Guilty Coughing Fit

It was ready. Finally. Just in time for the guests. The old hardwood table they had bought at Pottery Barn a few years back, after hesitating for a few months, contemplating whether the dining table with its colonial design and old school feel would fit at the center of their cosy little home. On the table, a set of grey dinner plates in three different sizes were laid out, indicating we are in for a long meal. Around the table were twenty chairs, waiting to be seated. Though there was no sense of unity among them. Some chairs had a similar hardwood design as the table, suggesting they belong to this room on a permanent basis. Others were shiny and modern, with padded seats and soft leather back, as if they arrived from a Better Homes and Gardens journal.

A few minutes later the room was filled with guests, who had come to celebrate Luke’s fortieth birthday. A  family gathering with a familiar feel. Being such a close family, they all heard that Luke and Sarah had a bit of a rough time recently. “This is what marriage is like, we’ve all gone through these ups and downs, nothing to worry about” they all agreed. The truth is, nobody really knew what was going on. Only the very close circle knew it was Sarah who was unhappy with Luke. The long hours at work, the business trips over random weekends. She had her reasons to suspect, but she decided to let go and give their marriage a chance, for the sake of their children.

As the whole family gathered around the table, Luke scanned the room, feeling the tension. He knew people were whispering behind his back. He knew he needed to prove himself all over again. Then, while the entrée was served, an unexpected visitor showed up at the door. She was wearing a red silk dress covering her beautiful body. Her high red heels disguised how short she was, and a golden bracelet with a tiny plate in the middle had hidden a secret – the word ‘Lust’ printed underneath. “Oh hello Ingrid” she was greeted by a few family members as she slowly crossed the room. Then, she glanced at Luke and sat down on the opposite side of the wooden table. Luke gave her a terrified look with his dark blue eyes. ‘What is she doing here?’ was all he could think of, while Sarah was staring from the other side of the dining room. ‘Is that the girl?’

Luke felt like he cannot possibly deal with all the tension right now, looking for a hidden escape, but his legs were rock solid, cemented to the ground. His mind and thoughts started to drift away, imagining how it would feel like being outside, away from his own house, under the blue skies, with the warm sun rays hitting his face, punishing him for what he had done. The street was quiet on this typical Sunday afternoon. A young couple was walking down the street with a baby stroller, as the dad held a toddler over his head. “Ready?” he asked, and in a blink of an eye the boy was flying up in the air and thankfully caught by his father, with a burst of laughter echoing all around the block, reminding Luke of his own love-deserved young kids. A smell of beef sausages was coming from the other side of the fence, with cheerful sounds of a family gathering, much happier than his own, inside the threatening dining room.

The meal kicked off, with Sarah’s homemade spicy laksa about to be served. She knew it wasn’t Luke’s favourite dish, but that was her little revenge to displease her husband. ‘Do cheaters like spicy food?’, she wondered to herself. Ingrid received an extra-red-hot dish, topped up with bulky dumplings, served personally by Sarah, with a smile. They all sat down to enjoy a lovely family meal. “Happy Birthday Luke” called out Uncle Jim, trying to cheer up the crowd. A moment later, after mumbling on how yummy and spicy the dish was, Ingrid suddenly coughed. Little coughs to start with, but quickly they became harder and stronger. She couldn’t stop, until her face turned red, then blue, until it was noticed by old aunt Silvia who sat right next to her. “Are you alright darling?” she said. But she wasn’t. Ingrid needed a rescue. Luke hesitated, thinking he cannot lay his hands on her in front of everybody, especially not his wife. Meanwhile, as poor Ingrid was starting to choke, aunt Louise punched her back gently and inefficiently. Sarah was now staring at Luke in anger. ‘Aren’t you going to do anything?’. He hesitated. ‘I know you are testing me Sarah’ he responded with his own mind game. ‘I rather have my marriage sorted than…’ he looked at Ingrid’s young face as she looked back at him gasping for a clear breath. But no luck, she was totally choking now. “For god’s sake Luke, do something!” she screamed out loud, feeling responsible for the girl. Luke, immediately obeying, jumped over to the other side of the table and wrapped his arms around Ingrid. He felt how his skin is touching hers, bringing back those forbidden memories. He then lifted the young lady and pushed his firm fists against her belly, just in the right spot to release the giant, half-chewed, extra-super-hot dumpling which abruptly landed on the table right next to aunt Silvia. It was all of a sudden very quiet around the room. They stayed hugged for a few moments too long.

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