Place Settings - By Brian Law

The two of them stood at the entrance to their beautiful dining room, his arm around her shoulders, admiring the table setting. “You’ve still got it,” he said with admiration in his voice. “This is absolutely perfect, especially the center piece. Did you make that all by yourself?” 

“I did and just using wildflowers from our backyard. I think it makes a statement, you know, ‘fresh, new beginnings’ and all that,” she explained. 

It was to be their first dinner party since the pandemic began and it had to be perfect in every way. She’d spent all day in the kitchen and dining room while he deep-cleaned the house and relearned how to mix cocktails. Now it was five o’clock, everything was done and all that was left was for the guests to begin arriving. It was a large group and all had been vaccinated, but temperatures would still be taken at the door, more as a ‘feel good’ gesture than anything else. 

By five thirty, no guests had arrived, but they had received the first phone call. “Mary, this is Joan Williams. Look, I don’t know how to say this except to just come right out and tell you we won’t be coming tonight. I’m so sorry.” 

“Joan, what’s happened? We were so looking forward to seeing our two closest friends after a whole year apart. I hope it’s nothing terrible that’s happened,” the hostess replied. 

“No, no, everything is fine. We were both dressed and sitting here in our car in our driveway when we heard it on the car radio. And that was it. We just got out of the car, went back into the house, and then I called you,” Joan continued. 

“What happened?” 

“Oh, my god, you haven't heard? The meteor. It’s going to pass close to Earth tonight. When we heard about it, we just looked at each other and realized that going to a dinner party was just out of the question. I’m so sorry, Mary.” 

“A meteor. We’ve been busy all day and haven’t been listening to the news. How close is it going to come?” 

“I think they said we’d be able to see it in the night sky. Something like four million miles away. But that’s real close in relative terms, they say. So, you can just see our position. Scary stuff.” 

Mary had her phone on speaker so that her husband could listen in as she finished with Joan, “Well, thanks for calling, Joanie. I’m sure we’ll get together real soon, meteor or no meteor. Give our best to Fred. Bye.” 

The two hosts looked at each other and then started laughing. “Oh, my god! A meteor! The poor things are scared of their shadows over this pandemic thing. You sort of have to expect something like this, right?” her husband explained. 

Before she could reply, the next in a series of short calls came in over her phone, all cancellations. And the reasons ranged from ‘right-wing white supremacists in the next state over’ to ‘our roses aren’t blooming yet, and that’s ominous’. 

By six thirty, all the guests had cancelled and the two hosts again stood in the doorway to their dining room. Their laughing had subsided and they just sighed, knowing that the time would come when people would again feel safe to socialize. So they decided to leave the table setting alone until that time came. And then they decided to go to bed. 

At the top of the stairs, he kissed her goodnight and he went to his bedroom and she to hers. Couldn’t be too careful, they silently reminded themselves. 


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