More from the Dinner Party
Mr. Stiles was in the rose garden when his concierge Jasper brought the next guest to petition her wish. Standing when they approached, Stiles held a chair for Lily Cash.
“I didn’t see George at breakfast this morning.” Lily was demure and painfully shy.
“Mr. Vernon had his wish granted, and has moved on,” Mr. Stiles said, spreading a napkin in his lap.
“He left? Without saying, ‘good-bye’?” Lily held her napkin against her chest, squeezing the linen square until her knuckles went white.
“Mr. Vernon’s business was done, he had no reason to remain here.” Mr. Stiles gestured for Jasper to begin serving lunch.
“But,” Lily stammered.
“Ah, you expected Mr. Vernon to ‘share’ his wish with you. You believed his feigned interest in a relationship.” Mr. Stiles speared two cucumber slices with his fork, munching noisily on the crudités. “Mr. Vernon never intended to include you in his wish. He was self-absorbed to a fault. You offered nothing of value to his ambition.”
Staring at Mr. Stiles, Lily chewed on the inside of her jaw, biting back unladylike retorts to Mr. Stiles cruelty.
“Let us move on from this unappetizing subject, shall we?” Mr. Stiles slid a portion of pan seared Monkfish onto her plate. “We are here to discuss your request.”
Lily picked at her meal, debating whether she should decline Mr. Stiles offer.
Mr. Stiles placed Lily’s wish card on the table, and tapped it with the tip of his dinner knife. Noting her look of consternation, Mr. Stiles pushed the card toward her.
“Have you changed your mind about wanting your wish granted?” He laid down his utensil beside his plate. “A full third of last night’s guests have left the estate, either satisfied with their lot in life, or too embarrassed to voice the truth of the darkness in their hearts.”
Lily picked up the card, contemplating her wish.
“I will not offer this opportunity a second time.” Mr. Stiles steepled his fingers, annoyed that her vacillation was causing his meal to cool. “Miss Cash, your answer.”
“Yes. I still want my wish.”
“Very good,” Mr. Stiles said. “We dress for dinner, Jasper will escort you to the dining room at 7. Please, be punctual.”
They finished their lunch in silence then Lily retired to her suite, waiting for the sun to set and her wish to come true.
When Jasper rapped on her door, Lily had been dressed and ready for more than half and hour, sitting in the waning light, anxious about the evening’s entertainment.
Standing outside the ornate dining room, Lily waited for Jasper to open the doors and announce her.
Lily had wished to dine with five of her favorite historical figures – Madam Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Nikola Tesla, Mata Hari, and Joan of Arc – for an evening of erudite discourse.
She stood at the head of the table, staring in horror at the other guests. When the heavy latches of the dining room doors clicked closed behind her, she was too stunned to move.
Propped up in chairs around a formally set table were five grossly decomposed bodies, each at varying stages of decay and mummification. Strangely animated, they were engaged in a lively discussion with their host, Mr. Stiles, who was sitting at the head of the table.
“Miss Cash, please join us,” he said, pointing to her place opposite of him. “Don’t forget your manners, greet your honored guests.”
“Are you unwell, my dear,” said Dr. Curie. “Shall I attend to her, Augustine?”
“No, Marie,” Mr. Stiles said. “Miss Cash is just a little overwhelmed to be in the presence of such brilliance. She will be fine. Jasper, please bring Miss Cash an aperitif.”
Jasper appeared at Lily’s side, gently taking her by the elbow and guiding her to the table, holding her chair until she managed to sit.
When she looked down the table to her host, Mr. Stiles had raised his glass to her, an enigmatic smile on his face.
“A toast,” he said, as the other guests also raised their wine goblets. “To Miss Cash, and her quest for vicarious import.”
The following morning, Lily Cash was taken by ambulance to the county psychiatric hospital, telling anyone who would listen about her evening of fine dining with five of the greatest minds of last century.
Standing at his library window, Mr. Stiles watched Lily’s departure then turned to address his next petitioner.
“Mr. Eastman, let us discuss your wish.”