A Few Dinner Parties Ago


Story by Laura Payne

Illustrations by Cole Chickering


We are all drinking wine and dipping into some kind of pimento cheese dip. Someone with a mustache says, “Did you hear about Rick” and then someone else nods in agreement and someone else is embarrassed because she doesn’t know who Rick is, but imagines he is important.


We are all redfaced because we all think it seems like this party isn’t as fun as it sounded on the personalized invitations with a fancy font that said RSVP.

There is a man in a button up shirt and a tie and JEANS here for god’s sake, says the overdressed woman. She loves wearing hosiery even though her daughter says no one does that any more, mom.


Down the street from the formal party at the same time two bored people are making out on a futon. It is this woman who decided to live with her boyfriend before she realized he was the type of person who watches movies on comedy central and then repeats the funny lines to himself, quietly, laughing. He does it when he’s alone, or when he thinks she is asleep. They have a TV in the bedroom. Part-awake she hears him and presses her face into a cold pillow to block out the TV light and the sound and wonders what she could possibly do to make it different.


The apartment next to them is an older woman who lives alone, listens to the couple have sex through the walls. She is the type to go to the nicest grocer in town and buy some fancy cut of meat and cook it for herself. She tells her friends the next day about how she had such a nice night to herself and this time seasoned the filet just right. She picks at the bone with a plastic fork, hears the thumping against the wall, a moan. She blushes, looks down through the table, through the ground, through the hot place in the middle of the earth and thinks “less salt.”


At the dinner party the woman who drank the most Chardonnay is talking about her divorce in a way that shushes everyone, and sure we all feel real bad for her but we are also a little tiffed at her for ruining the “energy” of the party. The hostess thinks, “bad energy”.


I have been thinking that an easy way to deal with people is to just assume they feel the exact same way you do all the time. Sometimes it works. A long time ago I was watching Jeopardy with a friend and it started raining, and I turned to her on the couch and I looked at her and said “I feel depressed,” and she said “Me too”.


Another time this happens often is if you mention that you’re tired then everyone around you is likely to start yawning and saying me too. I don’t know if this works the same way or if people are just always looking for an excuse to go to sleep.


Back at the dinner party, the guests are all still hungry, and also want to go to sleep, but won’t say anything. A woman with french tips picks at a shrimp carcass.


And here is the conversation going on in the corner:

Do you need help cleaning up?

Oh, no I’ve got it!

Thanks for having us!

Oh no thank you!

You have a lovely home! I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to make it over here!

Oh you are too much, this is all too much, I don’t know what I am saying because I am a rat I am a stinking drowning rat drowning in a swimming pool.


Except the last part didn’t happen and everyone eventually got their coats and left, out to where it is cold. Five out of six 2013 model SUVs leaving the party agreed that the night was “wonderful.”


Alone now, the host stares a crystal dish that was once filled with after-dinner mints. There is one left, lying in the corner like a dud egg in the nest. She feels an anger at whoever would leave just the one there like that, it was probably Leanne, she hates Leanne, Leanne is the type to take a handful of mints and just leave one there. The host pushes her body into the kitchen counter. She eats the lone mint and it melts in her mouth silently, of course silently, and she wishes suddenly she were doing something loud. She begins to move the kitchen chairs, not picking them up fully, just scooting them in a rotation. She thinks about how her husband would hate the way she was scuffing the nice hardwood floors, but the sound of chair legs scraping on the floor is taking something heavy off of the top of her ribs, she knows that she needs this.

Story Laura Payne

Illustrations Cole Chickering