Spring 2019, Volume 26

Fiction by Bonnie Regn Fraher

A Dish Served Cold

Sarah wasn't just run-of-the-mill pretty, she considered herself a perfect ten. Her sleek chestnut hair, full lips, and bright green eyes had always commanded a lot of attention. A little makeup and she'd be model-perfect, ready for the runway. But she rarely focused on that. She was far too busy. Her interior design work was all-consuming, to the point where she sometimes even forgot to eat lunch.

Setting up for Saturday night's party, however, was well worth her time. The theme was Winter, and there was so much to do: stringing the sparkling white lights, spiking the champagne punch, prepping the hors d'oeuvres, hanging the decorations, and telling her boyfriend what to do.

It had snowed heavily the night before, but despite the five-foot drifts and sporadic power outages, not a single guest had canceled. Of course, Sarah knew why. They were all foaming at the mouth to see Rod, not her. With his legion of devoted fans, he was a world-famous comedian, and everyone loved him.

Bleached-blonde hair askew, Rod bounced into the kitchen, pocketing his cell phone guiltily the minute he noticed Sarah standing at the sink. He pecked her cheek and said, “Wow! Look at all this food. What can I do to help?”

“For starters,” Sarah smiled, “you can give me a real kiss.”

He complied without enthusiasm. “OK, now what?”

Sarah's heart sank. She narrowed her eyes. “Who were you talking to?”

“Nobody,” he shrugged.

She folded her arms across her chest. “Is Nobody coming to the party?”

He picked up a cracker and bit into it. “Very funny, Sarah―I thought I was the comedian. Now please give me something to do. I don't want you complaining to people that you did all the work.”

The guests began arriving at seven. Depositing their snowy boots and shoes on the foyer mat, they entered the house with enthusiastic handshakes and voices full of good cheer. Many had never stepped foot inside before, and they were thunderstruck, marveling at all the antiques and rich Victorian decor. Rod took them on an extensive tour, pointing out the William Morris wallpaper, the patterned textiles, elaborate stenciling, parquet floors, and hand-carved upholstered furniture that Sarah had chosen.

One guest in particular stood out. Her name was Faye, and she was a vixen if ever Sarah saw one: long blonde hair, manicured nails, thick black eyeliner, strappy high heels. Her red gown was clingy, with silicone breasts and curves on display for all eyes to see. Sarah, dressed in jeans, sneakers, and a flannel shirt, was jealous from the get-go. Not only did Faye show great interest in the home's design, but she demonstrated intense interest in Rod, as well. She kept flashing sidelong glances at him, and winking as if she had some kind of bizarre tic. And to make things worse, she pulled Sarah aside and whispered, “I think you forgot to get dressed for the party. You're pretty enough, but you could use a little mascara and blush.”

“You might be a seven, but I'm a ten,” Sarah fired back, adding, “and I think you're the one who forgot to get dressed. That cheap red gown barely covers your fake boobs.”

As the evening wore on Sarah noticed that Rod and Faye were sharing a cigarette―in the house! Stunned (Rod had never smoked before), she barreled toward them and admonished him right in front of everyone. As she pivoted to walk away, Sarah heard Faye tittering like an amused sparrow.

After dinner, when everyone was pleasantly buzzed, Faye begged Rod to perform some of his comedy routines as entertainment. He did so, and the crowd erupted with laughter. By the time the party ended, people were drunkenly slapping him on the back, hugging him adoringly, and demanding his autograph. Faye reached out, grabbed his cell phone, and entered her number into his list of contacts. Sarah watched from a distance, hopping mad.

Closing the door as the last guest departed, she turned to Rod and said, “What the hell was that all about?”

His jovial mood clearly broken, Rod asked, “What was what all about?”

“Faye―she took your phone―remember? Who is she?”


“So I heard...”

Rod threw up his hands as he explained, “Faye works with me, that's all. She's the new social media coordinator for the show.”

