A Dish Best Served

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A Dish Best Served

by Michael J. Gray

 

Orange flames French kissed the wallpaper. Pastel daisies peeled from the walls and became black. An immense heat filled the air. I spluttered on smoke as I stumbled down the stairs. I had to get out of the house.  Opening the door I managed to fall forwards a few feet before collapsing onto the front lawn. Behind me the second storey of the house turned bonfire. Pity no one brought marshmallows.

 

Right on cue a car screeched to a stop at the foot of the lawn. Vanessa stumbled out of the car. She stood metres away from me in her short black dress and heels. So much for getting away with it. She looked at her house aflame and then at me sprawled on her lawn. A gamut of emotions crossed her usually fake face – an insincere smile, now confusion. Horror. Anger. I didn’t know she was capable of such feeling. It made me question my motives.

 

***

 

“Laura.”

I shook the mouse and the puppy dog screensaver disappeared from view. My boss, Kenneth, a balding baby boomer, leered over me. I felt his eyes scanning my body. I covered myself in defence.

“Yes?” I asked.

“Have you finished yet?”

“Sorry, finished what?”

“The minutes. I need them now.”

“I haven’t exactly started them yet. I’ve got tons on my plate. Since when were the minutes urgent?”

“Since my boss started breathing down my neck.”

“I know the feeling,” I muttered to myself.

“What was that?” Kenneth asked sharply.

“I’ll get right on it.”

“Good,” he said steering himself away.

I dropped my hand from covering myself and opened up the meeting minutes template.

 

“… Laura …”

Hearing my name I looked up from my monitor to see Vanessa chatting up Josh.

 

Oh Josh, the office hunk. Recently divorced. Silver fox. Biceps like mountains. I don’t know why Vanessa even bothers flirting, she’s married with two kids. I guess some people are never happy with their lot.

 

Josh laughed and looked in my direction. When our eyes locked his smile vanished and he turned sheepishly away.

“I’m right here, what is it?” I called out.

Vanessa pretended not to hear me.

I increased my volume. “I’m literally five metres away from you!” My voice reverberated around the office. Heads turned.

The red in Vanessa’s cheeks began to shine through the layers of foundation.

“What was it? Spit it out!” I called.

Vanessa finally looked at me. “It was nothing Laura, let it go.”

“Oh it was definitely something,” I said, standing up.

 

Before I could leave my desk Kenneth marched over and stood between me and Vanessa. “Laura, I need those minutes now.”

“She –”

“That’s enough!” he ordered.

“They brought it –”

“Get back to work.”

 

I sat down with a huff and returned to the minutes. Just when I was about to send them off, my computer dinged. An envelope popped up in the bottom right corner of my screen. I clicked it expecting an angry email from Kenneth. It was from Josh.

 

Hi Laura,

 

Sorry, I was just trying to be friendly. Vanessa can be a bit … full-on. If you really want to know what she told me, she was making light of how badly Kenneth wants to fuck you. Which is totally gross and I’m sorry I laughed.

 

If he ever touches you or says something I’ll back you up 100% okay?

 

Please don’t hate me.

 

 

Josh

 

I didn’t know how to respond to that. I left the message sitting in my inbox all day. I was almost going to ignore it completely when Josh stopped me on the way to the bathroom.

“I’m sorry –”

“Don’t,” I interrupted. “I read your email and I accept your apology. I just don’t understand why you and Vanessa hang out together. You know she’s a total bitch, right?”

“I was just trying to be nice,” said Josh.

“Oh, so it’s not that see-through top she wears every Friday?” I asked.

“Jesus Laura. Don’t make me reconsider my offer.”

“Your offer? To protect me from Leering Kenneth? I can take care of myself thank you very much,” I said, pushing open the ladies’ room door leaving Josh mouth agape in the hallway.

 

Was I too harsh? Probably. Jealous that he spends more time with Vanessa and barely notices me? Okay Laura, stop trying to therapize yourself. Staring into the mirror, I readjusted my hair, lifting the blonde curls out of my face as my mother always made me do. God, I was becoming just like her. At least I can handle my liquor.

 

The bathroom door opened, it was Vanessa. She slinked her way to the sink next to me and pulled out a lipstick. As if her lips weren’t blood red enough already.

“Really? You’re going to pretend that didn’t just happen?” I asked.

“I thought we had moved on?” she said, smacking her lips together.

“Look, I don’t care what you think of me.”

“Funny way of showing it,” she said, reaching for her mascara.

“I care when you start shoving your opinions onto others; my colleagues.”

“By colleagues, you mean Josh? Everyone knows you have a crush on him. It’s pathetic really.”

“I… I do not,” I protested.

“You really think he would be interested in a girl like you? You’re far too young.”

