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A man sat at the table reading the daily newspaper. His wife, across the table, was inadvertently repositioning the flowers. He thought of how she always seemed to be fixing things. “The blue flower looked absolutely at its best next to the pink one, but only if they’re both behind the yellow daffodil. I won’t have it any other way!” she would say to herself. Yet as he watched her arrange the very same flowers that had sat there for five years, he had never wondered why they were artificial until now.
“Why is it you don’t buy real flowers for the table?” the man asked in earnest. He even touched his wife's arm in attempt to grab her attention.
She quickly stepped out of his reach to grab a ribbon from the other countertop.
“Why, real flowers fade and droop with time. Their dying colors wouldn’t match the wallpaper.” She wrapped the ribbon around the vase. “It’s simply smarter to buy fake ones that’ll always match and always look healthy and beautiful.” She shook her head condescendingly and took off the ribbon again.
The husband sighed and picked up the newspaper yet again, unfolding its contents in hopes of finding something nice and exciting.
“What shall we bring to your friends the Robinsons’ party tonight, dear?” he asked after a short silence.
“I’m not entirely sure, it’ll come to me on the whim and I’ll just whip something together.” She assumed with an air, turning around and placing her hands on the sink, gazing out of the window.
“I think a nice roast would be fitting, don’t you,” he nodded back to her, “or maybe a baked pie?” he pushed his glasses further up the crook of his nose. She made no reply. Instead she insisted on rearranging the various items on the counter. Trying again Peter continued,
“You know, I could take the children down to the park tomorrow. I’m positive they’d love the fresh air after sitting here all night tonight with Ellen.”
“Sure, sure,” she answered distractedly.
“Would you care to come along?” Peter inquired.
“Oh no, I simply have too much to do.”
“Yes, of course. I understand. Well, I’ll be sure to take them.”
He checked his watch, “I do think I’ll throw myself together here, you said you were already ready didn’t you? I’ll go wash up. Maybe we could stop at the diner before we head over, if you’d like?”
“No no, better not. The party starts at seven, it’s six now so you go on and get ready. Oh and Peter, be sure to wear the shirt I ironed and laid out for you, and don’t forget to tame your hair. We’ll leave when you’re finished.” She said, not looking at him.
“Sure sure, I’ll be right down. Hey kiddo!” He rustled the hair of his oldest son who had just bustled past him and into the kitchen.
“Hi mother, I had a great day at school, do you want to hear about it?” his son sat at the table, “the teacher told us—“
Peter watched the doorway and then left to get ready.
“Dear, we should be getting a move on!” Melanie called to her husband.
Peter appeared at the top of the stairs and hurried down , greeted his wife with a kiss and a look that implied that he was ready to go. She patted down his hair.
Melanie then turned to Ellen, the babysitter, and told her to just ring the Robinsons in case of trouble; she had written the number down in the kitchen. Ellen assured her there would be no need,
“The kids will be in bed no later than nine, I’ll see you when you get back Mrs. Tummel.” She replied with a smile.
“Thank you so much for the favor,” Melanie tilted her head slightly, “I do appreciate your help.”
The couple left to continue down the sidewalk. Peter glanced over to the container his wife held, her determined, pale face illuminated by the fluorescent street lamps.
“What did you decide on dear?”
“Just a fresh salad. We had everything in the fridge so it was much easier than making a big production of everything.”
“Of course.” Peter hesitated.
“Well, who all will be here tonight?” Peter pushed out.
“Well the Robinsons of course, and some of our friends from childhood. It shall be interesting to see the way they’ve all turned out.” She said, looking forward, smiling to herself. “And I suppose some of your friend might show up too.” She added after a moment’s pause.
“Well I’ll get on well enough with your friends dear.” Peter laughed to his wife.
“Hn,” Melanie smiled halfheartedly back to him.
When they arrived Peter shivered as they made their way up the path. The house was nothing ornate. It was a light shade of blue, with white shutters. In the front yard some simple shrubbery lined the sidewalk. It was a breezy November night. He knocked twice on the gleaming red door.
No answer. He glanced at the window to his right, the light streaming onto the lawn. He listened to the sounds of people talking wafting through the threshold.
Melanie handed Peter the container of salad, and knocked again on the door. It immediately opened to reveal a bright faced woman who greeted her warmly and motioned to come in. She made small talk as the woman took Melanie’s coat before skittering off into a side room. Peter removed his coat and held it over his arm.
They stood in a living room; a few people unfamiliar to Peter stood around and chatted amongst themselves. Melanie walked in first, making her way past them and making sure everyone had greeted her hello. After making small conversation, Melanie excused herself to the kitchen. Peter followed suit.
Baskets of fruit lay on the counter beneath a window, chicken salad, potato salad, platters of ham and turkey and chicken, bowls of dip, not to mention a variety of libations. Everyone had a plate in hand. Melanie smiled and greeted those who received her as she made her way to the counter, grabbed a plate and began piling up the home goods.
“You simply must tell me where Mrs. Robinson is?” Melanie implored, beaming, to a man behind the counter.
“I believe she should be back down soon, she went upstairs to check on the children.” He returned brightly.
Everyone was quite gregarious with one another, but a tension filled the room. The couples all throughout were standing by each other. Melanie noticed Peter was standing at the outside counter.
“Peter aren’t you going to make a plate?” She walked over to her husband and kissed him on the cheek, side-glancing to look for reactions.
“No that’s quite all right I don’t think I’m hungry.” He pulled away, replying slowly and quietly, trailing off slightly at the end.
As Melanie gave him a puzzled look, Peter turned to the man behind the counter and opened his mouth to begin conversation, but the man had turned to a woman at the table behind him.
So he sat down instead. He placed the salad bowl that was still in his hands on the counter. He watched as Melanie poured herself a glass of wine and made her way to the chattering table, plate in hand. She nearly bounced over to the group of people, a hearty smile on her face, body jittery with excitement.
Melanie submerged herself in conversation. She sat at the table with two other couples. One dark haired woman laughed and shared,
“George here never brings himself out of the garage; I have to practically drag him out every night for dinner.”
The man she sat next to, presumably George grinned and shrugged.
The other woman, light haired with fair skin, laughed as well, and continued,
“Chris hasn’t changed since junior high, I swear on it. Memory span of a nut. I ask him to do anything and in five minute he’s already forgotten it!” She shook her head, laughing.
A slight pause arrived in the conversation. Melanie smiled.
Peter sat at the counter; he grew impatient with the goose bumps on his arms. He stood up, Melanie watching all the while from the corner on her eye. He grabbed a plate from his right, opened the container of salad, and spooned a heap onto the plate. He went down the line of homemade foods, the thought of each made him want to throw up.
“Do you know?” Peter began aloud, “I’m really not hungry at all.” he laughed as he made his way around the island to the white trash can on the other side, promptly dumping his plate in the contents of the black bag.
The group simply stared at him.
Melanie was horrified
Peter laughed and left the party without so much as a good-bye.