Sunday, June 8, 2014

The write time

Day 26 / 30-Day Writing Challenge

Writing fiction is not my thing. I'm not talking about plays or scripts. I'm talking about novels, short stories, that sort of stuff. However, every blue moon, I sign up for a class or join a writers group and slog out some fiction. 

I do this out of a sense of "have to." Like they'll figure out I'm a fraud if I don't have some unfinished piece of fiction torturing me. Actually, I think I'm over that self-induced torturing, but there hasn't been a blue moon in a while. 

I wrote the following piece for a class I took. 

Dinner Party

“This country was founded by a bunch of wild-eyed religious fanatics,” Liz Gibson’s voice rose above the dinner guests. Not quite yelling, but still a far cry from the civilized act she had managed to pull off during the meal.  The collective look of surprise from around the table told her either the lack of a cigarette for the last half hour or the more-than-half bottle of wine accompanying her meal was showing.

“That’s why they came here,” she continued, standing up to get an ashtray. It was her house. She didn’t need to ask permission to smoke. “So they could practice their religion … and then forbid others to practice theirs.”

“And you can thank the soldiers in Iraq for giving you the freedom to say things like that,” Monroe finished his sentence in unison with the strike of Liz’s match. Opting out of the tired old discussion, Liz doubled up filling her wine glass, not wanting to call attention to herself in a few minutes when she would have had to refill it.

“Time for everyone to go home,” Liz silently wished her friends to be gone when she looked back up from her glass. She wasn’t opposed to clearing the table as a hint for them to get moving – she just didn’t want to leave her wine. Her focus was on finishing her drink and then maybe, much later, another one of the bottles bought for this dinner party. The religious fanatics remark did its job of involving all the other seven people around the table in a spirited conversation among themselves. And, isn’t that the job of a good hostess?

“What year did the Pilgrims land at Plymouth Rock?”

“Our Founding Fathers would have finished the job during Desert Storm.”

“Roanoke was in Virginia.”

The debate whether Vermont was one of the original 13 colonies or not left her alone to concentrate on her wine.

Her husband, David, enjoyed giving dinner parties. Loved the planning, shopping, cooking, setting the table …he didn’t even mind the cleaning up. Her part was to keep him company during all the preparations, minus his grocery shopping. Her contributions consisted mainly of sitting in a high chair at the breakfast bar catching up on some reading, taking a taste here and there, offering a suggestion of where David may find a seldom-used kitchen tool, and answering the phone.

The phone rarely rang. Liz could predict who was on the other end by the time of day the sharp ring interrupted her. The sound blast, straight from out of nowhere, always set her posture stick straight. Why David hadn’t fixed that damn thing yet really irked her. A brrrrink during regular business hours indicated a telemarketer was on the other end, an early evening one indicated a friend, and after 8 p.m. meant one of the children.

The children rarely called -- never having much news to report. How could they?  She and David saw Bridget at least once a week and Kyle made his way over there three times a week to watch a game, borrow a tool, or lend some muscle to one of David’s many projects. Their calls were usually responding to an invitation from David to meet at a restaurant or come over for a new recipe he wants to try out. Liz usually let the answering machine pick up the calls.

Thursday night David called Monroe checking to see if he liked cilantro. Lord, how that had peeved Liz. “He never checks with me on what ingredients I like,” she silently seethed. “Cilantro? What on earth could he be concocting …” smoke had floated out of her mouth.

The result of Monroe’s affirmative answer to the cilantro question was a special pesto dish, which now sat barely touched in front of Liz. All the guests raved about it. Liz enjoyed the dish enough but mostly just played around with the food on her plate to make it look like she had been eating.

She had not appreciated David’s insistence on purchasing all the red wine to go with the meal – a good example of why David shopped solo for his dinner parties. She much preferred white wine and the cheaper the better. Pairing wine and food didn’t matter a whit to her. She knew what she liked and didn’t care what some celebrity chef dictated or what anyone else thought.
White wine didn’t stain. That was something you couldn’t say about red wine. And household hints such as rubbing salt on the red wine stain didn’t register with Liz. She gave up that sort of thing when Bridget hit fifth grade and Kyle third. Just about the time when wine spills started becoming more common in the Gibson home.

“Uh, do you have any club soda … Liz?” Carolina interrupted Liz while she was adding “not enough white wine” to her list grievances she’d later present to her husband. “Some red wine spilled.”

“White wine will erase that,” David grabbed Liz’s glass and poured it over the red spot in front of Carolina. “Don’t worry about it. Here are some napkins.”

And with a stack of about twenty-five napkins soaking up the red Rorschach blot in front of her, Carolina held out her glass and asked David for some more merlot. And, he happily obliged before refilling Liz’s glass, the very one he had snatched out of her hands twenty seconds earlier – yet, another item for the grievance list.

The possible wine stain didn’t annoy Liz. Even David being so rude to snatch the glass out of her hand took a back seat to the dinner guests not picking up on the table mishap cue to make their exit. Now dessert was a certainty, which put everyone’s departure time an hour away at the earliest.

“Please,” she mentally implored David. “Do not suggest everyone ‘retire to the drawing room.’”

He amused himself by saying “retire to the drawing room” with an exaggerated English accent and a big flourish of a bow. Bridget and Kyle have incorporated it into their vocabulary, too. It has become family-speak to mean “dinner is over, time to leave the table.”

“Shall we retire to the drawing room” one of them would say, and each went their separate way -- Bridget to her room and Kyle to the garage.  And in no way near retiring, David, of course, went to the kitchen, where he talked about tomorrow’s meals while making decisions on leftovers, taking inventory of the pantry, and scrubbing the kitchen.

No, tonight Liz would not like to retire to the drawing room. The ashtray was perched perfectly behind her to the right and the white wine was on the table in front. “Retiring to the drawing room” would mess up her little nest and then there would be Carolina, Lorraine, and Ivy fussing around and wanting to clear the table. It would be impossible to get them not to help. 

“I found that merlot at the little liquor store next to Vons,” David informed the table.

“I like it,” Carolina answered and batted her eyelashes exaggeratedly when she added “it’s kind of peppery.”

“Remember who agreed to drive home,” Shep chided his wife and finished off his glass of wine so he could refill it with the peppery drink.

How Carolina put up with that bore Liz could not fathom. And here he is about to offer his two cents worth of wine knowledge.

“I wouldn’t describe it as peppery, but more tannic. A very good choice for tonight’s meal. Excellent pairing, David,” Shep said. “Usually, I prefer more hints of fruit, but this really does satisfy.”

“Usually you prefer anything you didn’t have to pay for,” Liz said to herself as she inhaled her ninth cigarette since the party started. “So, put a cork in it.”

“Tannic? Fruits? What are you talking about? I never taste any of that. I just know what I think tastes good,” Estes offered his glass for a pour.

“And, I’ll agree with you on the good taste,” Estes added. “But tell me, Shep what fruits are you tasting? Rotting grapes? … and, do you the difference between a connoisseur and a sewer?” he added.

“Quantity!” he crowed the punch line.

“David is a gourmet, and I am a gourmand,” Liz chimed in, not even acknowledging the joke.  

“David is a connoisseur of fine food and drink, and likes to cook. I just like the eating.”

“And the drinking,” Estes added. 

Below, Dinner Party was included in AnneThology. I have a copy. Lots of good reading in the book.