The guests have complimented him on the starter and the main and the discussion has moved on from who likes short stories and who doesn’t think they have enough space to maneuver. Now they are wittering on about everyday sexism, Ellie retelling the episode about the old man who grabbed her bottom in Waitrose and refused to let go. This is the catalyst for Ted and Sonny to begin a secondary conversation about a football match.
Hal is happiest about the table. After setting the places he took a can of sweet corn and drained it through the colander. He left it to drip itself dry while he decided on a couple of bottles of wine and made himself a cup of coffee. To make sure, he spread the sweet corn on some paper towels and patted each grain dry. Then he took a handful of the corn and, standing close to the table, strewed it over the surface. He went back for a second and third handful and repeated the process. Some of the grains had fallen onto the place mats and one into the mustard, and these he removed.
Perhaps half of the guests said nothing about the table, though some of them were obviously disturbed. Of the other half, the ones who did mention the sweet corn, some said it was surrealistic, others that it was arty. Ozzy, the fool, asked Hal if he’d had an accident.
But, never mind, thinks Hal now. It was an inspired idea. Next time he’d add something more. And in the future he’d sweep all subtlety away, not bother draining the can, add strawberry jam and let it rain down on tiny pots of hyacinths. There would be confetti, condoms, ibuprofen and all those rusty nails he kept in an old tobacco tin in the shed.
Marie-Élise reached over and touched his hand. “A penny for them,” she said.
“Oh, nothing,” he told her. “I’m just drinking it all in.”