Johnny America


The Un­in­vit­ed Guests


Shawn watch­es the liv­ing room tele­vi­sion from the din­ing room ta­ble, sit­ting side­ways in his chair. An apron is draped over his long legs and his face is flushed from mak­ing din­ner. Shawn loves to cook, to bend his lanky frame over boil­ing pots, so it was a fore­gone con­clu­sion that he would make their an­niver­sary din­ner at home. The food is ready, it has been for an hour, so he pages through a mag­a­zine. The din­ing room ta­ble at his back is ful­ly set — green beans lan­guid and wrin­kled, crab cakes sink­ing un­der a steamed glass cov­er, an open bot­tle of mer­lot, and can­dle light. Shawn jumps up in his seat when An­nie, his wife, walks through the door.

“I’m sor­ry,” she says, as she sets her brief­case down in front of the tele­vi­sion, bump­ing the on/off switch with her short-skirt hip. She flips on the stereo, scan­ning for some­thing with­out lyrics. “Don­ald wouldn’t let me out of the of­fice. He’s been so stressed late­ly. I thought he was go­ing to lose it.”

“It’s okay.” Shawn straight­ens in the chair and twists in­to his pen­ny loafers, press­ing down the erect, fresh­ly vac­u­umed car­pet fibers with his feet. “Just wash up and we’ll eat.”

“Sure thing,” she says, kiss­ing the top of his head as she walks by.

From the din­ing room ta­ble, Shawn watch­es An­nie as she wash­es her hands in the kitchen sink, the sleeves of her blouse rolled up to her el­bows. Wig­gling around in her skirt, she slips off her shoes. An­nie is blond and short; she has a nice fig­ure in a skirt suit, her athlete’s legs flex­ing on top of high heels. She was a gym­nast in high school.

“Three years,” he says across the room. “Can you be­lieve it?”

“Three years, hon­ey,” she says, dry­ing her hands with a dish towel.

“Three fan­tas­tic years.”

“Oooh, ahh. Oooh ahh,” she croons like a back­up singer. “It’s amazing!”

“So work was bad?”

“You know how Don­ald is,” An­nie says. “He just gets out of con­trol. He doesn’t think about what he’s doing.”

“Well, some peo­ple don’t,” Shawn says as he watch­es An­nie walk back in­to the room and sit down at the ta­ble, hands in her lap. The din­ner is ba­si­cal­ly ru­ined, but they’ll eat it be­cause he went to the trou­ble of mak­ing it. When she picks up a fork, Shawn smiles at her. “Some peo­ple act with­out think­ing about what they’re do­ing,” he says. “It’s a men­tal dis­or­der. I’ve read about peo­ple who say that they can’t even re­late to their own hands in their mind — they’re just not part of the same whole. Killers and rapists. Peo­ple like that.”

“But Don­ald isn’t a rapist,” An­nie cor­rects. “That’s not what you mean.”

“No,” Shawn says, ar­rang­ing the cold food on their plates. “He isn’t at the ex­treme. It’s just that he doesn’t con­sid­er that con­se­quences of his ac­tions al­ways. Don­ald doesn’t re­al­ly care how his ac­tions af­fect oth­er peo­ple. You know that.”

Shawn stud­ied the psy­chol­o­gy of per­son­al­i­ty when he was in col­lege. He works from home now, writ­ing prod­uct de­scrip­tions for an on­line shop­ping mall. An­nie is an ac­count as­sis­tant at Don­ald Pearce & As­so­ciates, an ar­chi­tec­tur­al firm she’s been with since serv­ing an in­tern­ship there five years ago. They met in school and were mar­ried af­ter grad­u­a­tion. They’ve lived in a small house in an old neigh­bor­hood near cam­pus for al­most a year. Shawn gar­dens most of the day while Annie’s at work down­town. In the evening, while they watch TV on the couch, Shawn types away on his lap­top, fin­ish­ing up his day’s work.

From above their heads in the din­ing room, eas­ing out of the speak­ers at low vol­ume is Gershwin’s Rhap­sody in Blue. The sounds of strings spread through­out the room like a ru­mor, un­der­neath the floor­boards and be­hind the cur­tains. Shawn slices the duck, care­ful to not break the bones in the wrong spot. He serves them both, his hands held to present the cut to his wife. Since the wed­ding, he’s worked hard at be­com­ing an ex­cel­lent cook.

