April 1, 2011

Lit by Chicks

Camembert Soup
by Bernie Brown

While not the intended effect, the outcome was surprisingly satisfying. It was just like in the movie, “27 Dresses,” when Jane has to wear those crazy bridesmaid dresses in 27 different weddings, but in the end, those brides wear them in her wedding. And all together, the dresses look better than they did in the weddings for which they were intended. Lila’s party was kind of like that.


Let’s start with the occasion itself.


Lila gave the party for Margo’s birthday. Then Margo changed her mind and didn’t want a birthday party.


“Just call it a fall get together,” Margo suggested, and Lila did what she said. It was easier than arguing. Margo had had many bad relationships and her desperate feelings about the future made her sensitive about her age. So it wasn’t a birthday party.


Then there was the food.


The central dish was supposed to be baked brie. It looked like purple slop. First, Lila couldn’t get brie, and substituted camembert. She topped it with blueberry jam and put it in the oven. Then the guests began to arrive, and she forgot the cheese, and it melted into a puddle. She stood fretting when Zeke, her brother, walked in.


“Let me have a go at that,” he offered.


Lila let him. If anybody could save the dish, he could. He set crackers upright around the edges of it like little soldiers.


“We’ll call it camembert dip,” Zeke improvised.


“Looks more like soup,” Lila cracked.


And then there were the relationships.


Lila had invited Zeke because he never socialized. He only felt secure at work, where he practiced corporate tax law. He bought expensive clothes and liked to cook. That’s how he spent his money and time. Lila wished he would find a girlfriend.


For Margo, Lila invited a new neighbor whose name she couldn’t remember. He looked older. Maybe his age would make Margo feel younger. Maybe they’d hit it off. So, Lila’s intended reason for the party changed from a birthday party to a seasonal one. And a key item on her menu, the baked brie, became camembert dip. Even the people resisted her guidance.


Her nameless neighbor made small talk while helping himself to yet another plateful of camembert. He asked “What is this stuff? It’s good.” Lila didn’t listen. Instead, she plotted how to get him together with Margo.


Zeke interrupted her thoughts. He hoped to escape to the kitchen again. “Let me refill that veggie plate.”


“I didn’t invite you here to work, Zeke. You’re just trying to avoid people, anyway.” Lila accused him.


“Moi?” He feigned innocence.


“Do you speak French?” Margo could be clueless for all her experience.


“Nah, just fooling around with my little sis.” Zeke looked to Lila to rescue him, but she ignored him. “I’ll just go see to those vegetables.” He skittered off like a scared rabbit.


* * *


Margo followed Zeke. “That’s a great sweater. Is that Armani?”


He looked down at his sweater and then realized how stupid that looked. “I can’t remember.”


“Let me have a look,” Margo said, and turned down the back of his neckline to check the tag. “Just as I thought. My friend Giorgio.” She patted Zeke’s back as she repositioned the sweater.


Zeke felt his stomach turn warm and his heart speed up when Margo touched him. He stared at the baby carrots in self defense.


* * *


Lila set again to her match making agenda. She had to get Margo and Neighbor together. She started by asking Neighbor where he worked.


“I work at a bank.” He hoped to escape questions about work.


Lila didn’t listen. She scanned the room for Margo.


“How about you? Where do you work?”


Lila spied Margo’s red blouse in the kitchen and, ignoring his question, asked the banker to wait. “I’ll be right back. There’s somebody I want you to meet.” She walked in to find Zeke and Margo giggling while they arranged grape tomatoes. Lila hesitated to interrupt.


As she watched, Margo popped a tomato in her mouth. “I love these things.”


“So do I.” Zeke ate one too. “I make a great caprese salad with ‘em.” Zeke looked at Margo with the promise of more than a salad in his eyes. Lila backed out quietly.


She returned to Neighbor. “The person I want you to meet is busy right now.”


He changed the subject back to Lila. “That’s okay. I’d rather talk to you. You still didn’t say where you work.”


Lila said she worked as an event planner at a hotel, but she would soon be unemployed. The hotel had been sold. Then his cell phone went off and he excused himself.


While he talked, early arrivals started to leave. Many of them mentioned her camembert dip and even asked for the recipe!


