It was Thursday night, and the men were in the den drinking Irish beer from frosted mugs, and once again they were held hostage by the vociferous Wendell Chapel. This evening he held sway over a conversation about the latest generation of smartphones, yet another topic he was a self-proclaimed expert in.
The women were in the living room swapping Instant Pot recipes.
Elaine Pratt, hostess for the evening, was in the kitchen with her next-door neighbor Gail Seaver, They were in a conversation about Regina Wendell.
“Bless her heart,” Elaine said, putting the last dinner plate into the dishwasher. “I can only imagine what she has to put up with at home.”
“I wonder if Wendell ever shuts up,” Gail poured herself another glass of Riesling. “He’s such a loudmouth, know-it-all.”
That night, at the Chapel home, Wendell was in fine voice, berating his wife for some nonspecific gaffe.
The following morning Regina and Elaine met at Cafe Bienville for fruit smoothies before their yoga class.
Regina was even more subdued than usual.
“Are you alright, dear?” Elaine moved her chair closer to Regina, lowering her voice. “He hasn’t hurt you, has he? I mean, physically?”
Regina shook her head, avoiding eye contact.
“No,” she said. “He can be so sweet… when he’s not criticizing me.”
“You have to get away from him,” Elaine laid her hand on Regina’s arm.
Regina shook her head.
“I would have no place to go, no job,” Regina sounded small, like she was collapsing in on herself. “If he would only stop talking, even for a little while.”
Elaine pushed her chair back abruptly and stood up.
“Come with me,” she said. “I have an idea.”
The next afternoon, the Chapels were once again at the Pratt home. This time for a barbecue. While the Elaine sat out the rest of the picnic fare, and Regina poured glasses of tea, the men talked by the grill. Wendell was explaining, at great length, the proper way to cook a steak.
“I hope you let these steaks get to room temp before you slapped them on the grill,” Wendell said, peering over Phil Pratt’s shoulder. “That’s fresh cracked pepper you’re putting on them, right?”
Wendell coughed into his fist, trying to clear a scratchy throat.
“Had this tickle all day,” he said, taking a drink of beer. “Real charcoal would have made for a better char, not like that propane you’re using.”
Wendell doubled over, coughing until he was out of breath.
Phil patted him on the back.
“You all right there, Wendell?”
With one last loud bark, Wendell coughed up what looked like a small, smooth, white stone. Tiny drops of blood speckled the top from where Wendell bit his tongue.
“What the hell is that?” Phil forgot the steaks as Wendell, in a panic, realized he couldn’t speak.
Elaine and Regina watched dispassionately from a distance. Regina allowed a small, relieved breath escape as they clinked tea glasses.
The curse of the old man they visited the day before played in Regina’s head.
“And, his voice will drop like a stone from his mouth.”