The Dinner

by Clay Cruse

The Dinner

I'm running late. As trees grate the afternoon light, it crashes through the panes dragging shadows across a cold floor.

It's snowing outside and I need to concentrate on the show. That is what it always becomes, my fifteen minutes. Do I have what I need? Will they like what I create? They always seem to. Maybe they're just good liars. Maybe I'm less than I portray to be. Can I meet the false expectation that has been built up over the years? Theirs or mine?

I pause to let the music and shadows meld with the cold outside. The falling snow crashes into the stream. What silence!

Gnossienne, track 2 begins.

I wait for it.... A subtle note in "E" about three quarters of the way through perfectly frames this time of year, this day, this very moment.

In a few hours the noise and chaos of generations will punish me for the solace I cherish in this instant.

The low roar of the furnace brings me back.

I'm alone. All alone....but am I really?

I scan the room. Old and worn. New and shiny. Like people, some showing age and wear yet still forgive and provide. Others are innocent to the future they have yet to experience. Their motivation to help shows through with a glistening luster.

How stupid....talking about inanimate objects as though they could live or think. Yet, I have so many, a variety. Always giving. Always a purpose, a job. The short comings of society would never allow such diversity to share in a common goal. Here, I integrate and trust in all. They surround me with a comfort, a wall. A group that never denies, never argues and will always deliver equally what I put in. Like a carpenter or better yet, an artist. Is it I who sculpts, or is it they?

Friends, sports teams, politicians and sometimes family; using one another. Each, provides to better the whole. Yet, to gain requires giving. Losing a little of yourself along the way, sacrificing for the greater good, they say. I care less and less about those games as I gray, so I elude them entirely.

Alone? Here? Looking around...I don't think so. I surround myself with trust. I control but yet show care and respect. Lose focus, push or take advantage and they're quick to punished me for my egotism.

The track switches. It's Vivaldi. An oboe concerto in D minor. I remember it by thinking of those car focused days of my youth. This one, numbered 454 like the big block engines of the 70's, is powerful yet controlled. It's funny, what seemed important at the time evolves. Have I? Is what I'm doing now important? Does it matter?

As I take mental inventory of the items, I understand. Organizing and placing all pieces of this puzzle is important to the whole. I need to shield myself. Looking at the choices hanging on the hooks, I choose black. A simple cover to protect. I tie it as I have so many times before. By the end of the evening, its dark color will better hide my mistakes and slovenly attempts at perfection.

A bounty, all collected from careful planning. Some cold, some not. Most, living and fresh. I'm still amazed at what it takes to gather such decadence in this season.

Preparation is key. Half of the work is over by the time you actually start. The wood, oiled and secured, waits for the steel. Flickering fire warms yet transforms. Unlock its abilities and you are the master. Various containers sit idle. I give and they take without question.

Time to begin

If I have to think, then I'll lose. I will fail. Master of mind, not mastered by it, they say. As I arrange, alter and convert simple giving's into creations of my soul, my mind drifts. Will my son be good at sports? Will I pay the bills on time? Does my wife still love me as she did so many years ago? The steel parts its prey. The oak pushes back. Screaming steam announces completion as the clock, never wavers in its march to a deadline. I sweat with concern as I always do. Failure is inexcusable. Others see mastery in my art. I see a thin veil hiding my short comings.

The earth has given, and I have cleaned. Altering once what was lush and true, now an assembly of color and texture ready for the masses.

Smell the sea. The clean scent of ocean provides assurance. I check over each like I would my children as they came in from an evil world. Here, in this moment, I have to sacrifice those who couldn't make the journey and thank the ones who did. As they slip into the cauldron, I know the labors of their lives will soon be realized by all.

Golden brown announces perfection. My senses fire. To see with your hands. Hear with your nose; your mind a clock. Subtle changes in sounds or even a Meritage of all past experiences help sharpen you when a message of perfect completion is in the air.

I've done it.

