Dinner Party

By: Gary Gray

“Come on in.” Albert said as Lilly tiptoed through the open door. “Shh, be quiet, he’s napping on the couch.” Albert gently pushed the door closed and Lilly followed him towards the kitchen.

“Am I the first one here?” Lilly asked.

“Yes, but not by much. Fran and Billy are on their way, the others should be here soon too.” Albert replied.

At fifty four years of age, Lilly looked much younger in her bell bottom jeans and tie-died cotton gauze blouse. Still playing the role of the Hippy Chick well beyond her youth, Lilly never seemed to let go of her glory days as a 60’s groupie. Albert didn’t care one way or another; he was too caught up in his modern art world to give more than a passing thought to the clothing habits of his Hippy Chick friend of many years.

“I’ve got the spinach salad ready. Can you sit this on the table?” Albert asked.

“Sure. Mind if I put on Tate’s CD? How long has Tate been asleep?”

“About an hour, we were up drinking late last night. He crashed on the couch and has been out like a light since.”

Lilly placed the large hand crafted pottery bowl of spinach salad on the table. Retrieving Tate’s CD from her purse, she inserted it in the player. On the couch a few feet away, Tate lay silent as the music from his soon to be released Blues CD echoed through the open loft.

“Tate’s music is so great. I can’t believe that it took him this long to get signed to a label.” Lilly danced across the wood floor towards the rear wall of the loft, the wall where Albert’s paintings hung. A landscape of the Mountains, another landscape of the Mountains, this one with a dirt trail in the foreground and a tree. She danced her mesmerizing wiggle, her Hippy Chick dance, admiring the artwork, unspoken words hanging on her lips, her body moving rhythmically to the blues guitar sounds of Tate’s music.

“Why don’t you sell these paintings Albert?”

“I don’t want to sell these, they mean too much to me. The one you’re looking at isn’t done yet. Notice the clouds, I just added to that one last night.” Albert’s paintings were always in a state of incompletion. Albert’s insecurity about the quality of his work and his fear of rejection kept him from finishing anything and provided a good excuse for not facing that fear. Albert knew his friends could never muster the nerve to tell him his work was average. Living the Bohemian life within a circle of artists and their friends, one always pretends the quality of the others works was far greater than it actually was. A living denial of the truth, ignorance of reality, to be honest would distract from some feigned detachment from mainstream society. “I’ll take them down to the gallery one day, I’m sure.” Albert dreaded the thought of one of his masterpieces hanging above a couch in some yuppie’s den while their kids played video games on the television. Opening the oven door, Albert removed his gastronome, a well seasoned baked salmon, and sat it on the counter. “This looks perfect.”

Two light raps echoed across the cavernous room. Lilly turned from her admiring of Albert’s paintings and danced towards the door.

“I’ll get that.” Lilly peeked through the eye-hole. “Fran! Billy! Great to see you.” Lilly hugged each as they stepped into the entryway of the loft. Gripping two bottles of wine, Billy returned Lilly’s hug with a delicate kiss on the cheek. Fran, holding a brown wax bag containing a loaf of fresh baked Focaccia, navigated towards the kitchen where Albert was preparing the remainder of the dinner. In the background, the sound of Tate’s guitar was enticing; the slow electric blues placing everyone in a festive and friendly mood.

“I love this song.” Billy said to Lilly as he removed his black leather jacket. “Tate is so damn good. Where is he?”

“He’s lying on the couch. Out like the dead.” Lilly responded. “Al and Tate were up late last night drinking and celebrating.”

“When does dinner begin?” Billy asked.

“When ever Albert say’s it’s ready. I’m guessing another 20 minutes or so. Depends on when everyone else gets here.”

“This bread is delicious; you’ll just die when you taste it. I found this bakery on Fillmore that makes the best bread.” Fran said to Albert as she gathered plates for the dinner table. “I’ll get the table ready. How many are you expecting?”

“Shit, I don’t know. Probably 10 or 11 people, depends on who show’s up.” Albert replied. Fran collected a dozen place settings and began setting the table.

