Once again, I am linking up to the Red Dress Club's Red Writing Hood.
Here's this week's prompt:
For Friday's meme, we'd like to work on dialogue. Craft a piece of short fiction featuring the dialogue between two people arguing. Focus more on the spoken language and less on setting details
“How’s your lamb chop, lamb chop?” he asks, but she almost loses the endearment over the whine of his fork tines scraping his teeth. He has brussels sprouts in his moustache, the tiny green bits wet against his sparse gray and brown—but mostly gray— hair.
“Why,” she asks. “Do you grow that ridiculous half-fringe around your lips? You should have gone through puberty like 50-some years ago.”
“It’s tough in the middle, isn’t it?” he asks, prodding his meat with his fork. I never grill lam b,” he explains. “I don’t have the timing worked out.”
A tiny explosion of masticated gristle peppers the few strands of hair that cling to his chin, and she shivers in disgust. He smiles, more sprouts between his front teeth, a caraway seed from his roll lodged in the bottom two.
“It’s not as bad as all that,” he tells her.
“Worse, even,” she mutters, carefully wiping the corners of her mouth with the cream napkin he folded into fans and laid on top of their plates. “We’ve been married 32 years in October, and you can’t put the napkin under my fork just one time?”
“You know,” he says softly, dribbling French dressing out the left side of his mouth. He pauses to force lettuce into the back of his mouth with his tongue. “I don’t like to criticize, but that napkin should have been on your lap when I served the salad course. Before that even. If you want to get technical.”
“When have I?” she demands. “When have I ever wanted to get technical with you?”
“It’s true,” he acknowledges, licking lamb off the edge of his thumb. “You always kept work at work, and that’s something I’ve always appreciated.” He smiles. “Now you go,” he urges. “You say something nice to me.”
She looks at him blankly.
He fills the silence with wet chewing noises and another soggy smile. “I’ll go again,” he offers. “You must have had a hard day today, but that’s okay because I love you in that sweater. It reminds me of sweet potato pie.”
She is still staring, her face slowly crumpling.
“Mags?” he asks rooting around his molars with his tongue, sucking out slivers of sprouts and muscle. “Mags? What the hell is wrong with you tonight?”
“Do you remember what day it is today?”
“Why?” he asks.
“It’s an important day is all,” she tells him. “Not that you seem to give any kind of a shit.”
“I made a nice meal,” he says. “That’s something, isn’t it?”
“Answer me,” she demands. “What day is it today?”
He rolls his eyes. “Wednesday? Garbage day eve? My book club night? The night A&E has planned a “Matlock marathon?” he supplies, putting down his fork and looking evenly at her.
“You don’t have to snap,” she reminds him.
“Because you do it so well?” He asks pushing back his chair and stacking his salad bowl on top of his plate.
She glares at him over her untouched meal. “Jesus Christ, Hal. I am so not doing this with you today.”
“Today?” he asks. “What’s so special about today? What did I forget this time, Mags? Your dry cleaning?” He stomps into the kitchen and rattles his dishes into the sink. “I have been taking care of this house for us, cooking you dinners, washing your clothes, taking your goddamned mother out for lunch even though she’s never once offered to pay, not even a tip, not even when the kids were little and I had to buy my clothes at the Goodwill, since the minute we got married” he says coming back into the dining room to collect his wine glass, the salt and pepper shakers, the gravy boat. “Tell me what I did to walk into this shit storm.”
He bends over the table to reach the butter dish, and when he does, the buttons on his Oxford strain across his stomach, so tight she winces a little, sure one will pop free and fly toward her. All at once, she notices how fat he has gotten, how much of him lops above the waist band of his slacks, and the sight of his pudge, the realization of it, makes her laugh.
“What the fuck?” he asks, and she laughs harder.
“You don’t have to swear at me,” she manages, proud of herself for sounding prim over her guffaws.
“You’re so fat,” she wails, covering her crinkled nose with her hand. She smacks her free hand on the tablecloth. “I didn’t realize you got so fat!”
His eyes well with tears instantly, and he stands back like she slapped his florid cheek. He puts down the wine glass and other dishes and presses his wrinkled hands against his old man belly. “Why is that funny?”
“I see you everyday, Hal. Every fucking day whether I want to or not. And I only just now noticed,” she explains.
“So?” he asks indignantly. “I still don’t get how that’s funny.”
“Because,” she says, earnestly trying to explain. “I see you everyday, but I haven’t seen you in months. Weeks. However long it took you to get so fat.”
“Precisely!” He shouts, his face flushing even deeper. “That’s exactly my point. You take me completely for granted, and the only time you notice me is to tell me how I’ve let you down. So tell me, Mags. What is it this time? What’s so special about today?”
“It’s my birthday,” she says softly. “I’m 65 today.”
“Oh, shit,” he says, walking around the table, reaching toward her.
She holds up her hands. “It’s not just that,” she says. “I sure as shit don’t need another pleather purse or a bottle of perfume.”
Or, she thinks but does not say, a flowery card whose adoring message makes her sick. On the heels of this thought, she is immediately proud of herself for not saying the last part, for keeping something back, for trying not to hurt Hal even though he fills her with disgust. “
The thing is, Hal,” she tells him. “65 is a big deal. It’s the year I have always planned to retire. In fact, Grace told me today that a reception is in the works.” She flashes him a half smile. “Gold watch and everything.”
“I’m confused,” he admits. “What’s the problem? You’d rather have platinum?”
“Well, I mean, yeah, of course I would. But I can’t retire. If I wake up in this house and have nowhere to go but the recliner next to yours and nothing to do but see you eat 3 times a day, I am going to fucking kill myself Hal. I mean it.”
“Oh,” he says. “Oh. I see. What about the lamb, Mags? Would you like it better with chutney next time?”