll look after that, you sit down.” Mrs. Leslow said peremptorily but with a hint of sympathy.

He sank back into his seat.

“I’m so sorry.” He looked up at his boss guiltily.

“Not a problem at all; these things happen. Let me go grab a new tablecloth and some disinfectant. Can I get you something for your stomach?”

“No, I’m fine, I’m fine.” He could sense in his boss’s voice the embarrassment for himself and for him. Rob knew he had messed up; there was no coming back from what had just happened.

The night ended relatively quickly after that. No one was in the mood to socialize, and predictably no one felt like eating anymore. Mr. and Mrs. Leslow kept insisting that he go home and rest his stomach. He assured them that there was nothing wrong with him and that it couldn’t have been the food. Nevertheless, they politely shooed him out.

In the car, he was inconsolable. His wife was disappointed, but it didn’t mean as much to her as it did to him.

“Your boss is right, honey; these things do happen.” He didn’t respond, his eyes remained fixed outside the window.

The following Monday at work, he came in early to apologize.

“Mr. Leslow, that has never happened before, I can assure you, and the delicious food that you and Mrs. Leslow served had nothing to do with the incident. I offer my apologies again and propose a make-up dinner party perhaps next Saturday at my place?”

“Uh, sorry Rob, next weekend I’m all booked up; my son has a football tournament”

“The weekend after that then?” He was hoping, grasping at straws.

“Sorry, Mary has something planned, but she won’t tell me.”

“Well, it will just have to be some other time then.”

“I guess so.”

He knew it was over. His boss’s excuses were only too unconcealed of a way to tell him that it was never going to happen, there would never be a second chance. He trudged back to his desk and forced himself to work on something, anything to pull his mind away from his sadness. The life was sucked out of him, his passion and drive gone. It was failure that engulfed him, complete and devastating failure.

He decided, in that moment, that he would never attend a dinner party ever again.

 


Submitted: November 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Alekhine. All rights reserved.

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