Any Five People
The soup hadn’t even been served yet and dinner was already turning into a disaster.
I’d sent out the invitations months beforehand; spent a fortune on them, too. Nothing like the fortune I’d spent on promotion and marketing, of course; but the money I’d be getting back from the TV rights…well, look. It had never been about the money. It was about the prestige, partly; I wanted the Hanfords to be the first. Ever since the technology had been perfected, I wanted us to go down on record as the ones who used it the way everyone’s always dreamed of using it. And since Rodney’s younger brother had been on the team at M.I.T., a few words is all it took to nail down the social event of the century, in my own dining room. But mostly, it was about making dreams come true. The best people have been kicking the idea around ever since I was a little girl — who wouldn’t make it really happen if they could?
But my dream was rapidly turning into a nightmare. Lorenzo brought out the tureen and started serving, and I sighed with relief; it was the first sound that had been made for close to five minutes, aside from the steady buzzing of the television equipment, broadcasting excruciating seconds of dead air to the cream of New York society. My biggest triumph turned into my greatest humiliation, and all broadcast live on Bravo.
“Soup, sir?” Lorenzo asked the little man seated across from me. He really was quite tiny, smaller even than that English fellow who’d played him in the movie. He’d been very polite, but he was also extremely picky, and in between starters, he gave me these baleful looks whenever I would tell Juanita to hurry up with the service.
“Er, no — no thank you,” he chirped in that birdy little voice of his.
“What’s the matter, Mahatma? Don’t you like Roquefort?” Rodney asked. He pronounced it ‘mo-HAT-ma’. What could I do? I was the one who’d demanded the damned thing go out live.
“No, it’s not that; it looks quite exquisite, Mr. Hanford,” Gandhi replied. “It is only…the bacon.”
“The baking? I’m afraid I don’t quite follow you.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Rodney, he’s a vegetarian,” I snapped. “Jesus.”
No sooner had the word escaped my lips than I winced in embarrassment. Sure enough, an inquiring grunt came from the head of the table. I could scarcely stand to look in his direction; goodness knows I could smell him well enough from here. I hadn’t been so embarrassed since my deb ball when Henry Alcorn spiked the punch and I ended up puking on the front of the Undersecretary of the Interior’s soup-and-fish. Still, I put on my best there’s-a-brave-girl smile and turned to him.
“I’m sorry, your high…sire…uh, my Lord. I didn’t mean you. It was just a figure of speech.” I tried desperately to remember something, anything, from my Catechism class. “I didn’t mean to, to take your name in vain.”
He just stared at me with that bewildered expression on his face and coughed up a string of incomprehensible gibberish. It sounded like he was trying to spit out a cat. How listening to that could have inspired an entire religion is beyond me.
“Sono spiacente,” came the lilting, effeminate voice from the man to my left. He’d finally looked up from his sketch pad. I can’t imagine he’d treated Pope Julius II this ungraciously, but if you told me he did, I’d have no trouble believing you, not after what I’ve seen. “Sono per capire che questo è Jesus? Il nostri Signore e Padrone?”
I started to say something, even though the last time I spoke Italian, it was to say ‘avete questio nel colore rosso?’ to a shoe clerk in Milan, but Lorenzo beat me to it. “It’s a cream soup, sir. A light bisquelike texture, with charred bacon and two light blue-veined cheeses.”
“Non sono interessate nella minestra,” came a reply I would categorize as ‘bitchy’ were it not coming from history’s greatest artist. “Prego chiedagli Se fosse disposto a proporre per una Passiona.”
I didn’t even have the chance to ask him what on Earth he was on about, not that he would have understood me anyway, when I heard Nell’s voice whooping from the kitchen. Dr. King was having a good time, at least. I thought about going in there and breaking it up, but at least with him in there fondling my kitchen help, he wasn’t out here lecturing us about our social responsibility, asking us why the only other people like him at the event were servants, and begging us to go over the whole last quarter-century again, “starting with how my ass got shot, and finishing with who exactly voted against my national holiday”.
“Say, Louise,” Rodney hissed from my right in an exaggerated stage whisper. The mics caught every word that fathead said. “Weren’t there supposed to be five of them?”
I looked around in a panic. For once, my dullard of a husband was right. The Bard of Avon’s chair was empty. Before I could get up, Dennis, our driver, appeared in the entrance to the dining room and waved me over.
“He’s in the car, ma’am,” Dennis confided. “He’s watching the television. He asked if we could just send some food out so he can catch the end of The Bachelor. He says he’s got a great idea for a play.”