David Lightfoot was born in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, and moved to Manitoba at the age of two, where he grew up. Living with Cerebral Palsy since birth, he decided on a writing career at age thirteen when he excelled at creative writing as part of his language arts class. Following an incomplete stint in Business Administration at Red River Community College (now Red River College), he studied creative writing through correspondence from the Stratford Career Institute headquartered in Toronto and the Institute for Writers (formerly the Long Ridge Writers Group) headquartered in Connecticut, USA. A budding advocate for educational literacy, he is the author of a novel on human rights for the disabled, “Broken Family Portrait,” which he self-published through the self-publishing program at an independent Canadian bookseller, McNally-Robinson Booksellers. David lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
The Dinner Is Ruined
“Thanks so much for coming over to help,” Kathleen Hobbes says to two of her dinner party guests. “I’m so glad to have switched shifts with Phoebe so I can be home today.” Her younger friend, Lucy Brown, is busy chopping lettuce and other vegetables to make a garden salad. Kathleen’s sister, Cheryl Place, is cooking a second of three batches of beef noodle Hamburger Helper to be served as a side. As a large turkey roasts in the oven, Kathleen is busy chopping half a bag of potatoes to make potato salad, the other half to be peeled and mashed later. “Hey, anything for my sister,” Cheryl replies. “There’s no way anyone can work half a day, then come home and cook for eleven people in just four hours.” She adds milk and sauce mix and stirs, then retrieves a large cannister of mayonnaise before Kathleen can ask. “Let me know when it’s time to do the mashed potatoes. That’ll also be my station.” As they work, Lucy tells Kathleen about some surprise guests. “Before I forget,” she says, “I got a call from Pamela Shearer last night. Her long-time friend, Margaret Whittle, is in town for a conference, so she’s invited her to the dinner party tonight.” “Pam sent me an e-mail two nights ago,” Kathleen replies, “and I replied that it’s okay. Also, her husband is in California on business, so her brother Gordon Meighen is coming in his place.” Kathleen’s husband, Sherlock comes home at four o’clock. By this time, she’s making another batch of stuffing. Cheryl has finished a third batch of Hamburger Helper, putting it in a large serving pot she brought. He comes into the kitchen, attracted to the strong smell of turkey and hamburger. “Oh, it looks as wonderful as it smells,” he compliments, then gives Lucy a surprising look. “Why, Lucy, how long have you been here? I sent a reminder to Dennis and Bruce about this party. I thought you and Dennis would be here together. And what about your kids?” He knows Lucy has a daughter with physical and mental disabilities. “Don’t worry, the kids were still at school when I left,” Lucy replies. “I called Dennis before leaving, saying I was coming early to help Kathy prepare. He actually encouraged this. I left the kids a note saying they are to watch Darlene if they get home before their stepfather. The sitter’s coming around four-thirty to watch the kids. Don’t worry, everything’s in good hands.” She searches the kitchen drawers for a turkey baster. She asks Kathleen where it is and says, “We’ll need it for the turkey gravy later on.” Sherlock immediately rushes to the basement pantry for some cartons of chicken broth. “Let’s use these instead,” he suggests. “With enough flour and butter, this will be enough to serve eleven people, and it’ll come out thicker and heartier. I think you ladies have done enough, let me take care of the gravy later.” “Maybe you can check on the turkey, too,” Kathleen says. She takes Lucy and Cheryl out to the living room, all of them sitting on the sofa. Lucy starts thinking about Pamela and her family, and has some disturbing thoughts. “I don’t know about Margaret,” she begins, “but both you and I have met Gordon when he came here with Pam and Richard on Christmas Eve a couple of years ago. I know Pam and Gordon are related to the one-time Prime Minister, Arthur Meighen, and both of them are staunchly conservative.” “Pam isn’t nearly as conservative as Gordon,” Kathleen answers, “For one thing, she’s an advocate for working mothers and families. She thinks all mothers should work outside the home and have a back-up self-supporting plan to keep the résumé fresh… especially police, firefighter and military wives. But she saves this for political events and writings. You know that. At parties like this, she’ll mostly talks about books, theatre shows and movies.” “And what about when Gordon brought up child discipline while you were talking about the state of youth crime today, and how it was when we were growing up?” Lucy laments. “Gordon told Dennis and me directly that we should put Darlene in a group home if she’s so impossible to discipline, and that she was hindering the family. He wants the government to build more institutions for children who can’t learn from spankings. I think poor Pamela was stunned when she heard that.” “I remember Gordon made you cry so badly, Dennis had to take you home right away,” Cheryl says to her. Kathleen rises and brings Lucy some Diet Coke. “That’s nothing compared to what Pamela tells me about Gordon’s