DINNER TALES: BY CANDLELIGHT

“We haven’t entertained at home for so long Rick that it’s not surprising we’re seldom invited out anymore.” Wendy was still holding a damp dishcloth in her hands as she approached her husband ensconced in a deep armchair in the lounge with a book on his lap. He sighed and looked at her over his spectacles.

“I have to submit my paper for the conference within two weeks, Wendy. I can’t afford to miss the deadline.” He looked away from her as he reached for a pencil and a writing pad on the side table. “This is a busy time for me.”

“It’s always a ‘busy time’ for you, Rick. Anyone would think I have nothing to do. Admit it though: we owe so many people an invitation that we’ve got to start somewhere.” Wendy’s voice carried a determined ring. “You even said in January that we ought to have someone round once a month. January is over and we can already see March in the wings -.”

“Invite the lot then, just let me get through this reading.”

“Alright Mr. Grump, I’ll see who can make it on Saturday evening.” Wendy straightened two pictures on the passage walls on her way to the kitchen. The frames need dusting, she noted, but then everything can do with a once-over.

Wendy tidied the lounge on Saturday afternoon, plumping the cushions and sorting through their selection of music before turning her attention to the dining room. She picked flowers for the table and filled a large vase to place in the entrance hall. Once the table was set to her satisfaction, she focused on getting the dishes ready for the oven.

Rick came in while Wendy was putting the finishing touches to the salads. “It’s still so hot,” he smiled, “that I think I should get ice to put in a cooler box outside.”

“I’d love to be outdoors! I’m quietly dying in the heat of the kitchen.” Wendy covered the salads and hugged her husband briefly. “I’ll get chairs ready and put out some snacks while you buy the ice.”

“This is why we don’t entertain often: you get so wound up.” Rick kissed her forehead. “Just relax – everyone will have a great time.”

Easy for him to say, Wendy grumbled to herself as she carried a tray of savouries outdoors. He was right though, a cooling breeze had sprung up and the garden was filled with the heady scent of blossoms. This is definitely the right place to start, she thought happily as she went indoors to collect the drinking glasses.

Everyone enjoyed sitting on the patio and admired the different hues of green created by the setting sun. “Your garden is looking beautiful!” Mandy drew in an exaggerated breath, “and it’s filled with amazing scents too.”

“Oh look! There are some bats.” Chris nudged his wife, Donna. A momentary silence fell as all turned to watch the two small insectivorous bats looping above the lawn only to seemingly disappear when they swooped low against the trees.

“Bats frighten me.” Ella automatically covered her head with her free hand. During the laughter and teasing that followed, Wendy slipped into the kitchen to switch on the oven. She was surprised to find most of their guests had moved indoors on her return.

Rick was drawing the curtains in the lounge. “Are the bats a problem?” Wendy asked quietly.

“No, the wind’s becoming unpleasant.”

Thomas and Louisa came in bearing plates and dishes from outdoors. “Shall we dump these in the kitchen Wends?”

“”Thank you Louisa. Let me get the rest.”

“Everything’s indoors – except the drinks.” Ceridwen and Benny laughed as the French doors slammed behind them.

“I think we’re in for a storm,” Rick announced. “Anyone for more wine?”

Wendy sighed with relief. Even Rick was enjoying himself and the stormy gusts of wind seemed to provide extra energy. They needed rain so badly. “These are such beautiful flowers,” Mandy remarked on her way back from the bathroom. “I always mean to have more flowers -.” She stopped mid-sentence as the power went out. “Is it load-shedding? I thought we were meant to be free of it this weekend.”

“It can’t be load-shedding. I’ll go and find some candles.” Wendy used the torch on her cell phone to scrabble around in the pantry for a motley collection of candles. Books and glasses were moved aside to make room for them.

“What a lovely ambience!” Louisa exclaimed as the rain began spattering against the window panes.

Lovely ambience indeed, but the food won’t cook without power, Wendy thought grimly. There was no reply from the municipal electricity department. She scanned the neighbourhood from her bedroom window and realised the whole suburb was cloaked in darkness. She dialled the emergency service.

“It’s not a problem ma’am,” was the response to her apology. “Most of town is out,” the man continued cheerfully. “It’s due to an explosion at one of the sub-stations. You know how Eskom keeps switching the electricity on and off.”

“Yes, but is someone working on the problem? I mean, can we expect the power to come on again before long?” Wendy tried to control the tremor in her voice while wondering what to do about the dinner. She wasn’t prepared for the laughter.

“Ma’am it’s going to be an all-nighter this one. What, with this weather and all, we’ll be lucky to have power by the morning.”

A combination of wind and thunder rattled at the windows as the rain poured down. The conversations in the lounge were increasing in volume to compensate for the roaring outside. Wendy compressed her lips and took some deep breaths. “Could you bring some of those candles to the kitchen?” Her voice was louder than she had intended.

She felt about in the freezer for a combination of frankfurters and Russian sausages left over from a camping trip they had enjoyed with their grandchildren. Rick lit two camping gas stoves balanced on kitchen stools. Donna and Ella found mustard, chutney and tomato sauce in the fridge. “Ooh gherkins! I love gherkins with hot dogs!” Thomas removed the bottle from the door of the fridge.

As there were no rolls, Benny took on the task of slicing the loaves of fancy bread Ceridwen had collected from the dining room table along with the salads. Wendy warmed to the sight of her guests making their own hot dogs and eating them while standing up. Her kitchen was crowded and the company so jolly that the rain and thunder faded into the background. That the pudding hadn’t set didn’t worry anyone. They helped themselves to ice-cream out of the tub and ladled spoonfuls of the pudding over as if it was a sauce. People bumped into each other; they elbowed each other out of the way; above all, they were laughing.

She filled their camping kettle to boil for coffee. Donna handed round the chocolates she and Chris had brought, while Mandy and Louisa put out enough mugs for everyone. Chris spied the hot chocolate in the cupboard next to the coffee and Thomas asked for Milo. To Wendy’s surprise the men took over, creating ‘coffee / hot chocolate / Milo’ stations next to each other, spooning in the powders as requested. Tea had not even been mentioned.

Holding their mugs carefully in one hand and candles in the other, everyone made their way back to the lounge. It was getting on for midnight when the wind died down at last and the rain had abated enough to make leaving easier.

Rick collected his powerful torch to light the way down the garden path. Everyone bunched together at the front door. Wendy, still thinking about her uncooked masterpieces languishing in the cold oven, felt cheered by the happy farewells and cries of ‘the best night ever’ as the guests dashed down the path to the gate.  She leaned against the open door, breathing in the damp air and listening to the muted closing of vehicle doors and happy ‘good nights’. Just then, the power came on, lighting up the house like a ship in the night. She laughed at the cheers and tooting of hooters as their guests drove away: it certainly had been the best dinner ever!

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