The following story is inspired by "The Dinner Party" written by Joshua Ferris. The prompt was write a page or two about race.
“All I want,” I argue as I stir the scalloped potatoes in with the rest of the soup, “is for you to admit that you are a racist.” A bit of the mixture splashes back up out of the pot and onto my forehead. I wipe it off with a finger and taste. It needs more onions.
He’s dicing said onions and not meeting my gaze.
Tonight we are arguing about race. Yesterday it was abortion. We had both thought race would be a slightly lighter topic for pre-dinner discussion. We had both been wrong.
“I’m not a racist!” Brian shoves a small white ceramic bowl filled with the chopped onions in my face. I consider voicing the biting comment that of course he wouldn’t cry cutting onions, he’s heartless, but I refrain. The fact that he didn’t just storm out of the kitchen the second I pulled the racism card out of my recipe rolodex proved I had hit a nerve.
“You certainly hate Mexican food,” I tease as I dump the onions into the stew. “I had wanted to make fajitas but nooo we had to serve a white-bread American dish.”
He groans over by the sink where, bless his heart, he’s doing the dishes. “You are making a French dish, my sweet. My dislike of Mexican food does not mean I hold a dislike for Mexicans. Mexican food gives me gas. Mexicans do not.”
“There!” I wave my ladle in his face; red splotches fly haphazardly all about the kitchen. I will have to Windex-Wipe them into oblivion before the guests arrive. “It’s the tone you used. You’re a racist. Just admit it. I won’t judge.”
“You are stereotypically categorizing me as racist because I am a white, fairly successful, male. Frankly, I think you are classist.” He pulls the Windex-Wipes out from under the sink and begins to clean.
I gently serve the soup into china bowls. As always, I am amazed as to how these dishes, cheaply procured in China Town, could appear both so beautifully sterile and yet, with a single ornate design—the flash of a golden rose and her thorn, add an oriental, mysterious quality to kitchenware. The Asians sure know how to decorate.
“Classist?!” I yelp. “What does that even mean?” I pile the soups onto a tray and carry them into the dining room. There, I shift the linen tale napkins a bit to their left. “Brian,” I continue once the bowls have been rightly placed, “I just like giving my friends a nice, dignified dinner party.”
“Right,” he snickers from the kitchen. I hear him make himself a scotch on the rocks. “And you and all your friends can feel so high and mighty judging the world up here in this Manhattan loft while the rest of us plebeians are mocked, thrown out with the trash, and yet we are the ones labeled as racist?”
I ignore him and start to tidy up the living room.
“Darling?” I call as I fluff some pillows and make sure the wicks in all the candles are fire-friendly, “Can you start uncorking the wine?”
“Already on it, Love.” He enters carrying three bottles—a red, a white, and a rosé. I nod at one of the bartenders I’ve hired for the night. “Give the wine to him.”
“Who is that kid?” Brian asks. “Shouldn’t he be out at the Cape pushing lawnmowers?”
We both stand still and watch the boy awkwardly cut lemons. “So he’s young. He mows the Richadsons' Hampton home and comes highly recommended. This way, if someone throws up we have someone on standby to clean up the mess.”
“I’ll take being a racist over whatever you are.” Brian hands over the liquor and helps me pull a tablecloth across the coffee table. “Nobody cares about this crap, you know.”
“I do. I care.”
“Would you mind if I invite some friends to this?” He waves his hands over all my handiwork. There’s a glint in his eye, and for the first time all evening he seems happy. I’m thrilled by his offer.
“Certainly! It’d be lovely if we could get your friends to meet my friends so, one day, when we announce the engagement…” He lays a finger on my lips and kisses my forehead.
I sigh and vent my frustration into another throw pillow.
Brian is too amused by some personal joke to recognize that I am upset. He leaves the room to make some phone calls. Ten minutes later he returns, all smiles.
“I invited friends!” he says.
“Who?” The daisy planter belongs on the counter, the lavender on the coffee table. I walk towards the kitchen to fill the vases. Brian follows me.
“Jose and Bill.”
I stop in the middle of the living room, a vase of flowers in each of my hands.
“You invited…” my voice is steal. My arms have started to shake. The flowers are unnaturally heavy.
“Jose. You know, he does some handiwork for us. He’s a gardener, capitol fellow. And Bill.”
In a small, tentative voice, I look up at Brian’s smirking expression to ask the one question I do not want to know the answer to: “Who is Bill?”
“Why, Bill’s our neighbor! You always talk about him? His manners are impeccable.” Brian is mocking me now.
I refuse to play this game. “Oh, Bill! Our neighbor with the motorcycle. Our neighbor--“
“The Negro!” Brian bellows. He slaps himself on the knee. “This cocktail party just got entertaining.” He watches me as I, in total silence, fill the vases in the kitchen and place them on their respective living room tables.
I do not look up from the place settings. We need more paper napkins. I need to go check on the soup bowls, perhaps I served them too soon.
“You have to uninvite them, honey,” I calmly demand as I hand him a wad of napkins without meeting his eye. “Put these out and then make the calls.”
Like a petulant child, he shakes his head. “No.”
“Why not?” I stop and glare.
“I’m going to hang out with my friends from a different race. How many of your friends are anything but white?”
I ignore him. This is no longer funny. “I asked you to invite your friends, not people to prove a point.” Together we walk back into the den. He holds the napkins while I re-arrange the flowers.
“They are my friends! Jose and I have a lot in common, we both like the sun, and hot sauce…”
“There!” I shout. The bartenders glance over at us and quickly look away. “You’re trying to be funny, but you’re just sounding like a goddamn racist.”
“I was being funny.” He throws the napkins on the floor. “Fuck this, if you’re going to be such an anal retentive bitch I’m going out for a beer.”
“You call them and uninvite them first!” I shout as he slams the front door. I smile at the bartenders. He’s forgotten his coat and will likely be back for it so as to not freeze to death.
But he doesn’t come home. So later, when in the midst of my party one awkward Mexican man shows up with jeans and an accent that clash against our fancy cocktail dresses and expensive upbringing, and when a tall, well-spoken black man arrives and is immediately hit upon by three married women and despised by two of their husbands, I alone am left to clean up the mess.