stance on certain issues,” she continues. “She’s been working at the same non-profit organization that caters to newcomers and refugees to Canada for the past twenty years, and he’s been after her recently to quit her job, saying she has no business as a Canadian-born citizen to be reaching out to those who want to take over the country with Sharia law. He’s told her to find something that helps ordinary Canadians and to ‘avoid anything having to do with immigrants and refugees.’” “I’m really nervous about him being at this party,” Lucy says. “Pam’s a loyal friend to me. I’m sure she’ll remind him about manners and not to utter a word about politics.” Kathleen decides to change topics, telling Lucy and Cheryl some gossip she’s recently heard at the women’s centre where she works. They chatter and laugh wildly, and Lucy starts to feel more comfortable. Suddenly, they hear the first doorbell of the evening, and Kathleen excuses herself to answer. “Speaking of work,” she exclaims happily. “Welcome to the party, Phoebe!” She lets in Phoebe Swinton, a young-looking blonde woman in her mid-thirties. “Thank you so much for covering the afternoon for me.” Phoebe looks at Lucy on the sofa and giggles. “I was coming here thinking you wouldn’t be able to pull off everything in a day. I would’ve helped if you asked before.” Phoebe begins to tell about her shift, telling Kathleen, “I’ve spent the whole day typing up the final report for that women’s program you’ve been overseeing these past few weeks.” She is just starting to tell the other guests about it when the doorbell rings a second time. This time, the guest lets himself in as he recognizes his wife in the living room. Lucy smiles and hurries over to kiss Dennis hello. Kathleen also smiles at Dennis, ready to give him a report. “Lucy was a terrific help in the kitchen. Because of her chopping and salad prep skills, both of them are now cooling in the refrigerator.” “We’d be eating at eight at night if it weren’t for me,” Lucy adds. Phoebe makes an impatient face, still eager to tell about Kathleen’s program. She starts to talk again when Kathleen explains, “For the past eight weeks, our centre got a bunch of housebound women together for afternoon sessions of baking, sewing and crafting. Can you believe that many of them didn’t know how to sew at the start?” She talks about the dresses that were made, then notices that Sherlock is too busy looking out the living room window to pay attention. Just as she’s finishing this part, he sees a royal blue Cadillac – painted to look like a police car – going past Sherlock and Kathleen’s driveway, finding a good parking spot. Sherlock speaks as if he knows that Cadillac anywhere. “Oh good, Bruce’s arrived. We also invited our personal secretary. I’ll bring them inside.” He leaves the house to meet Bruce Gelbrath in the driveway, staying out for a couple of minutes. When they come back, Bruce is telling Sherlock the punchline of a joke the rest of the party can’t seem to understand. Bruce enters the home with a younger-looking man, dressed in a polo shirt and tan slacks. The others are staring at Bruce’s six-foot-ten height and his enormously brawny body mass; three hundred pounds or close to it, they guess. Bruce is dressed in blue jeans, a tropical shirt buttoned up halfway and what looks to be a black sleeveless shirt underneath, a police badge on a chain around his neck. Kathleen approaches Bruce and hugs him hello. The younger man smiles and introduces himself. Sherlock brings the younger man into the living room to introduce him to the other women. “This is Kevin Jackson,” he says. “He takes care of the paperwork, the reporting, runs errands, and all the other boring stuff none of us cops want to do.” Bruce approaches them and slaps Kevin’s shoulder. “This kid is one of the most flamboyant report writers we’ve ever seen,” he brags. “You should look at his business communication package. On top of that, he’s got an amazing typing speed – seventy words per minute.” “Although my crew and I have to proofread his work before we send it to the courts,” Sherlock says. Kevin laughs and recalls, “Yeah, one time, I was working on a report on a string of bank robberies from the same branch, and I omitted a zero in the total amount of money that was stolen. Sherlock pointed out to me that it was $20,000, not $2,000.” The smell of turkey is strong enough to entice Bruce, and he licks his lips. “Sherlock, Kathleen, if you don’t mind, I’d like to help you with the carving.” Sherlock is also staring at Bruce’s body mass, and Bruce tries to plead. “Aw, come on. I’m not going to eat half of it before it gets to the table.” “You do get agitated if you don’t eat regularly, Bruce,” Dennis says. Kathleen looks up at the clock. It’s almost five o’clock and she anticipates the turkey will be ready in around fifteen minutes. “Sure, I’ll leave the carving to you two. In the meantime, Sherlock, why don’t you get started on the gravy? I’ll look out for Pam. She should be arriving with Gordon and Margaret any minute.” At ten minutes after five, Kathleen sees her friend, Pamela Shearer, walking with a more familiar man and less familiar woman on the edge of the front lawn to the driveway. The man has a full head of chocolate brunette hair – darker than the mixture of brunette and blonde that Pamela has – and is wearing a black suit with a brown and red necktie. The woman is also dressed in