Sarah stacked wine glasses beside the sink. “She looks like a sleaze. Did you have to pick someone who dresses like a showgirl?”

He laughed. “I didn't choose her for that reason. Her resume was the best of the bunch, by far, so I thought I'd give her a try. She's actually very talented.”

“I'll bet she is,” Sarah huffed.

That night after Rod fell asleep, Sarah picked up his phone. Desperate to find out who Nobody was, she hid herself in the laundry room and flipped through all of his calls and messages. “Nobody,” as it turned out, was just Rod's seventy-year-old Aunt Betsy, who often called to congratulate him on his success.

So he wasn't cheating, after all. What a relief! Sarah's world wasn't shattering into a million unhappy shards. Maybe she should be nicer to him and spend more time with him instead of always focusing on her work. She tried to view Rod in a positive light. He genuinely enjoyed making people laugh. He loved all the smiles and adoration, seeing his name in lights. And he was gregarious to a fault. Maybe Sarah was just feeling envious.

The next two weeks were somewhat calmer, although Rod came home once with red lipstick on his collar and another time with the smell of Faye's perfume on his neck. The strain between Rod and Sarah was deepening, and she wondered if maybe they should just split up. Or was she just being paranoid and insecure? So much self-doubt; she wasn't like that before she met Rod.

One morning at breakfast Rod said, “Faye likes your work. She wants to hire you.”

Sarah looked up from her newspaper. “For what?”

“To redecorate her house.”

“How many square feet?”

He picked up an onion bagel. “3,600, give or take a few.”

Sarah asked pointedly, “Have you been there?”

“Yes.” His face reddened.

She practically shouted, “Forget it.”

“Hold your horses, my dear,” he said. “It's good money. The job pays a hundred grand―she comes from a very wealthy family.”

Sarah thought about it. She could definitely use a hundred thousand dollars: pay off her mortgage, invest in the market, save something for retirement. How bad would it be to slave away for some piggy bitch who obviously had a crush on Rod? So many women were in love with him, it was par for the course. Why should this one be any different? He was obedient; he'd always been faithful in the past.

Later, on the phone with Faye, Sarah asked, “What styles do you like? Why don't we set up an appointment? I'll come over and show you some fabric samples.”

Faye replied, “Make it light and ultra-modern: lots of white on the walls, Plexiglas, geometric furniture―that kind of thing.” She giggled, “You've got free rein, and I'll give you full payment in advance. I'm going on the tour with Rod, and I really just want it done when we―I mean when Iget back home.”

Sarah was stung. “Tour? What tour?”

Faye seemed to enjoy this. “Didn't he tell you?”

“No, he didn't.”

“Well, we're going to Prague,” Faye said slowly. “I thought he told you about it.”

There was a brief pause, after which Sarah said brusquely, “I'll write up a contract and Fed-Ex it to you right away. That way, I'll be sure to have everything done when you return.”

Rod took Sarah out for dinner that night, to Cazzo, his beloved authentic Italian restaurant, where his favorite dish was the squid ink pasta, which turned his teeth a charming shade of black. He also raved over the finanziera, made of rooster testicles, wattle, and cockscomb. It was so fitting, Sarah smiled inwardly, because cazzo means “dick” in Italian. After ordering the spinach lasagna, she stared longingly at her empty wine glass and turned her menu face down.

Rod had clearly been drinking earlier in the day, and seemed a bit distant. The sommelier brought a bottle of Brunello, poured two glasses, and discretely stepped away. Rod glanced dismissively at Sarah's ratty blue tee shirt and muttered, “You couldn't put on something better?”

“I had more important things to do,” she said. “Why should I get dressed up when I look so good already?”

Rod blurted out, “I have to go away for a few weeks, maybe even a month.”

“Where are you going?” she asked, feigning ignorance.

“To Greece. I'm taking my parents on a cruise.”

“A cruise?...how lovely.”

He didn't look at her. “But unfortunately I may be out of touch a lot of the time. The cell service overseas is so spotty.”

