I set the
dishes at the garden table, feeling very much like the mad hatter amidst the
overgrown and dripping ferns. Oval-shaped, wrought iron and heavy, the table’s
piled with dishes; colorful, mismatched and chipped, vibrant against the
slip on the mud-slick patio. The rain is perfect, cool drops rolling down my
scalp like marbles, gathering on my neck like old friends. Typically, I watch
the rain from inside, standing at the stove, preparing endless meals for guests
that just won’t leave. They sit in my dining room, leaking on the carpet.
Rotting against my good chairs.
One by one, I usher them out now, an arm around them for
support, all but dragging. Well, with Herbert I do drag, but I’m gentle when I prop him
in his chair. And I’m nice. I give him the head seat. Even put the ashtray beside
him, pipe tucked in his breast pocket.
I know what you’re thinking, but trust me, I didn’t kill them.
I kill them and then care for them this way? Applying rouge to Aunt Mae’s
sagging face, the way she liked? Sitting my sister and her allergies far from
the blooming lilacs?
pouring tea in cups already brimming with rain, I pass out scones that are
admittedly stale, but nonetheless pocked with chocolaty goodness and a perfect
twinge of orange, and that are quickly becoming soggy.
believe tea party,” I mutter.
that.” I tsk. “You have friends. You have family.”
don’t I? I’m not nearly alone.
unloved at all.
smells good, earthy and dirty and clean. I pause, scone halfway to my mouth,
considering the rain dripping off Herbert’s chin.
I laugh, bending to wipe it with a sopping, pink cloth napkin. When I touch
him, his mouth falls into an open half-smile.
now, Herbert. Mouth open at the table?”
Herbert merely stares, mouth still hanging in a sloppy O.
jagged pinky nail, I pick chocolate from my scone until the whole thing
that wasteful?” Herbert drones.
moved, but I detect a sparkle in his eyes.
you care?” Defensive. I can crumble scones if I want.
grunts, low. The way he used to, like a growling dog.
I roll my
eyes, settling into our old routine. “Give it a rest,” I say.
Isn’t that just funny.
And then I can’t stop. I’m laughing, really laughing, tears rolling on my
cheeks, mixing with rain that drips from the sky like something thick. Ink rain
and salt tears, mixing on my shirt.
look up, Herbert’s laughing too, because, God, isn’t it funny? I mean, isn’t it
he answers, reading my mind, which only makes me howl louder. Around the table,
everyone’s still lifeless, but Herbert slides forward in his chair, barking his
smoker’s laugh and slapping a decayed hand on the table.
knock the table over in my haste, gathering dishes and cups in one swoop,
crashing them to the patio. In my panic, I even knock Herbert to the ground,
where he lies face down, shoulders still shaking with laughter.
shout, quietly as I can.
Josh, hands on my shoulders.
He says it firmly, like his tight grip steering me toward the house. “You’re
going to catch pneumonia.
trail off. Why is he letting me off the hook about his dead father, laughing on
the patio? And what about the others?
kitchen, I pull open a drawer and select a long carving knife. I try to twirl
it in my hand like I’ve seen in movies.
says, gently holding my wrist, plucking the knife from me like it’s a blade of
grass. “You need help. Let me help.”
over his shoulder. Herbert still lies on the flagstone. The others slump in
party,” I say.
keep having parties by yourself in the rain.”
alone, I want to say, but I can’t push the words past the stitched seam my
mouth has become.
Josh pushes the party into garbage bags, even my good dishes.
done, the patio’s empty, save for the rain.
Award-winning author Jennifer Walkup is most often found writing, reading, and spending time with her husband and young sons. She is the author of the creeptastic young adult thriller, SECOND VERSE
and the young adult contemporary, THIS ORDINARY LIFE
. She can be found online at www.jenniferwalkup.com