full black and has red hair the colour of a ripe tomato. Kathleen wonders if they’ve been to a funeral at first, but then notices Pamela is wearing a purple blouse and magenta skirt. As they approach the front door, Kathleen stands ready to open it, and does before they can ring the doorbell. Pamela hugs her friend hello as the three of them step in. “Kathleen, it’s like you’ve anticipating me all day.” “Darling, all we had to do was look outside the window,” Kathleen says, then takes her and Gordon to Phoebe, Bruce and Kevin. “Guys, I’d like you to meet Pamela and her brother, Gordon.” She notices Lucy is holding Dennis’ hand. “Lovely to meet you,” Pamela says, then turns sternly to her brother. “Now remember what we discussed, Gordon: mouth shut about Ottawa and Washington!” Lucy starts shaking while hugging herself, as if she’s getting cold. She feels she is. Gordon is looking stern at her. She anticipates another lecture about Darlene, ranting about special needs people. They all remove their shoes and enter the living room. Pamela turns around and says, “Everyone, this is my friend, Margaret Whittle. She’s attending a conference at the convention centre here in the city.” “The pleasure’s mine,” Margaret says. Everyone starts to introduce themselves, but when Bruce introduces himself, Margaret looks horrified as she remembers something about him. “Bruce Gelbrath!” she cries. “I remember you from some of the pictures Pamela shared on my Facebook page! I am shocked that you don’t wear a shirt outdoors and all those risqué poses you do when photographing yourself with your car. Your shirtless body in those jeans and athletic shorts, showing off as much as you please! Don’t you have any modesty?” “He also has those pictures on his Instagram,” Sherlock points out. “Hey, I’m married and I think Bruce looks quite sexy without a shirt on,” Kathleen says. “Uh, Margaret, Richard certainly doesn’t mind seeing those pictures on my Facebook,” Pamela adds. Right away, Bruce starts explaining. “Yeah, that’s only during the hot summer weather when I’m off-shift… and when the A/C isn’t working in my house.” “Still, the way you offer yourself to hordes of other women online…” Margaret says. Bruce laughs, trying not to show how offended he is. “I’m not putting naked pictures on adult websites, or have tons of dating profiles, so just relax.” Cheryl is thinking about Margaret’s conference the whole time, looking for an opportunity to bring it up. She asks her, “So, Margaret, what’s the name of the conference you’re at?” “It’s called, ‘The Importance of the Lord in Your Future,’” Margaret answers her. “It talks about ways society can get back into the Christian and religious lifestyle, and how to be obedient to the Lord in order to make the world a better place. I had quite an informative day.” Lucy holds Dennis’ hand tighter, and Kathleen, Phoebe and Cheryl see she looks like a frightened little girl. Cheryl looks into the kitchen and says, “Uh, Kathy, I think maybe it’s time to do the mashed potatoes.” It’s tense and silent for a few minutes, until Sherlock comes from the kitchen and announces, “The turkey and gravy are coming along very nicely. I believe dinner will be ready before six.” Kathleen sees Lucy is very nervous and fidgety, watching Gordon and feeling as if she’s about to step on a land mine. Maybe if she starts talking about Darlene. Kathleen takes her from the couch. “Here, Lucy, you can help me set the table, and put some food on it.” The women work on setting the cutlery on the table, but leave the plates on the kitchen island. Margaret watches this with curiosity. “Excuse me,” she says, “but what kind of dinner is this?” Kathleen grins at her and answers, “Smorgasbord. Everyone serves themselves, but don’t take too much.” Margaret goes back into the living room and says silently to herself, “Please let no one start eating right away.” At several minutes to six o’clock, Sherlock announces, “Okay, the turkey’s sliced, the gravy’s thick, and the potatoes are mashed. Everybody come get served!” Each guest takes a plate to the table, Margaret still praying that nobody starts eating right away. When everyone is sitting, Margaret announces, “All right, now that everyone is ready, I say it’s time we bow our heads for the blessing.” “Uh, Margaret, we’re not really–” Kathleen begins, but Margaret looks rather insisting, her hands out for others to take. Gordon smiles as he takes her hand and Pamela’s. Everyone else looks sceptical, but they go along. “Lord, please bless us this day for the food You have given us and the friends You have gathered here this day…” Margaret begins. She has a long list of items to be thankful for, and her grace takes a few minutes at first. Kathleen and Sherlock look up at each other. It’s certainly the longest grace they’ve ever heard, but they silently agree not to interrupt her. Lucy looks up at them, looking agitated and uncomfortable, too frightened to say anything. Sherlock and Kathleen quickly lower their heads so Margaret doesn’t catch them, but Lucy’s head stays up as she stares at the ceiling. “And last, dear Lord, may Your beauty and grace shine upon us all forever more, and may Your love shine upon us so that we may continue to do Your work faithfully, steadfastly and without stumbling. You are our sanctuary, and for this, we shall be forever grateful,” Margaret concludes. “Amen!” Everyone adds salads and casseroles