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 year, thinking that dining table with its colonial design and old school feel would add so much presence at the centre of their cosy brick veneer home. On the table a set of grey plates in three different sizes were laid out, indicating we are in for a long meal. Surrounding the table were twenty chairs precisely. Though there was no sense of unity among them. Some chairs had the same hardwood colour, suggesting they may belong to this room on a permanent basis. Others were white and modern, with a soft back and padded seat, as if they have 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 traditional feel to it. Luke and Sarah nearly separated recently, Sarah blaming Luke for not being faithful to her. But she decided to let go and give their marriage another chance, for the sake of their children. Luke was looking around the room, feeling the tension. He needed to prove himself all over again. Then, an unexpected visitor 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. Ingrid crossed the room and greeted a few family members she knew. She glanced at Luke and sat down just opposite to him. ‘What are you doing here?’ Luke whispered with a terrified look in his dark blue eyes. Sarah was staring from the other side of the dining room. Is that the girl?

Luke felt like he cannot deal with this 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 be like outside, away from his own house, under the blue sky, 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 his toddler over his head. “Ready?” 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, 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. She knew it wasn’t Luke’s favourite dish, her little revenge to displease her cheating husband. Ingrid received an extra-red-hot one, topped up with bulky dumplings, served personally by Sarah. A moment later, after mumbling how spicy the dish was, she started to cough, harder and harder. Her face turned red, then blue, until it was noticed by an old aunty who was seated 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 choking, aunt Louise punched her back inefficiently. Sarah was now staring at Luke in anger. ‘Aren’t you going to do anything?’. ‘I know you are testing me Sarah’ he responded with his own mind game. ‘I rather have my marriage back than…’ “For god’s sake Luke, do something!” she screamed, feeling responsible for the girl. Luke, immediately obeying, jumped 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 girl and pushed his fists against her, just in the right spot to release the giant, half-chewed, extra-super-hot dumpling. They stayed hugged for a few moments too long.

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