december, dinner

Digg sits at the table he has laid and wonders who is missing. 

It is a warm Sunday afternoon in late December 2012, just after Christmas. It is the last dinner party of the year. The friends gathered on Digg’s West End veranda are browned from the sun, woozy from the alcohol he has plied them with, and high on the feeling of the holiday season not yet being over. Their legs and arms are stretched in all directions over his couch and kitchen table, both of which have been dragged onto for the occasion. Lax and limber: everyone, everything. Except the lanky man in the brown shirt, running his hands up and down his thighs. His muscles feel staticky and ticklish. 

Someone is missing. Digg is sure of it. 

Noor drains another glass and Digg is sent to the kitchen for another bottle of wine. He checks the note on his phone titled ‘dec – dinner’.  

Noor. 

Ammy. 

Eliza. 

Rudy.  

Gary. 

(Sabine). 

= 7 w/ me 

They are all there. Everyone of them. Noor is there, wearing an outrageously ugly designer coat that is inappropriate for both the occasion and the weather, purchased with money recently inherited from a past lover. Upon hearing this, no-one at the table asks for the details, preferring not to be implicated in Noor’s questionable taste in romantic entanglements.  

Eliza and Rudy are there, having arrived together but sitting at opposite ends of the table, as they prefer.  

Gary is there, swishing wine in the bottom of his glass and looking lost in thought, likely trying to work out how to politely end the conversation he is having with Noor, who is talking at Gary with gusto. Digg can only catch snippets of their conversation: ‘Campbell Newman’ and ‘not that bad’. Digg smiles. He knew seating Gary and Noor together was a perfect idea. 

And Ammy is there, sunk into the corner of the old couch on the veranda. Digg can just see her from where he stands in the kitchen. She is wearing a stained, oversized beige cotton shirt that blends her into the fabric of the couch and tattered shorts. She is listening to the conversation around her and she is smiling. Ammy rang Digg last night while he was at the local deli.. 

‘Don’t forget the anchovies,’ Ammy said, after hearing he was making the pasta dish she loved – spelt spaghetti with fleshy olives and brine-doused anchovies. 

 ‘I wondered if it’s ok if I bring someone,’ Ammy said next, leaving the line quiet as she waited for Digg’s reply.  

Digg wondered, briefly, if he had imagined it. Or if he could forget he had heard it. Of course, he had forgotten the anchovies. 

So, Ammy is there. 

And so is Sabine. Sabine pronounced the German way. He was corrected by Ammy, when they arrived for dinner: sab-een-eh. No, not sab-een-ah. Not sab-een. Digg smiled and apologised, and tried to ignore the feeling that Ammy had meant to hurt him. She had never corrected him before. 

Sabine has thick, deep blonde hair and is taller than anyone else in the flat – almost offensively so, Digg thinks. She has long, wide fingers adorned with chunky rinds that make Digg’s cutlery seem miniscule in her hands. Her wrists are crowded with bangles that clatter as she carves and slices her food. And she is loud. So loud. So unlike Ammy. 

When the table is otherwise distracted, Digg sees Sabine reach over and mumble something to Ammy. Ammy smiles, and so does Sabine. Sabine tucks a finger of Ammy’s hair behind the curve of her ear. He feels it is something he should have never seen – like watching an elephant sew a missing button back onto a child’s dress shirt. 

Digg and Ammy had a tender, quiet friendship. They often met on Saturday afternoons to peruse the local library. Digg always left with a tote-bag full of new releases with glossy covers. He was often jealous of Ammy, though – who breezed pass the new releases to scour the stacks. Sometimes, Digg felt annoyed at Ammy after watching her check out her books. Her choices were always items that he wouldn’t have picked up himself, but in Ammy’s hands, seemed to acquire some sort of luminescent quality. He’d often take notes on the books she chose, and would return to the library after she returned them to check them out himself. He wasn’t sure why he kept this from his friend. 

Digg serves peach crumble for dessert with homemade vanilla-bean ice-cream. Everything about the peach crumble that night is exactly right – from the texture of the crumble contrasted with the smoothness of the peach flesh, to the tang of the fresh ginger he grated into the crushed biscuit mixture. Digg accidentally plates an eighth serving of the crumble, which ends up in fridge, covered in cling-wrap. His friends laugh at his inability to count the heads on the veranda and Digg frowns. 

When he sits down again, he crosses off the guests in his mind: Noor. Ammy. Eliza. Rudy. Gary. (Sabine). Everyone is here. 

In the quiet lull after everyone is served their desserts, Sabine sighs and declares to the table that she ‘doesn’t usually enjoy crumble’. 

‘Thank you,’ Digg says. He imagines Sabine’s comment is a compliment, though he’ds not entirely sure. The rest of the group is silent. 

At the end of the night, while everyone is drunkenly shuffling on their shoes and arranging taxis for the ride home, Digg forgets to say goodbye to Ammy.  

He leans out his window to shout to her, but Ammy and Sabine are already at the end of his street. He watches Ammy’s soft brown head of hair bob around the corner.  

It is Gary who calls him the next morning, to tell him what happened.  

He listens to Gary’s deep, scratchy voice not understanding the sentences his words are forming. Digg cries for the first time he can remember while eating the extra bowl cold peach crumble from the fridge. He stops, mid-bite, when he remembers Sabine. He spits his half-chewed bite of crumble back into the bowl and throughs the whole thing in the bin. 

Eventually, Digg marries a lady named Jayne, who works in the public service and has had the same haircut since she was seven years old. Digg’s love for Jayne is grounded in tangible things: a rates notice that will always be paid on time, the chicken roast they have for dinner every Friday night, the Jack Reacher books his wife reads before bed. 

He stops hosting the dinner parties. 

One night, the December before his forty-eighth year, Digg stands in a Woolworths watching a foil tin of anchovy fillets float along a conveyer belt. 

‘I didn’t know you liked anchovies,’ Jayne says, as she unpacks the tiny tin and squints at it. 

Why did I buy anchovies? Digg looks at her, looking at the anchovies.  

The pasta, he thinks. I need them for the pasta. 

Ciaran Greig
Ciaran Greig

Ciaran (she/her) is a Meanjin/Brisbane-based writer and an editor at Glass Magazine. She is currently studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Creative Writing)/Bachelor of Laws.

Articles: 50

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