The dining room was laid out perfectly. The knives and forks evenly spaced, the elegant plates emerald green with a splash of red around the edges, the napkins folded neatly in the glasses. A giant bowl of salad sat in the middle of the table like the star of the show, a small pot of oily dressing beside it. By the window was a vase of bright yellow daisies, their petals turning joyfully towards the sun. Everywhere was colour, echoing the brightness of the day.
When the man arrived, he happily looked around, oblivious to the trap that had been laid. He was sweating of course and mopped his brow with a handkerchief. His thin, black hair plastered around the sides of his puffy face. He smiled and took the chair opposite mine as he thanked me for the kind invitation. I smiled back, making sure he felt welcome. As he sat, I noticed a button was missing from his shirt. I could glimpse his hairy gut oozing through the gap in the thin, cheap material. I could see the stains under his armpits. I shuddered as I remembered his stench.
Outside the sky was clear and the kind of deep blue that accompanies a steamy day. The air was heavy with the scent of jasmine and the promise of the afternoon offered no relief from the oppressive heat of the summer sun. People spoke of the cool change that must be coming, as cicadas chirped merrily – their ever-present drone laying the background to season.
I could hear the family next door laughing, living their normal, happy lives, as the children ran about the lawn, their giggles floating towards me on the warm breeze. How I envied them in that moment. How I envied their innocence.
At first it sounded like he was clearing his throat; a small noise that no-one noticed but me. I calmly placed another fork full of food in my mouth. He reached for his glass as he began to cough violently. He tried to drink, but the water spilled out over his lips, splashing down his shirt and on to his trousers. As he gasped and clawed at his throat, people rushed to his side, loosening his tie, and slapping his back. His face changed colour like a confused chameleon. First white, then pink, then red, now purple. I was waiting for blue.
He was on the floor now, his eyes bulging and bloodshot, his doughy face finally the colour I’d been waiting for. Someone with a phone was shouting, asking if the man had any allergies. I feigned panic, and in a fabricated display of terror worthy of an Oscar, I shook my head “no,” while thinking, peanuts, he’s allergic to peanuts.
The ambulance was coming now, I could hear its siren’s song. But it would be too late.
As I took a sip of my wine and quietly enjoyed the chaos swirling around me, I thought about how peanut oil made such an excellent addition to salad dressing.
© Amy Hutton 2019