to their plates in a death-like silence, everyone except Margaret and Gordon staring at one another. It takes a few minutes for many of them to start eating, but Bruce and Pamela try breaking this tension by taking their first bites of turkey, shovelling moderate amounts of potato salad onto their forks. Kathleen feels she needs to explain to Margaret. “Uh, Margaret, some of us aren’t on the same page as you regarding your God.” “I should know, I’m one of them,” Lucy says. She sounds as if it’s a confession she’s proud to make. Margaret wants to be shocked and angry, but realizes that she’s never met this woman before. “This will be very interesting,” she declares. “Now, dear, I’ve heard many stories of bad experiences in church, but that’s no reason to turn your back on God.” “Really?” Lucy’s tone suddenly becomes upsetting. “So, what do you think about taking a belt, a paddle, or whatever else to a child with intellectual disabilities? Apert’s Syndrome! I’ll bet you don’t even know what that is!” She starts to make angry faces and breathe hard, as if she’s being forced to tell about her experiences. She hates to discuss taboo topics, but her conscience is telling her to reveal why she became an atheist. Her eyes look around at Bruce, Phoebe, Cheryl, Gordon and Kevin; for Kathleen, Sherlock and Dennis already know this story. “Darlene was seven, this was before I met Dennis. When we went to church, we’d always leave our daughter behind because she was never able to behave in solemn public settings before. She was that age when she learned to sit properly.” Cheryl looks surprised at this. “I thought most disabled and special needs kids would learn to sit properly before they hit five,” she says. “Well, when you have to take your child in for lots of corrective surgeries, developments are delayed for a lot longer than normal.” Lucy speaks normally, but Kathleen and Sherlock think she’s going to break down any minute. She takes a few breaths before she can mention her ex-husband’s name. “Michael – you’d get along so well with him, Gordon, he’s just as conservative as you if not more so – he wanted to push Darlene to be as normal as possible, even though I knew she might never be one hundred percent. He pressured her to make friends, yelling at her when she couldn’t, but very few kids wanted to play with her. He complained that all these trips for all the surgeries were taking food off the table, and we had two other kids to support.” Dennis can see she’s starting to cry, so he continues for her, “Michael stayed around long enough to have another daughter after Darlene, but like their big brother, Shannon has to guide her more than the other way around.” Gordon starts thinking about Lucy’s tearful confessions that Christmas about spanking not working for her daughter, sighs harshly and rolls his eyes. He says, “And that is how you and Michael got divorced when she was seven. He obviously had enough!” Lucy immediately starts bawling and falls into Dennis’ arms. Dennis glares at Gordon and spitefully reminds him, “And this is why I, a police detective, had to tone down my conservative viewpoints for her.” He looks around to tell people who don’t know. “You know, before I met Lucy and Darlene, I was very big on spanking kids. One look at Darlene told me I had to take that off the table if I wanted a future with Lucy.” Margaret looks eagerly at Lucy, wanting the other part of her story. “But what happened that made you quit church?” Lucy pauses and breathes to compose herself. She wants Dennis to tell this part of the story, but she knows this was before she met him, so she must tell. “The topic was respect in the home, and it was Darlene’s first time in church since learning to sit nicely. The preacher was talking about how children should be reared with the rod of discipline in order to learn to honour Mother and Father, all this Proverbs 13:24 and 23:13 nonsense. In the middle of this sermon, he called Darlene and about two more disabled children up to stand with him, then started talking about how the disabled shouldn’t be excluded from this, how the weapon of discipline will make them normal. The next thing I knew, he had Darlene bend over on the pulpit and…” She starts to get worked up, fighting the urge to cry and scream, but she gives in. “He started to demonstrate this on her. He was whacking her behind and upper back for a good fifteen minutes and he wouldn’t stop until he was satisfied!” Bawling again, she snatches her cloth napkin, turns her head away and blows her nose. She looks misty-eyed at Gordon, not wanting to reveal the conclusion to anyone. This incident was why she and Michael divorced, after yet another argument about Darlene’s discipline, but Lucy always insists she’s a sweet girl. Gordon starts to say something, but Kathleen put her hand up to stop him. “And this is why we don’t talk politics at dinner parties,” she wants to say, but can’t figure out how to do it without lecturing. Conservatives don’t like being treated like children, she reminds herself. Instead, she says, “Gordon, I swear, if you bring up the spanking laws in Canada–” Sherlock puts his hands up to silence everyone. “Let’s talk about something more party-friendly,” he suggests, and turns to Pamela. “Pam, tell us about Richard’s latest project. Tell him we said hello and that he missed a wonderful party.” “Richard’s a team leader in disaster relief,” Gordon says