It is best not to get too close to them, the guests that is. To adopt a posture suggestive of openness and accessibility, while practicing the mental hygiene of angling away. When they ask how I am, for example, I think afraid, and say let’s eat something.
My fiancé, Max, says, “Helen, you don’t have to tell them everything. For example, don’t say ‘I cover my eyelids in turkey skin and frighten children.’ That is what we call an old maid’s remedy.”
But it isn’t. I said it cures nothing.
“Still,” he insists, “this is best left unmentioned.”
We are in the kitchen. The guests, Potato and Chicken, are playing Scrabble in the den.
“Their names,” Max says, “are Hilary and Nelson.”
Chicken is a journalist and Potato stays home with the kids. I had to invite them; Max said they are neighbors. He said his embassy is the office. Mine is the neighborhood. I said I am an artist, not an ambassador. We practiced over dinner.
“Chicken,” I said, “I’m only charming when I don’t have dinner with anyone. Still come.” I forked the beans and salad to the floor. “Sans les enfants!”
I put a cheese log on the table. They brought the Scrabble board. I said it’s just amazing you can think of words. Me, I can only think of terrible things like dying in a latrine. Chicken said it beats New Jersey.
“Well, that depends,” Potato winked, “on the inheritance tax.”
I said I’d better check the oven.
“It smells delicious,” Potato said.
“No,” Max said, “it smells like nothing. Nothing is in the oven.”
“It’s just amazing,” I said, “that you remember how to spell them, though I suppose Chicken is an editor.”
“Accountant,” Potato said.
“Who is she talking about?” Chicken asked. “I have no idea who she’s talking about.”
They passed the velvet sack. I said, “I’d better answer that.” “Answer what?” they asked.
“You’d better pick some letters,” Max said.
After dinner Potato helped clear the plates. She said the hotdogs were delicious. Our husbands were in the basement loading guns or something.
“How do you like living here?” Potato said.
Outside some children were selling mud to an old woman. Then our husbands were on the deck shooting things and drinking scotch.
I said, “It takes one wife to screw in a light bulb.” Because I know from experience it is best to imagine they have asked the right question.
Jessica Alexander studies and teaches at the University of Utah. Her fiction is forthcoming in Denver Quarterly, Fence, and Heavy Feather Review.