It is evening, and the sun is low. I ring the doorbell to my sister’s house. She answers the door, her brown eyes alight with excitement.
“Why hello, Mike!” Nicole gushes. “How’s my favorite brother tonight?”
“I’m fine,” I say. “Just fine. How are you, lug nut? And I’m your only brother, or did you forget?”
“Me? I’m wonderful. Absolutely wonderful!” She laughs that delightful laugh of hers. “Lug nut. You haven’t called me that since we were kids. Come in! Come in!”
We enter the foyer and make our way toward the dining room. Nicole’s house is full of light. All the lights are on. Nicole has a very bright house.
“It sure is good to see you, Nicole,” I say.
“It sure is good to see you,” Nicole says.
“I’m sorry I’m late.”
“Don’t be silly, silly. We’ve only just sat down. Don is acting like a duck.”
We walk into the dining room. Everyone is sitting at the table. Don stands up and flaps his arms with his elbows out and his hands tucked into his armpits. He quacks like a duck.
“I’m Donald Duck,” Don says in a Donald Duck voice. “And I’m hungry.”
We break out in laughter at this.
“That was great!” I say.
“Thank you,” Don says as Donald Duck. “Thank you very much.”
We laugh so hard!
Four of us nearly pee our pants.
“I nearly peed myself,” says Tammy, Don’s wife.
“Me too!” says my brother-in-law, Robert.
“Same here!” Nicole says. “I nearly peed my pants too!”
“I think I really did pee myself,” says Cindy, a family friend. She stands up and heads for the bathroom, stops, turns right back around, and sits down at her place. “Just kidding,” she says.
We laugh so hard again!
When we’ve composed ourselves I shake hands with Robert and Don and give the women hugs.
“Have a seat, Mike,” Nicole says. “I’m going to put the final touches on dinner, and then we can eat.”
Nicole goes into the kitchen.
“Welcome to my humble abode,” Robert says in a deep, resonate voice.
I bow to him in mock propriety.
“Thank you, kind sir,” I say. “Where shall I sit?”
“Ooh! Ooh!” Cindy says. “We set you a place next to me. Come sit next to me!”
“Okay,” I say.
I sit next to Cindy. Cindy has blond hair. She smiles at me, and her eyes twinkle like stars. I sit across the table from Tammy. Tammy wears a white dress. Tammy smiles at me, and her eyes twinkle like stars too. Cindy sits across from Don. Don smiles at me, his black whiskered goatee contorting, but his eyes don’t twinkle. Robert wears black-rimmed glasses, and he smiles toward the kitchen where Nicole is preparing dinner. Nicole has very long brown hair. Robert sits at the head of the table. When Nicole comes back from the kitchen she will sit at the foot of the table.
Silverware and gilded china plates sparkle in the light of the chandelier. The table is set with rolls, butter, salad, various salad dressings, and green beans. We all have unsweetened iced tea to drink. By accident, everything on the table is arranged in the form of a smile. Even the table is smiling at me. What a pleasant evening.
“What a pleasant evening,” I say.
“Yes, it is,” Tammy says.
The others agree.
“What’s the main course?” I ask. “What’s for dinner?”
“Beef. It’s what’s for dinner,” Robert says, quoting the ad.
“No, Robert,” scolds Nicole from the kitchen. “It’s lasagna.”
I’m surprised Nicole can hear us talking from the kitchen. She must have very good ears.
“Mmm, lasagna,” Robert says. “I’m Garfield, and I’m lazy, and I want my lasagna right now. I’m starving like always.”
We chuckle. Robert is joking around like Don, but he’s not as funny. He’s still amusing, though.
“Hold your horses there, Garfield,” Nicole calls from the kitchen. “It’s coming.”
“I know, dear,” Robert says. “I was only just kidding.”
“I know, dear,” Nicole says.
Nicole hurries into the dining room carrying a pan of lasagna. Steam rolls off it. She places the lasagna on the table. Nicole sits down in her seat at the foot of the table.
“Let’s pray,” Nicole says.
We join hands and pray in unison: “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Cindy leans toward me and mumbles something. I don’t understand what she said, so I just smile and nod and say, “Yeah.” This seems to please her.
My sense of hearing is eroding. I can’t hear as well as I used to. Lately it seems as though everyone is mumbling like it was some new fad. Rather than ask people to repeat themselves all the time, I just say “yeah” and smile and nod. It’s probably from listening to so much heavy metal over the years. I love my music, and I love it loud. Also, I used to go to a lot of concerts when I was younger, and often after a show my ears would ring for days. I saw Slayer once, and they were so loud I almost went completely deaf.
We pass the rolls and green beans around as Nicole dishes out lasagna.
“Your house is lovely,” Tammy says.
“Why, thank you,” Robert says. “We’ve put a lot of work into it.”
“Yes,” Nicole says. “We’ve put a whole lot of work into it.”
“With the white walls and the bright lights of the chandelier—which is magnificent by the way—the room seems to glow,” Cindy says.
“How’s that for light dinner conversation?” Don cracks.
“Look,” I say, gesturing out the window. “It’s getting dark outside. The gloaming. And it’s only going to get darker.”