to everyone else. “And these California wildfires are getting out of control,” Pamela adds. “Southern California, especially Santa Monica and Paradise Valley, has been devastated. Everyone’s lost their homes and most of their possessions. Richard has to relocate them and help take care of food and water supplies, set up alternative and new housing. He does this for hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and earthquakes in all parts of the world. Thank heavens nobody’s been killed in these latest fires, but for those who have, he also has to set up counselling for surviving family members and survivors who have PTSD from the trauma. You wouldn’t believe the nightmares these people have.” She looks mournfully at Sherlock and Kathleen. “So sorry I have to say this, but Richard says this is the only good thing about having a billionaire for president – all this pot the world is going to is keeping him working.” “‘Working’ is the key word here,” Gordon says. “All the conservatives want is to see more people living the dream – workers making a hundred thousand a year building houses, working steel and lumber yards, restructuring the mining industry, creating more factory jobs, having people in higher positions make lots of money so they can retire before fifty and send their kids to university.” Kevin becomes so bothered, he shovels some lettuce and chopped peppers into his mouth, chewing and swallowing rather quickly. He blasts at Gordon, “Hey, us desk workers with computers and knowledge of Microsoft Office can make a difference in the world too, you know.” Gordon gives a fake sympathetic look. “My boy,” he says, “all you’re doing is sitting on your ass typing up spreadsheets and reports and business letters and whatnot, and fetching coffee and doughnuts for officers. What do you do in your spare time, work on your novel or poetry collection that nobody will read?” “You’d better be glad I’m younger. I’d bloody well slap you.” “Well, Canadians need to live to dream as well, which is why we need to stop this flow of Middle Easterners and Africans migrating here.” He takes a combination of turkey and mashed potatoes and keeps talking with food in his mouth. “Or at least, stop spending our hard-earned money on them, like what that damn Trudeau is doing. Living the dream means earning the things you want, taking care of yourself and your own family successfully. I mean, don’t you care about your family?” “I don’t have a family of my own,” Kevin confesses. “Yeah, Lisa dumped Kevin about a month ago,” Sherlock tells Gordon. “Bruce and I were on shift when he came in and told us. Oh, but he looked so miserable, and he was just crying when he was telling us about it. You should’ve seen the big bear hug Bruce gave him.” “In the last few months of our relationship, Lisa kept making up excuses about why she couldn’t see me and kept cancelling dates,” Kevin says. “Then last month, I went to her place and this taller, beefier man – almost Bruce’s size – answered the door in his underwear. I pushed the man aside to go look for her and there she was in her bedroom, sitting up in bed topless. I could see her goods. She said this new man worked construction year-round. I went up to her, snatched the ring off her finger, and just ran out of there. I tried not to speed on the way home, but I did go faster than I normally would.” “And how much do you make working for Sherlock and his crew?” Gordon asks. “It’s no wonder your girlfriend dumped you. I’ll bet her new man makes at least ten thousand more than you.” “That’s none of your business, asshole!” Kevin snaps back. “And what do you do, pray tell?” “I’m head manager of a trucking company,” Gordon answers. “My drivers were responsible for getting all this food to the stores for Sherlock and Kathleen to buy!” Phoebe tries to supress her anger as she asks Gordon a question. “So, what do you think about what’s going on with the environment? You know, the reason why we’re having all these wildfires and hurricanes, and all this air and water pollution, is because people care more about money and profits. Let’s not forget that animals are going extinct because people want to make money poaching and hunting. It’s not just for sport anymore.” Margaret sips some wine and advises, “Phoebe, please take heart that the world will end with the second coming of the Lord. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not expecting that to happen in any of our lifetimes.” “Yeah, well, I think the Lord would be very angry at what many of His ‘followers’ are doing to this world,” Phoebe responds. She waves two fingers on both hands at the word “followers.” “If the second coming happens in twenty years, it wouldn’t surprise me.” During the discussion, Cheryl notices that everyone has casserole on their plates except Phoebe. She passes the pot over to her. “Phoebe, darling,” she says, “you simply must try this beef noodle Hamburger Helper. Maybe on your second serving. I made just enough for everyone.” “No, thank you,” Phoebe replies. “I don’t eat hamburger or anything else that comes from a cow.” “I don’t know what the hell you’re complaining about,” Gordon says. “Look, in order to improve the prosperity of our country, some sacrifices have to be made. All this talk about the environment and solar energy and saving the planet is nothing more than just a ploy to waste money and kill important jobs. Back in the