Neighbor came back to her side. “Sorry about that. I hate people who bring cell phones to parties.”


Lila smiled to show her understanding. “Before you get away again, tell me your name.”


“Kyle Whitman.”


“Not the banking Whitmans? Is that the bank where you work?” Lila looked incredulous. The Whitman Bank had just made a big acquisition. The news had been on the front page all week.


“‘Fraid so.” The name was always getting in the way. “And before you get away again, I wanted to tell you to apply at the bank. We use a lot of event planners. I can vouch for you. I especially like this cheese stuff.” He moved to refill his plate. The camembert serving dish was empty. “Too bad. All gone,” he quipped.


* * *


Margo approached carrying the vegetable plate Zeke had refilled, so Lila scuttled off to question Zeke while he was alone. “Did I just see you and Margo making goo goo eyes over the grape tomatoes?”


“What of it?” It was a sophomoric response from a middle aged tax attorney.


“No need to get defensive, big brother. It’s just that I invited Margo for my neighbor. Now what do I do with him?”


“Keep him for yourself, I guess.”


His words gave Lila pause. “But isn’t he too old for me?”


Zeke laid on the sarcasm: “He’s no older than I am.”


“And besides, he’s one of those banking Whitmans.”


“So?”


“So, I can’t go out with somebody like that.”


“Like what?”


“Well, you know, rich.”


Zeke rolled his eyes. “I don’t know much about women, but I never thought rich was a bad thing.” And he left her to rejoin Margo.


“Oh, shut up,” Lila said to his back.


* * *


When the doorbell rang, Lila figured it was some guest who had forgotten something and come back. She swung the door wide with a smile that evaporated when she saw a policeman standing there.


“I’m trying to locate the owner of a red BMW with license plate M-S-M-A-R-G-O. The car’s been hit.”


Lila told Margo about the policeman. Her face dropped. She loved that car; and despite her boldness with men in general, policemen scared her. Zeke followed. Women might frighten him, but law officers did not. He was a lawyer, after all.


The remaining guests all stopped talking. The party had been breaking up anyway and this episode put an end to it.


Zeke returned long enough to say he was leaving with Margo. Lila turned to find that her neighbor Kyle was the only guest left.


“You have a good relationship with your brother,” he commented.


“He’s great. I’m glad he and Margo hit it off. He’s really shy with women.” In an unexpected burst of honesty, Lila admitted, “I invited you for Margo.” She gathered glasses and carried them to the kitchen.


Laughing at Lila’s thwarted matchmaking, Kyle picked up dirty glasses, too. “Let me help you clean up. You have to console me. I lost my chance with Margo,” he teased her from the living room.


* * *


They’d loaded the dish washer to capacity. Then they kicked off their shoes and drank a final glass of wine together on the couch. “Thanks for the tip about the job at your bank. Do me a favor, though. Don’t put in a word for me. If I get it, I’d like to get it on my own.”


This is what Kyle meant when he said his name always got in the way. Lots of people wanted him to use his name. This was the first time anyone asked him to keep it quiet. He liked it better this way. He nodded his agreement and raised his glass to seal the promise.


* * *


Before Kyle left, he offered, “Think we could see a movie next weekend? Just as neighbors, mind you.” His eyes teased her.


Lila teased him back. “Of course, as neighbors. You’re too old for it to be anything else.” Her smile belied her words.


Now Lila sat alone, lost in a post-party fog, evaluating her party in terms of food, guests’ enjoyment, and unplanned events. That’s how she evaluated her work parties, her “events.” The camembert dip had been eaten, proving its tastiness. The noise had reached a certain level, a good measure on the fun meter. But nearly everything came under the heading of unplanned events. That was usually not a good thing; but today, even though a lot of things about this fall get together hadn’t had the intended effect, the outcome had been surprisingly satisfying.


She was certain that Jane from “27 Dresses” would agree.


Bernie Brown is a 62-year-old retiree from Raleigh, North Carolina. Writing is her primary activity, but she also enjoys reading, sewing, watching movies, and traveling. Her stories have appeared in several magazines and e-zines including Punkin House Digest, All Things Girl, Still Crazy, and Death Head Grin.