We arrived right on time, although we had debated that. Isn’t fashionably late, well, fashionable? In the end, though, we were on time. Which was good, because she was out front waiting for us, standing between the big white columns that decorated the front of the house.
Instead of inviting us in, she led us around the side, straight to a big backyard with a brick patio backed up against the house. We followed her like sheep would a shepherd. We giggled nervously as we exchanged pleasantries with her husband, who was already sitting outside.
“Would you like an amuse-bouche?” She leaned over us with a silver tray. It glinted in the last bits of evening sun, just like her long front teeth.
Of course, we answered, we’d be delighted, we said. We had no idea what those things were but we’d made an unspoken agreement before we even arrived that we’d go along with whatever came up. We knew who we were, but if they thought we were the type of people to be invited over for a dinner party out on their fancy veranda, well then we’d be those people for the night.
We had our little puffs in our hands, and we just held them trying to look for all the world like we knew how to even eat the things, when that first strange thing happened.
She had put all the drinks, all the glasses, and two bottles of wine on a little end table next to where we were sitting. It was cute, gilded around the edges with spindly, gold-colored iron legs winding down to the uneven bricks below.
They had both been inside preparing something or another, when one of the legs just bent, or maybe it broke. Or maybe the foot of the table slipped between the bricks. We didn’t see it happen, but we heard the crash. Everything slid off. All the glasses broke, all the drinks spilled, and the wine flooded onto the ground. Her husband was clearly upset. He was trying not to yell, but he did raise his voice. “I told you not to use that table. You never listen.”
She snapped back, something about needing a place to put the drinks and he wasn’t going to carry out another table, all the time never dropping her long-toothed smile.
They apologized profusely, we told them it was no big deal. And it wasn’t. It could have happened to anyone, we told them that too. Just some spilled drinks. Let us come inside with you we’ll help you pour new ones. We can run back home and get another bottle of wine. It’s just down the street.
“No, no. Please, sit. We’ll be right out.”
They went back inside and came out with new drinks, new glasses and a new bottle. They put them right on the glass-topped patio table we were all sitting. Then they settled down with their own drinks and their own little puffs and we chatted a bit.
We told them they had such a lovely home, how we admired it very much. We even dared to ask them how long they’d been living in this neighborhood, like we hadn’t been watching from our window when their moving trucks pulled up almost exactly two months ago, and unloaded piece after piece of furniture. The house swallowed every bit, and we bet there was even still room to spare in there.
“Oh not long. We moved from the city,” she said. We nodded and smiled, too embarrassed to ask which one.
“We needed more space, you know? A yard,” he said. “Sure the commute’s longer, but look at all this.” His hand waved around limply.
We looked out at the yard. It looked vast and empty. Lonely, even. Maybe you guys could get a dog, we offered. This yard is perfect for a dog. Do you have any pets? We asked.
“No. No dog.”
“We would never have a dog. Not ever.” Both their faces were quite serious. Just for a second though, then they continued with their pleasant chit chat.
“The ossobuco is probably ready. Let me go check. Honey, do you want to come with me to check on the ossobuco? I wouldn’t want the ossobuco to overcook.”
“Sure,” he said. They both got up, their metal chair legs scraping the brick.
We looked at each other. About a million questions passed between us. Why did she just say the word ossobuco so many times? What is an ossobuco? Do they sell this wine at Trader Joe’s? And things like that.
They came back in a few minutes, and we learned that apparently an ossobuco is some kind of meat. It certainly looked delicious, and we told them as much.
We all grabbed a piece with their intricate serving utensils, big silver things that ended in winding silver grape leaves. Gorgeous. Right as we were about to eat, hers kind of jumped. All by itself. Her fork wasn’t even near it. Then it jumped again, and we wondered if it was trying to escape, but that’s just ludicrous. It was clearly very dead. What was there to escape from now? But it kept jumping.
“Grab it,” he said, as she held her fork hesitantly above it. “Grab it!” He started to shout.