seventies, everyone was worried about preventing the ice age from coming and freezing everything up, thus why all this nonsense about preserving the water, the air, the trees, started in the first place.” Pamela glowers at her brother and says insistently, “I’m sure that isn’t the reason why, Gordon!” “My point, Pamela,” Gordon replies condescendingly, “is that we conservatives fell for it in the seventies and all this time, it turned out to be a ploy to give money to other countries. That’s how globalism began. Now, everyone’s suddenly all about global warming? That’s a bunch of horse manure, and we’re wise enough to be suspicious about it.” He turns back to Phoebe, pointing at her uneaten turkey with his fork. “And I find it hypocritical that you’re calling yourself an environmentalist, talking about saving the world, and you’re eating meat!” Sherlock tries to stop the conversation but can’t get any words in. Phoebe retorts by informing Gordon, “I’m a semi-vegetarian, okay? The only meats I’ll eat are fish and poultry. No hamburger, no bacon or ham, no steak, no chops, and certainly no veal!” She takes a few deep breaths to calm down, and Kathleen tells her, “It’s okay, Phoebe, just relax.” Phoebe sees a bottle of champagne on the table with the salads. She pours herself a glass, filling it three-quarters of the way. Lucy holds out her empty glass, and she pours some wine for her as well. Kathleen looks sharply at Gordon. She mouths at him, “See what you’ve caused?” but she doesn’t make any sounds. When she is calm, Phoebe starts to explain. “Okay, true story, and this is why I’m not a total vegetarian and refuse to go vegan. Fifteen years ago, when I was in university, my sister Allison went vegetarian in her efforts to be an environmentalist. She cut out the entire meat food group, and resorted to breads and grains, fruits and vegetables, and milk and milk products. Couple this with the fact that she’s allergic to all nuts. After about a month, we noticed she couldn’t walk properly on her own and couldn’t balance herself. She wasn’t all skin and bones, but she was pretty damn close. Then, after a family dinner, she fell and couldn’t get up. We had to get her to the hospital right away, and she had almost no muscle in her body because of the lack of protein. They fed her nothing but animal meat until she was well enough to walk again. Because of this, now she limits her meat intake to fish, poultry and meat alternates as prescribed by her dietician and specialist. I decided I didn’t want the same for myself, so that’s the only meat-eating I also do.” She, Kathleen and Pamela all look at Gordon, and notice he’s softened a little bit. He says, “Well, I appreciate your honesty, Phoebe. But I still don’t understand young activists who tell us elders how the world ought to be, then go home and do the opposite of what they preach.” Pamela makes a “facepalm” move, then reaches for a bottle of wine and pours herself an almost full glass. Kathleen tries to think of something to talk about, but can’t think of anything, so she looks at Cheryl. “Cheryl, you haven’t been very talkative this evening. Why don’t you tell everyone what’s been going on with you lately?” Gordon looks back and forth between Cheryl and Lucy, as if they’re secretly best friends. “Let me guess,” he says sarcastically, “Cheryl also has a child with learning disabilities whom she refuses to spank at doctor’s orders, and her husband left her because of it.” Pamela slams her hand on the table, and Cheryl looks hotly at Gordon. Cheryl snaps, “You know I don’t have a learning-disabled child, mister! But even if I did, I’d still listen to the doctor on alternative measures and hope that Roger listens along with me!” She exhales a sharp breath and excuses herself, returning with a new book, a large paperback novel that looks recently released. “This is the new pick for our book club next month.” All the women except Margaret start gushing and making ooh sounds. The men just smile with casual interest, but Gordon is grumpier than ever. Margaret says nothing, but Gordon blurts out, “Terrific, more stupid crap. Cheryl, I know you’re an event hostess for the city’s largest bookstore – another useless job, if you ask me – but can’t you promote more nonfiction books, and especially books about conservative opinions and real issues? Really, who has time for crap like that?” Cheryl stretches her arms out so the cover is almost in his face. “You know,” she answers, “with the political climate the way it is, people who are cynical about that stuff are looking more to fiction now more than ever.” She looks at Pamela with interest. “They need an escape from stuff that makes them crazy.” “More stupid fiction like that just promotes more liberalism,” Gordon argues. “With the world going further to hell because of it, people need to focus more on real-life stuff and less on horseradish fantasies.” “Dammit, Gordon, will you just take a break from politics for just five minutes?” Cheryl nearly explodes. “My sentiments exactly, Cheryl, thank you,” Pamela declares. Cheryl puts her book on the edge of the kitchen island as Pamela keeps speaking. “Now I want to sign up for your book club, Cheryl. Where can I fill out an application?” “I’m hosting this month’s event tomorrow afternoon at two at Words & Pages,” Cheryl answers. “Why don’t you drop by, listen in, and I’ll help you after the event.” She looks smug at Gordon. “And