by Paul Beckman
The laughers come first. They always arrive early and announce their early arrival to the hostess who isn’t ready yet for company. They think the hostess will laugh along with them but she won’t. She hasn’t finished cooking, dressing, or putting on makeup. She tells the laughers this and they respond with guffaws. Guffaws are infuriating to the hostess. Meanwhile the host has his first drink of many. The laughers are his wife’s family, not his, and drinking is how he tolerates them.
The complainers finally come. They’re late as usual and walk in complaining about the traffic, the distance they had to come and the weather. Nothing is right and by now the burgers and hot dogs are dried out, the potatoes shriveled, and the vegetables watery. Nothing is good and the complainers get into a row with the laughers who expected them to be two hours late and brought a picnic basket of wonderful sandwiches and scrumptious cold fried chicken, along with their signature potato salad.
The complainers complain about being hungry but the laughers belch and laugh and don’t share their picnic basket with them.
The host has had more drinks and while the complainers are from his side of the family he doesn’t like them any better than the laughers. The host doesn’t like most people. He balks at meeting new people and the only family members he likes are the blossoming teenage girls. For them he has time. Teenage girls from both sides of the family compete for his attention tease him by sitting on his lap and mussing his hair, or pulling his shirt tail out of his pants or untying his shoelaces. ‘Get me a drink,’ he says and the girls rush to the bar and push each other away and pour Scotch on the rocks for the host.
Meanwhile the hostess is trying to resurrect the turkey and side dishes and along with her children is setting platters of food on the table. Her children, ten-year-old twin girls are neither laughers nor complainers; they are good helpers but today they are unhappy with their cousins, aunts, and uncles for making their mother sad. They want to plan something to get even but being good kids they don’t have genes for evil.
The host is snoring in his club chair, reeking of booze so the teen girls start with his shoes and undo his suspenders and unbutton his shirt leaving his big hairy belly showing for all to see.
The dessert call goes out and the hostess, famous for her apple pie, cuts slices and adds scoops of vanilla ice cream on top. The laughers start to mix the two until they need spoons and not forks to eat. The complainers want different flavors of ice cream and ask for blueberry pie. The hostess tells her twins that it’s a good thing they host this picnic only once a year and maybe she’ll start skipping one year then two and eventually drop the picnic all together since it takes too much of a toll on her.
All the desert is gone including the boxes of candy the hostess has spread around the different rooms of the house. With nothing left the complainers say their goodbyes and the laughers thank the hostess and hand her a gift. It’s a shawl they got from a woman knitter in Peru. The hostess loves its softness and colors and says it’s the best gift she’s ever gotten. She hugs the laughers.
The complainers complain to each other that no one thought to bring a gift. They make fun of the shawl and the laughers and then they go out to their cars and rummage looking for something they can gift to the hostess. They can’t find anything that isn’t crushed or filthy and go back to the house and tell the hostess they got her a gift much nicer than the shawl she loves so much but they forgot to bring it and will mail it as soon as they get home.
The hostess thanks them and hugs every one goodbye. They laughers laugh and are gracious while the complainers wave and go off to their cars complaining about the tough hot dogs and watery pie and decide that they won’t come next year so there’s no sense in buying a gift because the hostess will forget their promise anyway.
The hostess with the help of her twins gets the host up and pours him into the guest room bed and then they go back to the kitchen and eat apple pie without laughing or complaining.
Paul Beckman was one of the winners in The Best Small Fictions 2016! Some places his stories have been published: Literary Orphans, Matter Press, Spelk, The Lost Balloon, Playboy, Gravel, and Pank. He curates the monthly FBomb NY flash fiction reading series at KGB’s Red Room. His latest collection of flash stories is “Kiss Kiss” available from Amazon
http://bit.ly/pbKiss paperback http://bit.ly/KisseP e book.