The canvas, complete. Whether laboring for a few or many, I contemplate failure equally. As I attempt to look out upon the trees for comfort, the growing dark only provides reflection from the glass. My reflection. I am all I have now. The time is soon. My focus turns to maintaining. Preservation of such effort, like a photo capturing a perfect moment, equally test one's ability and drive to save perfectly and exploit masterfully the pinnacle of an endeavor.

Like a child with his fingers in his ears, I cringe at the bell. They have arrived. Dually, I want the attention but crave the solitary womb I've built over the years.

Cold air hits my face as wool cladded well-wishers flow in. Scripted conversations mull on about the weather, kids or "How's the job?" The inviting dark and my chance to escape, blocked by the customary drudgeries. Though a wishful thought, I can neither fail nor run. Play the part, make conversation, and assimilate.

A deep pride is masked as positive comments and gestures spill out. I worry that as the glasses empty, candidness will fill. Sincerity continues as eyes scan the bounty. Perfectly equal parts of symmetry, warmth, art and prosperity greet all who gaze. The drive to consume, like in everyday society, pulls all equally.

I'm not a star. Average at most. Secretly wanting to be best at everything in attempt. Playing off the accolades but privately craving the attention. They don't know, they won't know. This is how I want it to be.

What is ones place in life? To acquire things? To control? Be something rather than someone? Give covertly. Tonight I did and I will do it again.

I don't hand spare change to strangers. I don't waste money in a gold dish passed down the aisle. I give to those around me. I give what reaches them with the fullest effect. I touch their basic needs, their senses.

I cook for people. Not for a living but for my own therapy. My own sanity. My knives, my tools, the essence of the ingredients, these are what surround me. How can you be any closer to nature in this superficial world? The look, smell, feel and taste of a dish. The sounds of a communal gathering. No smart phone can penetrate this world when one's empty.

Nothing special was made tonight, just Linguini with clams. Sautéing these with prosecco, fennel and saffron, it paired well with a spinach salad. Pears and gorgonzola, along with a champagne vinaigrette, rounded out the dish. There is no resistance to fresh crusty bread. It's use? A polite way of licking your plate without sticking your tongue out. Securing compliments is better assured with ample amounts of wine. Full and content builds bonds, crosses aisles and spawns dialog. Be careful though. Opening doors, closes others!

A sort of climax is reached sometime around dessert and coffee. The earlier festive feelings of the gathering now morphs into an odd sense of anxiety. Like making love, the bond, the closeness; you reach a point of connectivity then you just want to be left alone or leave. Now comes the game, I watch for the signs. Quiet mumblings, staring at a wrist which has no watch. My heart races, not because of the loss, but of the prospect of when I'll have my world returned to me. Who will stand first? I win every time.

The exit begins.

Gracious accolades flow as personal items are collected. Halfhearted statements like, "Can we help clean up?" or 'We should do this again", are uttered. Like a broken record, they are expected. Almost there. I feel the urge to hurry, push or shove as the flow dresses in preparedness. They descend on the door. Minds already elsewhere. I know. I gave and they took.

With a slam, silence. Nothing is left as it was. Subtle yet glaring. Planets out of alignment in my universe. Wet ghostly reminders of the evening leave rings on a table, dents in cushions, a forgotten glove. I see all. Make the rounds, return the order. Can we really have it any other way?

The desire to belong. The expense, the time and the intrusion. Is it craved that much? Is the need that great? With an almost phobic passion, I attempt to return. Return to familiarity, return to expectation. To return to a place void of any evidence that anything happened at all. It is complete. I've won. I'm back.

A clean glass, I fill it with a deep red essence of earth. Slightly mineral, strong blackberry with a hint of chocolate. Tannins have mellowed but assert a needed presence. A gift? Yes. Payment for a job well done? Maybe.

I wrap in a blanket and hit play. My day, almost complete. I step out into the dark, cloaked in my cocoon. With my glass and a proverbial pat on the back, I light a match. As I draw in the smoke, a glow from the cigar warms my face. I pause to let the music and shadows meld with the cold.

The falling snow crashes into the stream. What silence!

Rate this submission


You must be logged in to rate submissions

Loading Comments