“I’m nearly 30,” I said.

“What Josh wants, is someone with experience,” said Vanessa.

“Oh, like you?” I asked.

“Of course not me, I’m married.”

“Like that’s stopped you before,” I snorted.

Okay, that was low, even if she deserved it.

Vanessa stopped halfway through her application and put the mascara down. She looked at me for the first time since entering the bathroom. “I’d appreciate it if you never brought that up again. That’s my business.”

“Oh come on Vanessa, the whole office knows,” I prodded. “That’s why Andrew left remember?”

“And I’d really like you to drop it,” Vanessa said through gritted teeth.

“Okay, I’ll stop. Just remember who has more dirt on who,” I said, as I left the bathroom, leaving yet another co-worker mouth agape. What a total mum move.

 

***

 

I collapsed onto my sofa, disturbing Pickles next to me. She stretched and gave me the evil eye before returning to her default position of head tucked into belly. I took a healthy sip of my drink. Nothing like a gin and tonic to take the edge off a day at work. My phone vibrated on the coffee table. It was a message from Josh.

 

Josh: Sorry about today. Hope this cheers you up

 

Attached was, well… ahem, a photo of his penis. Jesus almighty! Josh sent me a dick pic? Maybe I really did get to him today. Was this a submissive act? Am I supposed to insult the size to make him feel ashamed? Was Josh even into that stuff? I mean I’m flattered and all, truth be told, and I felt a little flushed. Did that mean Josh was into me? Or was that just the gin?

 

Another message came through.

 

Josh: Are you there?

 

I wrote back.

 

Laura: I’m here, just admiring your err… selfie.

 

Josh: I want to see your selfie

 

So, maybe not a submissive after all. Does he want a picture of my… pussy? I’ve done the phone sex thing before, but this is new territory even for me. I found the Santa hat I was saving for the work Christmas dinner tomorrow and put it on. I unbuttoned my shirt a few notches and posed cheekily before sending off a message.

 

Josh: More

 

Laura: Like more selfies, or more… more?

 

Josh: More more

 

There were lines and then there were lines. What ever happened to first dates? No chickening out Laura. You’ve been doting on this guy for months now. He’s finally expressed interest. Comply or lose him forever. I looked to Pickles for guidance, but she just slept wistfully. I looked to the half-finished gin and tonic. Batten down the hatches. I swallowed the rest and dropped my knickers.

 

***

 

That next day at work I was as giddy as a school girl. I could barely focus on my work. I’d look over to Josh and he’d flash his perfect teeth at me. I’d blush and shyly smile back. The work Christmas dinner was tonight. Drinks were involved. Perhaps Josh and I would finally seal the deal?

 

The work day dragged on until 5 o’clock finally rolled around. The function was at the local racecourse, one of the meeting halls with an adjoining kitchen for the caterers. I rocked up in my red dress and Santa hat. Now where was my Santa? Everyone was starting to mingle around the bar. I ordered a Sav and stood around awkwardly waiting for more people to show. Finally, McDreamy himself walked in. I smiled from across the room and he made his approach.

“Hey you,” I said.

“Hi Laura,” Josh said back.

“Looking sharp,” I said, eyeing up his black suit. “You scrub up good.”

“Please, it’s just a jacket. You look amazing tonight, I hope you don’t mind me saying.”

I blushed. “Do go on.”

 

Before Josh could compliment me further Kenneth moved to the centre of the room. He was wearing the same clothes he’d worn at work, an un-ironed buttoned up shirt that bulged at the waistline, and trousers that hung too short exposing old brown socks. His eyes lingered on the ladies closest to him in their short dresses.

“Can I have your attention please? Katherine has put together a slideshow for us this year. If you’d all be silent during the presentation.”

Katherine, the office goodie-goodie, was huddled over a laptop. Dear God, I hope Kenneth wasn’t taking advantage of her. Katherine hit play and the projector threw up some Word Art on the wall.

 

Aedox – A Year in Pictures

 

Photograph by Nickelback began playing. I groaned audibly and play punched Josh in the shoulder.

“Your favourite song,” I whispered.

“Please, I grew up in the 70’s remember?” he said.

The wall flicked to the first photo, St. Patrick’s Day. A snap of Vanessa prancing about in her green lipstick and matching frock.

 

Eugh! I ordered another drink from the bar.

 

I looked back at the slideshow. It was now Halloween. How could I forget Josh’s zombie costume? Half his shirt was missing. Sure, he had on a face of the living dead, but that doesn’t make me a necrophiliac, okay!

 

I drank back the rest of my wine and stared at Josh’s face. The way his chin dipped, the curve of his lips. How did I get so lucky? He didn’t see me looking. He seemed preoccupied with the presentation.