for your information, I also host a nonfiction club, but the selection hasn’t been announced yet. Maybe you and Margaret should read more books besides boring political stuff and the Bible. I can only imagine how much fun you are at parties.” Soon afterwards, almost everyone is finished. Sherlock is feeling quite cheerful, so he says, “Everyone, help yourselves to seconds. There’s still plenty left.” When everyone is back at the table with their plates full, Bruce starts talking about his latest girlfriend, whom he thinks is starting to get serious. “Sorry you couldn’t meet Sandy tonight, but she’s off celebrating a friend’s birthday that was planned for weeks,” he says. For the first time at the party, Gordon shows a smile and some interest in a story. “How did you two meet?” he asks. “I volunteer for a downtown juvenile centre where we have an evening and sports program,” Bruce answers. “After Linda died, the chief and all my other colleagues urged me to stop taking the evening and night shifts so I could spend more time with my two boys. But everyone in Linda’s family urged me to start dating again right away. Sandy has two boys of her own, and they became friends with Jason and Shawn at their school and the sports program. She and I met through them after I brought them home following a Father’s Day camping weekend – they moved here when her husband just left her – and I swear to God, I saw fireworks.” He looks ahead rather dreamily. Margaret gasps, putting her fingertips over her mouth. Gordon looks at him with widened eyes and asks, “How many women have you had since your wife died?” “Before Sandy, twenty women in seven years,” Bruce answers as if he’s proud of this. Margaret looks horrified, and stuffs herself with potato salad and stuffing to keep quiet. Bruce looks at her as if he can tell what she’s thinking. “I’ve been saving money for an engagement gift, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he says. “It matters not!” she shouts. “The Bible says you are committing adultery in your heart! Matthew 5:28!” He pounds the table, causing the glasses to shake, and explodes, “What the hell do you expect me to do, cry over Linda until I’m dead?! My boys deserve to have another Mom, and somewhere in the world, a young boy from a single mother is in need of a father. I can be that father!” Gordon is listening but doesn’t know what to add. He focuses on Bruce’s clothes instead. He says, “Well, you don’t look very professional for a police officer. Most detectives I’ve seen on cop shows wear business suits; otherwise, they have standard police uniforms.” Bruce stands up and whips off his shirt, flexing in front of Gordon. “Yeah, I don’t think any standard uniform or suit would fit these guns!” Kathleen, Phoebe and Pamela all start laughing, while Cheryl only smiles. “Bruce’s a total workout warrior,” Sherlock adds. “When he was a rookie, he kept ripping through the sleeves of the police uniforms whenever he flexed, and the repairs got to be too much. They stuck him in the plainclothes unit immediately and had him wear muscle tops.” Margaret stares at Bruce, speechless the whole time, but finally says, “Dear Lord, this man worships the god Hercules and others of Greek mythology, but not You!” Bruce puts his shirt back on without buttoning it up. “This is only during warmer weather and hot summers. In cooler weather, I wear football and hockey jerseys to work.” He sits back down and looks frisky at everyone. “Anyway, so Sandy and I have been having sex for the past year. She’s said she loves my shirtless body and seeing me naked. Whenever we do, I take these really hot showers and come to bed naked without drying myself off. Last night, as Sandy and I were having sex, she tried to focus on my lower half. As usual, she was too immersed with my pecs and shoulders and my belly button which she always said was cute. I got into bed and she made the first moves. She was pushing down and rubbing my pecs and slobbering all over my abs, kissing my belly button, and this was before I even got under the covers–” Suddenly, Margaret throws wine into Bruce’s face and starts screaming at him, “Repent of your sexual immortality! Repent of your sexual immortality!” “Jesus Christ, Margaret, stop!” he yells. “What the hell are you doing?!” She stands up and keeps screaming for his repentance, wishing now that she had a bottle of water to pour on his head. Cheryl and Phoebe also stand up, acting as barricades while Pamela, Sherlock and Kathleen all grab her arms tightly. They yell at her to sit back down in union, even making her sit physically. Sherlock presses on her shoulders so she won’t get up again, telling her, “Breathe, Margaret, breathe! There’s no need to get worked up over a sex story.” Margaret glares harshly at Sherlock and Kathleen, showing her silent disgust at them for allowing sex talk at the table. Bruce just glares at her as he eats, no longer in the mood to continue. Everyone else can tell. After dinner, Margaret starts talking about her conference, all the inspirational speeches about believing and trusting in God. Nobody is listening, and everyone mostly looks bored, but she doesn’t notice this. She starts talking about what they’re going to discuss tomorrow. “One topic I’m really looking forward to is ‘Church and State Hand in Hand,’” she says. “It’s about why church and state should come together instead of being separate, and how