My comment dampens the mood. We fall silent. We clink our silverware against our plates and smack our lips as we chew.
“But the darkness makes the room seem to glow even brighter in contrast,” I say, trying to salvage the mood.
“Yes,” Nicole says. “The room does glow brilliantly. It glows with the warm light of friendship.”
“Thank you, God,” Robert says, “for our friends.”
“Amen,” Cindy says.
“Amen,” Tammy says.
“Amen,” Don says. “And thank you for our wonderful hosts.”
I don’t say anything. I like the night.
“Mike!” Nicole exclaims. “You didn’t say anything. Aren’t you enjoying yourself?”
“I’m enjoying myself tremendously,” I say. “And I’m very thankful and glad to be here with all of you.”
I gesture around the table and give everyone a huge smile and a direct look in the eye to reassure them.
We continue eating.
“The lasagna is muy delicioso,” Don says.
“Si,” I say. “Es muy bueno.”
“Magnifique,” Tammy says.
“Gratsi, Nicole,” Cindy says.
”Gracias, mi amor,” Robert says. “You did good, babe.”
Nicole blushes. She beams with pride.
We finish eating.
“Everyone have enough?” Nicole asks. We all smile and nod as if we didn’t hear her. “Then let’s have dessert!”
“Oh goody,” Cindy says. “What are we having? I smell something chocolaty.”
But I don’t smell anything chocolaty, so I take a deep breath, and only then can I smell the faint scent of baking chocolate. My sense of smell is eroding too. I can’t smell very well anymore. I walk around fearing that I smell like b.o. or butt sweat and don’t know it. I read somewhere that the loss of smell is a symptom of a brain tumor. Maybe I have one of those.
“We’re having death-by-chocolate chocolate cake!” Nicole exclaims.
The women squeal with delight. Us men grin at each other with raised eyebrows and nod in approval. Nicole stands and takes the empty lasagna pan into the kitchen. She comes back with the cake and some plates. Nicole places the cake on the table in front of her place. The table’s smile now looks like an actor with his tooth blacked out. The cake is round and three layers thick. It looks very chocolaty.
“Who wants the first piece?” Nicole asks. “Don?”
“Sure,” Don says.
Nicole cuts the cake, places it on a plate, and hands a piece to Don. Don digs right in. Nicole then proceeds to cut pieces for everyone. We all dig right in. We all grunt and moan as we eat.
“So how’s the cake?” Nicole asks after a moment. She has not eaten any cake yet.
“Oh,” Cindy says. “My. God.” She tilts her head back. She is in ecstasy.
Tammy is also in ecstasy.
“I’m in ecstasy,” Tammy says.
“Oh. I forgot the milk,” Nicole says. “Can I get anyone some milk?”
No one wants milk. We are too enraptured with the cake. Nicole goes into the kitchen to get herself a glass of milk.
Don stops eating. He looks around the table.
“This cake is to die for,” Don says very quietly in a voice like Death. “Get it?”
“Yes!” we say and laugh.
Nicole comes back into the dining room with a tall glass of milk. She sits down. She takes her first bite of cake. Her eyes roll back into her head.
“This cake is to die for!” Nicole exclaims with her mouth full.
“Don just said that,” says Robert with a grin.
“Really?” Nicole says, her mouth still full. It sounded like she said “weawy.”
We laugh so hard!
Tammy drops a bite of cake in her lap because she laughs so hard.
“Oh shoot!” Tammy says. “This is my favorite dress! The stain will never come out!”
Tammy picks up the bite of cake from her lap with a napkin and places it on her plate. It was her last bite of cake. She frowns. The other women console her. Us men look on helplessly.
“Let me get you a washcloth so you can clean that up,” Nicole says. She hurries to the kitchen.
“I’m so sorry, Tammy,” Cindy says. “If it makes you feel any better, last year I spilled bleach on my brand new Jimmy Choo shoes.”
“You did?” Tammy says.
“Yes,” Cindy says. “I was disconsolate for days.”
Nicole comes back and hands Tammy a soapy washcloth. Tammy tries to clean her dress.
“This is all my fault,” Nicole says. “If I hadn’t said what I said and made you laugh, your dress wouldn’t be ruined now.”
“No,” Robert says. “It’s not your fault. Yes, you said ‘really’ with your mouth full and that was hilarious, but if Don hadn’t said ‘this cake is to die for’ before you said it, then you wouldn’t have said ‘really’ with your mouth full in response to my observation that Don had just said that the cake was to die for. Do you follow?”
“It’s Don’s fault,” Robert says.
“No,” Don says. “Don’t pin this one on me. I’ll never get laid again.”
We laugh at that.
“I’m sorry, Tammy, my love,” Don says. “I didn’t know my wit would be so biting it would ruin your dress.”
“No,” I say. “Don’t blame Don. Let him have sex. Instead, blame it on gravity, random chance, and whoever gave the cake its cursed name. That is really what is to blame for the destruction of Tammy’s dress.”
We ponder this a moment, cocking our heads to one side or another or staring at the cake stain in our lap, as the case may be.