“Don't bother. I'll be working anyway.” Sarah drained her glass, adding, “I thought your parents were getting too old to travel. Isn't that what you told me last year, when I suggested we invite them up for Thanksgiving?”

“Well, Dad changed his mind. He says he's not getting any younger, and he wants to live it up while he still can.” Rod half-smiled. “Excuse me, but I have to use the men's room.” He rose unsteadily, the alcohol going to his head. Mulling over his obvious lie, Sarah stared at his vacant seat and noticed his shiny cell phone sticking out of his jacket pocket. Unable to restrain herself, she grabbed it, silenced it, and stuffed it into her purse.

“My turn,” she smiled upon Rod's return. In the stall of the restroom, she leafed through his messages and data. Three nude photos of Faye popped up, and she forwarded them to her own cell phone. On her way back to the table she surreptitiously dropped Rod's phone on the floor in front of the men's room.

“Do you want dessert?” he asked, slurring his words.

“I want a just dessert,” she replied.

“Just what? What kind of dessert?”

“Something bitter.”

“You mean bittersweet? Like dark chocolate?”

She hailed the waiter. “I'll have a big, fat slice of the chocolate revenge cake, please.”
Just then Rod noticed that his cell phone was missing. In a panic he asked, “Did you see my phone?”

She gave him a Cheshire cat smile. “Maybe you dropped it on your way to the bathroom. Why don't you go and check?”
The signed contract from Faye arrived as promised a week later, the same day Rod was to leave. He didn't ask Sarah to drive him to the airport, didn't say goodbye, didn't even give her a perfunctory peck on the cheek. He just left.

So long, cazzo!

Sarah didn't waste any time. She immediately deposited Faye's check, then came home and emptied Rod's drawers and closet, tied his belongings up in black contractor bags, and drove everything to Goodwill, where she got a receipt for a nice tax-deduction in April. Then she placed her orders for the job at Faye's house: furniture, paint, artwork, accent pieces, and appliances.

A backbreaking week later, she was completely done. She plopped down on a gray plastic chair to admire her work and, popping open an expensive bottle of champagne, drank directly out of it. “Ahh, my greatest masterpiece!” she said aloud. But there was no one there to hear her. The house was deserted. Her empty words reverberated, desolate syllables impacting nothing. Faye, the floozy who owned the place, had stolen Sarah's prize possession: the world-class comedian that she loved to dominate and bully.

But Faye would pay in more ways than one. Sitting in the chair, Sarah took it all in. So cutting edge! So contemporary! Every wall in the house was painted midnight black and streaked with wavy red lines resembling streaks of blood. In the dining room sat an unfinished picnic table made of low-grade plywood―how avant garde! The vintage “refrigerator” was an ice box from the 1920's―an eco-friendly touch! Unframed horror movie posters were thumbtacked everywhere, heavy on the T&A. On the living room wall, Sarah ceremoniously hung glossy life-sized prints of the three nude photos she'd found on Rod's phone―such innovative artwork! Then she coated her lips with Faye's red lipstick and kissed the foyer mirror, leaving behind a spirited memento.

Sarah tried to imagine the look on Faye's face when she finally got home from her love-trip with Rod. What would she say when she crossed the threshold and beheld her new décor?

Groundbreaking work!

After all, what could Faye do about it? Give Sarah a bad Yelp review? Badmouth her to Rod's sycophant fan base? Would she call the cops? What Sarah had done was not illegal. According to the contract, she had “free rein” to design as she pleased. But who knew. Maybe Faye had relatives in high places. One thing was certain: if Sarah ended up in prison, she'd look damned good in that orange jumpsuit. With her bright green eyes and sleek chestnut hair, she was a perfect ten.




BIO: After spending most of her career teaching children with autism, Bonnie Fraher turned her efforts to writing. The result to date is a post-apocalyptic
Chilled to the Bone, as well as several shorter works of fiction.