A STORY by MATT MCGUIRK

EL VIN ROUGE ET LE FROMAGE BLEU


I knew he didn’t belong because I was him at one point. His blue jeans didn’t match the pleated black pants that most of this crowd wore, his camouflage hat didn’t match the well-manicured hair and his dull brown boots didn’t match the shine of the footwear the others had on. I didn’t need to hear him speak or mispronounce the French on the invitation to know he wasn’t one of them. He came up to me because I’m a hired hand. I take care of Mr. Charbonneau’s guests when they come by and I keep everything else in order when he takes his trips to Paris, Rome, London or any of the other places most of us only see on television.

The man in his grease-stained boots and worn baseball cap flashed me the white invitation and butchered the pronunciation. I immediately corrected him and he failed again, whereupon I told him, “it means red wine and blue cheese.” He smiled, a smile that wasn’t privy to frequent dental visits and plastic surgery that Charbonneau and his guest knew. I pointed at the buffet table in the back of the room fitted with a white tablecloth; he obliged and headed in that direction. Mingling guests stopped conversation as he entered and now watched as he slid through the crowd to the plum dark wine and eclectic assortment of cheeses, with a wheel of blue cheese woven with succulent dark patches. Crispy crostini, delicate caviars, elegant pâtés and a charcuterie board lined the remainder of the table. The man paused for a moment to look for a plate the size he was used to, noticed the teacup size ones that were available and took three.

With the man’s appearance, I didn’t think he’d have the balancing abilities to stack the plates with the variety of food he did, but I’d already forgotten the stuffed plates of backyard barbeques that he was used to. He paused when he reached the end with all three plates heaped with his assortment of hors d’oeuvres and looked at the darkest of the wines. I saw him nod his head, grab the bottle with only a glass gone and stick it under his arm while looking for a seat. His hefty red beard was already dotted with blue cheese before he found a place to set his food at the end of the buffet table, close to the selection of wine and additional nourishments. I stared as he drank the wine from the bottle and stuffed handfuls of food into his mouth; crumbs fell to the floor, clung to his boots and were redeposited with a wash of mud on the marble tiles.

I scanned the room for Charbonneau, who was already making his way towards the man. He glided across the room with guests parting semicircles to make room for him. His black coattails were in the air like wings as he made his way toward the guest. I saw his low brow and lips pursed below his penciled in mustache. The crowd had resumed mingling, but at the speed of their host they watched as I did, wanting to know what would be said to this unwanted man with an invitation to their exclusive party.

“Excuse me Sir,” Charbonneau approached the man, who was still stuffing his mouth with countless pieces of baguette at this point and had already drained half the bottle of wine. He ran his free arm across his lips and wiped away a red dribble.

“Ah, perfect timing.” He handed Charbonneau the small stack of plates. “Where do you keep the corkscrew?” He had already reached out his thick arm for another bottle.

I could feel Charbonneau’s face getting red. I knew he had little patience for this buffoon, as I’d seen in the past. The man had turned his back for a moment and I saw the host blow out a puff of air. “Excuse me!” Charbonneau’s voice rose. I couldn’t remember it at this level since I broke a piece of china.

“Never mind, I see it,” the man stumbled by.

Charbonneau followed, watching him pick up the corkscrew. The man spun, colliding with him and the plates broke in triangles across the ground, the sound accentuated by an exclamation point in the form of a communal gasp.

“What are you doing, why don’t you get back to work?” The man shrugged off the broken plates with wine in hand.

Charbonneau’s face was port colored and I could feel his chest heave from across the room. His teeth gritted together as he pulled the butcher knife off the charcuterie board and plunged it into the man’s throat. I felt my arms shoot to my mouth and my mind fog as I saw a mist of blood burst out. The man stumbled and the bottle of red wine cracked and broke against the table. Port wine mingled with quarts of blood against the white tablecloth. I saw him turn and his arms flail, knocking his camo hat onto the table next to the blue cheese. He stumbled forward, dizzied from the blood loss, turned 180 degrees and fell across the buffet table.

All the guests stood silent. I looked around the room and saw all of the wide eyes and hands in front of mouths. Charbonneau was still. He had a spritz of red across the breast of his white shirt and was still holding the knife. He turned and I observed his pursed lips, low brow and well-manicured dark hair. “Smith, get over here and clean this up.” I knew the subsequent steps and what would happen, what always happened in his world. He pointed at me, “make sure you get his name and address. I want him charged for the dry-cleaning on these table clothes, the food that’s going to go to waste and the trauma we’ve all suffered by his public suicide.” He walked back through the crowd and over to me. He turned toward his guests, “make sure you have Smith give you a check on the way out. I’m sorry this man ruined our party. I’m sure my money won’t completely wash this from your memory, but I hope it’ll help you forget what he’s done.”

 

Matt McGuirk teaches and lives with his family in New Hampshire. BOTN 2021 nominee with words in various lit mags and a debut collection with Alien Buddha Press called Daydreams, Obsessions, Realities available on Amazon and linked on his website. Twitter: @McguirkMatthew; Instagram: @mcguirk_matthew.