The Good Host
Jim Heynen

"Let me top off your glass," he said to one guest, and while he refilled his guest's glass he refilled his own.

Soon the good host had spread so much good will around the dinner table that a good time was being had by all. Everyone talked at once and, even if someone said something unkind, the crossfire of words was so wild and random that cruel remarks were blurred by laughter and cheer.

After dinner, as some people floated off into easy chairs and others served the dessert, the good host told people how wonderful they were.

"I would hate to think of this world without you close enough to come for dinner," he said. "And you," he said to another, "you look better every time I see you."

As most of the guests started to sip their drinks more slowly, the good host drank his more quickly. If someone left the room or looked away, he refueled his glass before any eyes turned toward him.

Then his stories began, and they were longer than the quick bits of talk when the evening began. His long stories started from a sweet center but soon were sprinkled with granules of bitterness. Jokes about his delicate wife started as succulent truffles, but, by the time he finished, the truffles were wrapped in thorns. Other stories had a clear surface but, like some innocuous-looking coffee tables, their sharp edges caught people on their shins.

"One thing I'll say for you, you never stop trying," he said to his closest male friend. As the victim recoiled, not knowing if he had been complimented or derided, the good host kept smiling and offered more drinks to those who had sobered into silence. Offered them drinks, then took one himself.

As the evening ended, the good host walked his guests to the door and hugged them before letting them go. As they left, he made promises. "I'm going to read that book you recommended," he said. "I'm going to call you tomorrow to talk about golf," he said to another.

And then the house was quiet. The good host suggested to his wife that they wait until morning to clean up the dishes. "Let's just sit," he said, and poured each of them a cognac. "Such a wonderful night, don't you think?  I just need to be close to you for a few minutes before we go to bed."

He put his head on her shoulder and watched the shadows hover outside the window.

Jim Heynen is the author of The One-Room Schoolhouse (Vintage Contemporaries). He's working on a new collection of very short fictions called Ordinary Sins (After Theophrastus).

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