 

Everyone inhaled around me. I heard stifled giggles. I looked up at the wall to see myself in nothing but a Santa hat. Another photo. And another one, and another one. All from the night before. Josh looked as bewildered as I was. He half pretended not to look. Kenneth gawked at the photos.

 

I rushed over to the projector and stared daggers at Katherine. “What the fuck is this?”

 

“I swear I don’t know how these got on there,” insisted Katherine.

 

“Turn it off!” I commanded.

 

“I can’t – it’s on auto-play.”

 

“Shut it down for fuck’s sake!”

 

Katherine started clicking the mouse as I tried wrestling the cord from the projector loose. Bloody thing. Finally it came free. My nakedness disappeared from the wall. But it was too late. They had seen everything.

 

All eyes were on me. Vanessa was across the room in hysterics, keeling over. I marched up to her in my heels.

“It was you, wasn’t it?”

“Me? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

I could see the lies seep through the cracks in her plastered makeup.

“You evil bitch!” I slapped her across the cheek, expecting a retaliation. But she just rubbed her face and looked at me with disgust as if I was something rotten. I turned and fled out of the hall.

 

“Laura!” Josh called out after me.

My left heel snapped and I fell to my knees. Grazed, I got up and kicked off the heels, leaving them discarded at the entrance. I ran like hell.

 

 

***

 

I pulled up outside Vanessa’s place. I had tracked down her address from an old Facebook event – a Halloween party I ignored. No way in hell was I going to show up to one of Vanessa’s snore fests. The invitation read ‘no alcohol’ because her kids were going to be there. Please, have mercy! Someone had to put Vanessa in her place once and for all. I got out of the car and my bare feet touched the cool tar seal.

 

There was her perfect house where she lived with her perfect little family. Mark and the kids were away on a school camping trip.

 

No time for subtlety. I yanked a pink flamingo from along the garden path and swung it around my head before it connected with the glass pane in the front door. The pane cracked. I swung the flamingo again and some of the glass shattered. The flamingo snapped in two. I reached a hand through the gap and unlocked the door from the inside. The security alarm triggered. Blasting sirens pierced my eardrums. I had better make this quick. I found matches by the fireplace and rummaged under the kitchen sink for anything flammable. Methylated Spirits. That would do.

 

I ran upstairs to the master bedroom. I yanked open the wardrobe doors and found Vanessa’s most prized possessions. With both arms I lifted up the skimpy dresses and the expensive jackets, the coat hangers coming free. I heaved them down the hall to the bathroom and dumped them in the bathtub. I poured the purple liquid over the mound of clothes and it splashed over the leather, the cashmere, and the cotton. The bottle ran dry and I tossed it in there too.

 

I lit the match and felt the warmth of the flame in my hand. Such potential in such a little thing. I tossed it into the bath. The clothes engulfed in flame. I watched with satisfaction as I imagined Vanessa’s reaction as she came home to find all of her beloved and expensive clothing destroyed, nothing but ash in the bottom of her bathtub. The small bathroom began filling with black smoke. I shielded my face. Bang!  Something exploded in the corner. Flames spread. It was Vanessa’s beauty bag containing nail polish, hair sprays and who knows what. Okay, that was enough. I spun the shower dial and water sprayed over the clothes, smothering the flames. But the small fire in the corner continued raging. It was spreading to the walls. I cupped my hands under the falling water and threw it at the corner but it was no use. It did little to perturb the flames. I tried prying off the shower head, but it was fixed in position. Oh God, Laura, what have you done?

 

Orange flames French kissed the wallpaper. Pastel daisies peeled from the walls and became black. An immense heat filled the air. I spluttered on smoke as I stumbled down the stairs. I had to get out of the house.  Opening the door I managed to fall forwards a few feet before collapsing onto the front lawn. Behind me the second storey of the house turned bonfire. Pity no one brought marshmallows.

 

Right on cue a car screeched to a stop at the foot of the lawn. Vanessa stumbled out of the car. She stood metres away from me in her short black dress and heels. So much for getting away with it. She looked at her house aflame and then at me sprawled on her lawn. A gamut of emotions crossed her usually fake face – an insincere smile, now confusion. Horror. Anger. I didn’t know she was capable of such feeling. It made me question my motives.

 

Nah, it was totally worth it.

 

                                                                                                                                FIN.

Creative Commons License
This work by Michael J. Gray is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License

Michael Gray

TV has always been a part of Michael’s life, but since the influx of streaming shows now he can’t stop (someone send help). He also dabbles in films and video games, and has a mean board game collection.

Michael has a Bachelor of Arts in Media Studies from Victoria University, Wellington, New Zealand. He has previously written about video games for publications including Game Console, Salient, and ButtonMasher.

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