March 16, 2006

I sighed as I surveyed my kitchen. Dinner was ready and could not sit for long. There was food on every available countertop and burner, and I could barely close the refrigerator door. As much as I hated to start without Karl, I felt like I didn't have a choice. At one of my dinner parties, the food is the boss, and the food said, "Eat!"

I walked out to the living room, where my guests were chatting in small groups. "I believe, mes amis, that it's chow time!" It was quite gratifying to see how everyone dashed to their places at the table. Everyone, that is, except for pauvre Suzette, who was still hoping for Karl to appear. She lingered at the living room window, wistfully watching for headlights.

"Darling, perhaps something came up. I'm sure Karl has a good reason why he's not here," I whispered into her ear. Suzette smiled ruefully but said nothing as she followed me into the dining room.

Just as we were passing the dishes around the table, the doorbell rang again. "Aha!" I said, "This must be our guest of honor." Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ken grab the plate of butterflake rolls. Ken does not like to share the butterflake rolls. "Ken, dear, I am sorry, but those rolls are for everyone," I said with a polite yet firm tone.

"He's late. He forfeits the rolls," grunted Ken. Taffy shot him a look, and he put the rolls back in the center of the table.

Karl stood at the front door with a huge bouquet of flowers. "I apologize so very much. I got lost, and some very kind folks at a local tavern tried to direct me, but I'm afraid I didn't understand their directions."

I turned to send my husband a meaningful glance, and he just rolled his eyes. To Karl, I said, "Well, I'm just thrilled you were able to make it. Merci beaucoup for the lovely flowers. We've just started dinner, so please have a seat."

Karl sat down while I put the bouquet into a vase. By the time I came back, the ambience had taken on a character of its own. What had been a chatty, casual get-together was now a sociological experiment out of the Milgrim files. Half the table stared at the latest arrival, trying to guess what he would do next. The other half watched the first half with bated breath.

Trying to break the ice, I offered, "Karl lives in Atlanta. Ken, don't you have people out there?"

Ken nodded curtly, then looked intently at the rolls before asking, "Do you ever go to the flea market out that way?" His hand crept slowly out to the rolls again.

Karl shrugged but smiled genially. "I will have to visit it sometime. I've heard that one may find tremendous bargains."

"You should talk to Pompadour Floyd. He sells couches, but on the side, he collects information about contrails. Secret government information," Ken concluded in a raspy whisper.

Karl's smile looked less solid now, but at least he still smiled. That was more than I could say about Frederick, who was positively glaring at Karl.

Why would Frederick shoot such an evil eye at Karl? One look across the table at Suzette told me all. Suzette had become positively misty-eyed since Karl's arrival, and Frederick had realized that he was not even in the running for Suzette's affections.

Karl reached for a butterflake roll, but Frederick reached out and took the plate away. "I don't think it's nice to be so late to a dinner party, even if that is how they do it in At-lant-a." He drew the last word out, injecting as much venom as he could into the name.

Poor Karl thought he was attending a mere dinner party. He had no idea that he had just stepped into a circus. And, I was the one on the tight rope.

This Week, Mrs. Filthy's Reading:

The Ghost Writer by Philip Roth