“No,” Tammy says. “It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have worn this dress. We are eating lasagna after all. I knew I was taking a risk when I put it on.” She sighs in resignation. “Let’s speak no more of it.”
We speak no more of it.
We finish our cake. The women clear the table and wash the dishes and speak of women things. Us men lean back in our chairs and speak of men things.
After a few minutes the women come in from the kitchen.
“Guess what?” Cindy says.
The women stand together bouncing on their heels in excitement and grinning ear to ear.
“What?” us men ask, grinning back at them.
“We decided that we’re going to play charades!” Cindy exclaims.
Tammy and Nicole squeal.
“Sounds good to me,” I say.
“Me too,” Robert says.
“I’m game,” Don says. “Get it?”
We laugh because we do get it.
Don is punny tonight. I tell him so.
“Don, you’re punny tonight,” I say.
They all laugh. I laugh also. I feel that my pun on “pun” and “funny” is very witty and original. But now that I think about it, I fear I’ve heard it used before. Sometimes this happens. I think or say something I think is original, but it turns out to be someone else’s thought. I fear I am losing my mind. Not in the sense of going crazy, but in the sense of losing bits and pieces of my mind’s functions. The way I imagine computers die. I fear I’ve lost the part of my mind that keeps track of which thoughts are mine and which belong to other people. Another body function eroded away.
We move to the living room to play charades. A floor lamp is on, and the overhead lights are on. Nicole turns off the overhead lights.
I look out the front window of the house. It is completely dark outside now. I do not remark upon it.
The furniture in the living room consists of a couch, a recliner, an entertainment center, and the floor lamp. The couch is along one wall. The recliner is catty-corner to it on another wall. The floor lamp is between them, in the corner. The entertainment center is opposite the couch. It houses a TV and a stereo system, but they’re not on. If today were Saturday, the TV would be on because this is football season, and Robert loves college football. But it’s Sunday night, and Robert doesn’t watch pro football, so the TV is off. But the floor lamp is on. It is now the only light source in the room. It is like a spotlight, and I say so.
“The floor lamp is like a spotlight,” I say. “Perfect for charades.”
“Yeah,” Tammy says. “Part of the room is in shadow, but it’s bright near the lamp.”
“Spotlight’s on Mike then,” Nicole says with a grin.
She means I’m to go first in charades.
Cindy, Nicole, and Tammy sit on the couch. Robert and Don stand in front of the entertainment center. I stand in front of the recliner by the lamp. I am completely in the light. Cindy sits on the couch closest to the lamp, and she is illumined completely too. I can see her the best. She looks beautiful. Next is Nicole. She is still in the light but more dimly lit than Cindy. Tammy is in the lamp’s penumbra. Robert and Don stand in the faux dark. Robert’s glasses glint.
I try to think of a charade. There is a crucifix on the wall opposite me. I can just make it out in the darkness.
My sister has faith. I do not. If there is a God, he has the faintest of scents. When he speaks, breath merely seeps past his lips. If there is a God, he is beyond my ken. If there is a God, my sister has more finely tuned senses than I.
Staring at the crucifix, I have an epiphany. I will be God.
Everyone is looking at me, smiling, waiting.
“One word,” I pantomime. “One syllable. Person.”
I stretch out sideways on the recliner so that I’m lying across the armrests on my right side. I extend my right arm, point toward the kitchen, and glare. I’m posing like God in Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. I stay motionless like that. The others don’t know what to make of this, so they just start calling out names.
“Prince,” Robert says.
“The Rock,” Tammy says.
“Yoda,” Cindy says, even though it’s a two syllable word.
“Rupaul,” Don says, even though it’s a two syllable word.
“Oh God,” Nicole says. “Not Rupaul.”
Nicole does not like transvestites.
I point emphatically at Nicole.
“Rupaul?” Nicole says.
I shake my head no.
“God?” Nicole says.
“Yep,” I say.
“That’s not funny, Mike,” Nicole says. “That’s sacrilegious.”
Everyone frowns. I’ve dampened the mood again. I feel bad.
“I’m sorry,” I say.
“It’s ok, Mike,” Cindy says. “We forgive you. Don’t we guys?”
“I’m sure God forgives you too,” Nicole says with a smile.
“Thank you,” I say, my absolution complete.
The game of charades continues:
Robert is a cat.
Nicole is a dog.
Don is Rupaul (“Oh God,” Nicole says.).
Tammy is a cake.
Cindy is Elvis.
It’s suddenly late and very, very dark outside. It’s a new moon. It’s time to go home.
“Good night,” everyone says.
The men shake hands with one another and hug the women. The women give everyone hugs.
We all go home except for Nicole and Robert who are already there.
When I get home I turn off all the lights and lie in bed. At first I feel bad for the times I misspoke tonight and killed the party’s mood. Then my mind drifts and I luxuriate in the darkness. If when I die there is a light at the end of the tunnel, I will not go towards it. I will stay in the darkness. Like how it is now. I hear nothing. I smell nothing. I think very little. It’s very nice. Maybe I am already dead, my mind and my senses having completely succumbed to life’s erosion. Maybe my bedroom is the tunnel. Maybe God is the time on the glowing face of my digital alarm clock: 11:48.