“I’m trying!” She yelled back. She tried to stab it with her fork, but pulled back when it jumped again.
“Just grab it!”
“I’m handling it! If it bothers you so much you do something about it!” At this point a glance passed between us, out of sight of our distracted hosts. A look of horror? Embarrassment? We composed ourselves too quickly to tell.
He groaned, rolling his eyes at her. He stabbed it forcefully with his own fork. Then he turned around and put it down on the patio behind him, where it proceeded to jump off towards the grass, albeit slowly. He grabbed one of the extra pieces still on the plate and served it to her. That one seemed okay, so we started eating.
You look so lovely all the time, we said. We love all your outfit, we told her.
“Well, I have a secret,” she gave us a salacious look, way overdone. Her husband didn’t look up from his plate.
Oh? We said. We were curious, but more than that our hearts were tingling at the bottom, like little sparks of excitement were jumping up from our stomachs. If she told us a secret that meant we were friends. Good friends, even. And we so wanted to be friends.
“I can eat whatever I want,” she punctuated her proclamation with a bite of meat. “Anything. I never gain weight. Do you want to know how I do it?”
We nodded, and leaned forward just a little.
“I have a tapeworm. I went to this doctor in Chinatown. He gave it to me. It eats all my food.”
Wow, we said. All of it? Just like that?
“Oh yes. It’s great.”
Her husband still didn’t look up. Just down at his food, at his knife and fork scraping quietly against the porcelain plate. We looked down too. We had imagined a glamorous life. We had thought she could teach us about things we had never heard of, or even dreamed of. This was certainly that, wasn’t it? Was this it? What we were looking for? Somehow it didn’t feel as luxurious as we’d imagined.
When we were done, she announced it was time for dessert. She stood up, her black dress billowing a little behind her in the evening wind. Her husband didn’t stand up. He just looked at her. “Dessert? Are you sure that’s a good idea?”
“Yes of course. It’ll be fine.”
He didn’t offer to help her bring in the dirty dishes, but we did. Let us help you with that, we insist.
“No, no I’m fine,” she said, a little edge in her voice.
“Really, please stay here,” he said.
She didn’t seem to have too much trouble, she stacked the plates and carried them in, and even though it was a tall stack she didn’t seem bothered. We wondered if she had been a waitress at some point.
She came out with a plate of macaroons. All beautifully colored, meticulously arranged. Green, red, blue, pink, yellow, maroon. All spread in a beautiful circle, on another in her endless supply of silver dishes.
As soon as the plate touched down on the glass-topped table with a little clink, we knew something was wrong.
“I told you not to bring out dessert!” He said, standing up and yelling out of nowhere.
“Well it’s a dinner party! What else am I supposed to do?”
Then we saw them. The ants. They climbed out from between the bricks, and began their ascent, up the table legs, across the table, and straight to the macaroons.
These were not regular ants. They were big. Huge. The size of baby Chihuahuas. Their bodies squeezed through the spaces between the bricks like half inflated balloons through the slats in a picket fence. They began grabbing the macaroons in their mandibles, trying to carry them off, back under the patio.
She wasn’t about to let those cookies go without a fight. She started pulling at them, trying to wrench them from the ants’ impressive grip. He started to do the same, but he was better at it, and managed to save a few in the time it took her to get just one. Then they both started yelling at the monstrous creatures, even though we couldn’t figure out if they had ears or not.
“Let it go! Get out of here!”
“Shoo! Shoo! Get off!” Nothing seemed to be working. The battle raged on.
This was too much, even for us. We better go, we said, it’s getting late. Thank you so much for everything, we’ll see ourselves out, we told them. Whatever was inside the house, whatever fancy life we had imagined for ourselves, it wasn’t worth this.
“No! Wait! You still haven’t had dessert!” she called, her hands still wrapped around one half of a pistachio macaroon.
Alexa Hailey is a freelance and fiction writer living in Massachusetts. Her fiction work has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Vamp Cat Mag, and Detritus. You can follow her on Twitter at @lexabobexa.