it’s supposed to be beneficial to the world rather than detrimental. Personally, I feel that churches and pastors and priests should have more of a say in political matters, and the government should be encouraged to run the country inspired by the teachings of Jesus.” Cheryl spits out her wine and glares in Margaret’s direction. “Then they should lose their exemptions and be forced to use their tithing for taxes!” she snaps. “Now hold up!” Kathleen objects. “I can’t think of anything more stupid than that. Religious freedom in this country means that people can practice any religion they want or brought up in, they can choose to go to church or not, they can choose to follow or question the Bible. If there were actual laws based upon Bible teachings, and people were punished for not following these actual laws, this world could morph into a real-life dystopian novel.” Sherlock nods and adds, “Margaret, if you are a true Christian, you don’t get involved in political affairs, except for voting at the polls. It’d be too secular and ‘earthy’ for you. You and your churchgoers would remain above the fray in order to focus on your work for the Lord.” “The last thing I want is to be shamed for not submitting to a man,” Cheryl agrees. “It wouldn’t be like that,” Gordon says. “How this would work is educational curriculums are based upon Bible study and people would be instructed to live life based upon the teachings from the Lord. If God, prayer and religion are put back into the schools, it would steer students in a more godly and charitable direction. Conservative Christian groups have been gunning for this for years, and I think we ought to give it a try. This should at least take us back to the time when this country was better.” Pamela stands up and looks hotly at Gordon. “And what’s next?” she hollers. “Will women be forbidden to go to college, get jobs and own property? I’m surprised they’ll even be allowed to read! Listen, Gordon, outlawing abortion and restricting immigration is one thing, but I will not have my daughters being kitchen-bound and forever pregnant in their future!” “Pamela, my dear, if everyone was given a Bible and told to read it,” Margaret says, “and if everyone were to live their lives according to the scriptures, the world would be a much better place. This is why church and state must come together. The two concepts can work together to make the world better for the Lord. Now, I’ve never agreed with your stance on working mothers. They should be at home, rearing their children with the fear of the Lord.” “This would mean quitting that job at your immigration organization,” Gordon adds. “You know damn well that all refugees want to do is convert everyone to Islam, impose their laws and customs on us, and force us to give up our ham and bacon for hummus because they don’t like our laws or our religion. You think they want to learn about what life is like in Canada? Why can’t you do more for the homeless who lived here all their lives, or our veterans? They’re the ones who fought for our country; the least you could do is reach out to them instead!” “Up yours, Gordon!” Pamela retorts. “This is just what I’m talking about!” “Enough!” Sherlock calls, and everyone looks up at him in attention, but he focuses only on Gordon and Margaret.” “Gordon, Margaret, you’ve filled our house with this incredible tension,” he says. “You’ve offended all our guests with your political and religious banter! There’s a reason why we don’t bring up this crap at parties! It’ll take Kathy and me weeks to recover! I’m sorry, but I think you’d better leave.” Gordon rises and glowers at Sherlock, his lips firmly and angrily together. “Offended,” he repeats. “For someone in your authorial position, you’re sure worried about snowflakes. What’s the point of going to an adults-only party if you can’t discuss politics and real issues?” Pamela looks embarrassed and starts crying as she takes her jacket. “Sherlock, Kathleen, I’m so sorry,” she sobs. “I should’ve known Gordon wouldn’t keep his promise. I’ll take him and Margaret back right now.” “No, Pamela, stay,” Kathleen says. “Sherlock will call a taxi for them and pay in advance.” As he heads to the phone, Pamela calms herself to say, “Margaret’s staying at the Riverside Inn, where her conference is.” She gives him Gordon’s address. When the arrangements are made, Gordon and Margaret wordlessly put on their shoes and leave. Sherlock approaches Pamela and tells her, “I don’t think you should bring them here anymore, especially not Gordon. I know he’s your family, but he’s also exhausting and preachy.” “I especially don’t want to see Gordon anymore,” Kevin agrees. “If that prick said anything else about my job, I’d have to slug him.” Bruce ruffles his hair in a happy agreement. “I’ll have a talk with both of them,” Pamela promises. “Separately. I’m just as determined this won’t happen again.” Lucy seems a bit calmer so she says, “I have something that will help end this night on a happy note.” She heads into the kitchen and brings out a platter of dainties and Nanaimo bars she’d brought for dessert. Cheryl goes back for her book. “Thanks, girls,” Kathleen says, and gets some small Styrofoam plates. “I think we’re all in the mood for something good and entertaining.” Lucy sets the platter on the coffee table, and everyone takes at least two or three. Cheryl opens her novel and starts reading aloud to everyone.