Annie’s head sways a lit­tle as Shawn serves her, her neck rolling, work­ing out the kinks as a qui­et moan push­es out be­tween her lips.

“What was that for?” Shawn asks, amused, putting her plate in front of her. “Are you hun­gry or what?”

“Oh,” An­nie laughs, putting her fork down af­ter tak­ing an em­bar­rassed bite, chew­ing be­hind a smile. “I was just thinking.”


“Well, about what you said. About how peo­ple can do things with­out re­lat­ing their ac­tions to them­selves. It’s fun­ny.” Squint­ing, she swal­lows a mouth­ful of the mer­lot. “I’m no mur­der­er, of course, but it just made me think about some­thing that al­most hap­pened a few years ago.”


“Well, yeah,” An­nie says. “Do you re­mem­ber that big blowout Don­ald had at his lake house? The Hal­loween party?”

“Of course. We had just start­ed dating.”

“Yes,” she says. “We weren’t re­al­ly that close back then.”

“Not like now.”

“No, not like now at all.”

“Three years,” he says, a smile on his face.

“Oooh, ahh,” they sing in unison.

“Any­way,” An­nie con­tin­ues, tak­ing an­oth­er drink of wine. “I was danc­ing down­stairs with these guys. Just danc­ing. Do you know what I mean?”

“What guys?”

“I don’t know. A bunch of them. There were a lot of guys there. Guys Don­ald knew from the ar­chi­tec­ture col­lege, I think. We were dancing.”

“You were danc­ing,” Shawn says, putting his fork on the table.

“Well, you know how it is. It’s em­bar­rass­ing to talk about it now, but it seemed okay then, in that mo­ment. Every­one was drunk,” she says, reach­ing across the ta­ble to cut but­ter on­to her knife. “Pick up your fork, hon­ey. It was nothing.”

Shawn stabs at the green beans then takes a drink, al­low­ing the wine to slide down his throat with his eyes closed.

“What are you talk­ing about?” he asks. “What happened?”

“These two guys. They were good-look­ing, I re­mem­ber that. They, well, asked me if I want­ed to go in­to the laun­dry room with them.” An­nie sits up in her chair, her legs too short to touch the floor. “And for a minute, it sound­ed like a good idea — so I told them we should. I said, ‘Why not?’”

Shawn takes a deep breath. He thinks about clear­ing the ta­ble and start­ing the dish­es. It might be bet­ter to get some take out, than to eat this ru­ined din­ner. He could sug­gest that they leave. He isn’t com­fort­able with fin­ish­ing this din­ner, in the state it is. An­nie has told sto­ries like this be­fore, this se­mi-erot­ic nos­tal­gia that arous­es her mem­o­ry, even though it makes every­one un­easy to hear it. At least they are alone this time. She’s in­dulged her rec­ol­lec­tions at din­ner par­ties be­fore, at work functions.

“I didn’t re­al­ly know what I was do­ing, like you said be­fore. I was just act­ing, as if noth­ing could go wrong be­cause it wasn’t my life.”

“Then what hap­pened?” Shawn asks, his voice mut­ed. Mov­ing food on his plate, he asks, “What hap­pened with these two guys?”

“Oh, noth­ing hap­pened,” An­nie says. “I told them I had a boyfriend, that I had to go up­stairs and find you. They were pissed off, but what­ev­er. It wasn’t about them. It wasn’t about me ei­ther; just like you said. Ab­solute­ly noth­ing hap­pened. It was just that al­most. What you said, it made me think of it.”

“Then what did you do?”

“I went up­stairs and talked to you, sil­ly,” she says gig­gling. “Don’t you re­mem­ber that? We had a great time.”

As she spreads but­ter on her roll, Shawn con­cen­trates on the pota­toes. His eyes twitch at the glass, stained red from the swirling wine.

“That was such a weird night,” she says. “Fun­ny, how one re­calls these things, isn’t it?

Filed under Fiction on July 21st, 2009

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