Previously in Unbound Fiction:
"Girl and Marble Boy," by Edith Pearlman (December 29, 1999)
"Dreams of the Old Green Man," by Poe Ballantine (November 17, 1999)
"Be Here Now," by Lisa Zeidner (October 20, 1999)
"The Bell Rope," by M. J. Clement (September 22, 1999)
"Everyone Please Be Careful," by Lucia Nevai (August 25, 1999)
"Fundamentals of Communication," by Thisbe Nissen (July 28, 1999)
See an index of fiction from Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.
January 20, 2000
ydia and her husband, Oscar, are giving a dinner party. They have invited eight of their oldest and best friends. Four are women: Hortense, Ida, Janelle, and Karla. Four are men: Peter, Quentin, Reggie, and Sven. The dinner table is round and seats ten. For dessert there are five servings of chocolate fondue and five servings of flan.
The guests must be seated at the dinner table according to the following rules:
The fondue eaters must sit together.
Reggie is allergic to chocolate.
Karla dislikes flan.
At least three of the guests will politely decline both desserts because they are watching their figures.
Hortense, an alcoholic, cannot sit next to Quentin, who is in recovery.
Reggie will not sit next to Sven, because he cannot stand Sven's lack of table manners, in particular the loud slurping noise he makes when eating flan.
Ida will not sit next to Peter, because Peter slept with Deedee, the maid of honor at Ida's second wedding, and never called her again and has yet to show a shred of remorse about it.
Karla and Lydia will sit next to each other for moral support, because they have both recently found evidence -- phone bills, hotel receipts, love bites -- that their husbands, Sven and Oscar, respectively, are having affairs.
Janelle and Ida will sit next to each other, because they have just begun a happy and spiritually fulfilling intimate relationship together. They will share a fondue fork.
Oscar will not sit next to Peter, because Peter slept with Oscar's little sister Calpurnia at Oscar and Lydia's wedding and never called her again and has yet to show a shred of remorse about it.
Reggie, an E.M.T., will sit next to Hortense, just in case she starts washing down Percodans with her gimlets again.
Oscar and Sven, partners in a law firm, cannot sit next to each other because they are rivals for the affection of a young paralegal who has a fondness for PVC fetishwear and cattle prods and who refers to herself -- often in the third person -- as Mistress Orgasma, though her given name is Budgie.
Sven will not sit next to Peter, because Peter slept with Karla the night before Sven and Karla's wedding and kept calling during the honeymoon, leaving Sven to pleasure himself to adult programming on the hotel TV while Karla cooed into the phone behind the locked bathroom door.
Quentin cannot sit next to Reggie, because last July, during a party at Ida's house, Reggie fellated him behind the tool shed, and, while Reggie insists that they're cheating themselves if they don't go ahead and "see where this leads," Quentin would rather forget it ever happened and attributes the whole sorry episode to his problems with alcohol (specifically, Wild Turkey Manhattans), though sometimes in weak and lonely moments he admits to himself that it did feel pretty good at the time.
Lydia will not permit Oscar to sit next to Hortense, because Oscar insisted that they invite Hortense even though no one can stand her anymore because she's been a weepy, boozy mess ever since her husband (Thibault, who was Oscar's roommate at Dartmouth) took their five children (Ulalume, Videlicet, Whortleberry, X-acto, and Yggdrasil) and ran off to Tuscany with the purple-haired and frenulum-pierced babysitter (Zwieback), and the only explanation Lydia can think of is that Hortense is the one who's been honking Oscar's horn behind her back, and Lydia is damn well going to give Hortense what-for before this goddamned dinner party is through.
Who are the flan eaters?
A. Ida and Quentin
B. Ida, Hortense, and Sven
C. Karla, Peter, and Reggie
D. Janelle, Lydia, Oscar, Sven, and Budgie
E. None of the above
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More fiction from Atlantic Unbound and The Atlantic Monthly.
Doug Dorst is a Wallace Stegner Fellow in fiction at Stanford University. He received his MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 1997. His stories have appeared recently in Ploughshares, ZYZZYVA, CutBank, and Gulf Coast.
Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Company. All rights reserved.