As Tate’s music played, the participants continued to arrive, each bringing their own particular delicacy for contribution towards the celebratory dinner. A few gathered in front of Albert’s paintings and were immersed in muted conversation on the finer points of oil painting. Others milled about the kitchen, sampling the assorted culinary creations, discussing sculpture and whatnot. Another small group had gathered near the dinner table, discussing the music business and Tate’s many years of struggle for recognition as a world class blues guitarist.

“Did I ever tell you about the time Tate played with The Rolling Stones in Chicago?”

“I remember when Tate filled in with Johnny Winters band and saved their album…”

“One time Tate paid for everyone to take a trip to Cancun, just to celebrate my daughters’ birthday…”

“Tate is the kindest musician; I can’t recall him ever blowing up at anyone. He is always doing things like that…”

“Once, Tate and I were stuck in the airport in Des Moines…”

“If it wasn’t for Tate, we’d never have finished that Tour, everybody was ready to walk, he stepped in and…”

The stories continued to flow from every corner of the loft, the music grew louder, and Tate continued to lay on the couch oblivious to the gathering and his own music playing in the background.

“When is Tate going to join us?” Lilly asked Albert as she carried the baked salmon to the table.

“I’ll wake him up. He said to wake him when it’s time to eat.” Albert replied
.
Albert walked across the room, crowded with Tate’s admirers, and approached Tate who was still sleeping on the sofa against the wall.

“Tate.” Albert placed his hand on Tate’s shoulder and shook lightly. “Tate, time to get up, dinner’s ready, everybody is here.”

Tate did not respond.

“Tate, come on dude, everybody’s hungry, time to eat. You might want to freshen up a bit.”

Tate lay motionless.

“Tate.” Albert shook Tate with more vigorous force.

“Tate.” Albert was almost shouting. Albert felt Tate’s head. His head was cold. Lifting Tate’s arm, Albert senses perked with a rush of panic. “Hey, Lilly, get over here, something’s wrong with Tate.”

Lilly rushed to the sofa, the room full of guests muted their conversations and gazed across the room. Lilly placed her hand to Tate’s cheek then again to his chest.

“Oh my God! He’s dead!” Lilly shouted.

Billy approached the sofa and examined Tate’s lifeless form sprawled upon the couch. The remainder of the guests crowded around.

“No shit! He’s dead as a door-nail. The poor bastard.”

What began as a soft murmur amongst the gathered dinner party now had turned into a steady roar as each guest turned and found their way to the dining room table. Albert pulled the rumpled blanket upon which Tate was sprawled across Tate’s lifeless head. Lilly gave Tate’s motionless body a rub on the shoulder and she too turned towards the table and the guests now beginning to seat themselves. Albert sat at the table and gazed at the group of guests now seated.

“Dinner’s getting cold.” Albert said.

The now seated group of dinner guests sat motionless in silence for a few moments.

“The bastard. Here we go and have this fucking party in his honor and he has the nerve to lay on my couch and die.” Blurted Albert.

“He was always like that. Never cared about anybody but himself.” Lilly replied, lifting her hand crafted pottery bowl of spinach salad.

“Before I met Billy, Tate and I had a thing. He fucked me and dropped me like a brick. Lilly was his next prize.” Fran said.

“He got my daughter pregnant in Cancun, big fucking secret, did you now that? He told me that…”

“That shit still owes me money…”

“Did you know that the Stones wouldn’t use him because he…”

“He was always an asshole with the band. He never could…”

“He never got a record contract because his voice sucked. Everybody liked his songs but he couldn’t sing them worth a crap…”

The guests continued their conversation as Albert made delicate slices in his baked salmon. Lilly passed her hand crafted pottery bowl of spinach salad around the table, each filling their smaller hand crafted pottery bowls as they sipped their imported wine. Tate lay motionless on the sofa, his head covered with a rumpled hand crafted blanket.

In the background, the sound of Tate’s razor sharp blues guitar echoed through the cavernous loft.