Melanie was in a bit of a pickle.
Her guests were due in mere minutes, and she still had several action items with which to dispense. She found this predicament to be annoyingly distressful, especially since she had planned her preparatory agenda down to the most microscopic detail, just as she had done for years. Her holiday dinners were one of the social events of the season, at least in the parts of town that had social events and not keg parties. One did not mess with a proven formula without risking a critical hit in the annual rankings at the Ladies of Bonnywood Spring Cotillion and Cosmetic Surgery Reveal.
Of course, if unexpected things go awry, then messing became imperative, and such was the case earlier this afternoon when Melanie opened the freshly-arrived package from Harbinger’s Deli and Day Spa. Inside, Melanie should have found 12 artisanally-stuffed Cornish game hens. She did not. There were only 11 hens and one empty plastic bag, taunting her with its uselessness. Melanie made an ungraceful squeaky noise, slammed the lid shut, and then shoved it across her massive, hand-carved kitchen table. This sudden flight path did not resolve the issue but did knock over her martini, with hand-stuffed blue cheese olives bouncing hither and yon.
For a brief moment, Melanie was more distraught with the spillage than the errant poultry. (The vodka had been imported all the way from Tulsa, after all.) But then her society-conquering instincts kicked back in and she refocused on the matter of the Amelia Earhart Hen. There was simply no alternative other than to race off and have a severe discussion with the owner of Harbinger’s. And possibly arrange for a quick seaweed wrap at the same time.
Now that her mental planning spreadsheets had been updated, Melanie then took steps to ensure that all the other aromatic and scrumptious dishes she was preparing could survive her dashing out of the manse for a few moments. This involved Melanie instructing her two harried cooks to keep an eye on things or face prosecution. (She did not see the irony in advertising a “Home-Cooked Meal Lovingly Made by Hand!” on her fancy invites and yet not doing the work herself. After all, if you tell someone to do something and they do it, isn’t that like doing it yourself? Melanie thought so.)
Three minutes later, Melanie clattered through the door of Harbinger’s. “I demand to speak to the manager immediately!”
Harry Harbinger looked up from the salmon gelatin mold that he was crafting for the keg party at Bucky’s Bowling Barn. “Melanie, how good to see you! You look as tight-assed as ever.”
Melanie: “Don’t be coy with me. I have a bone to pick with you. Well, I would have a bone to pick with you if they had all arrived. My box was short a hen.”
Harry: “Darlin’, we’ve always known that about you. But it’s good that you are finally being honest with yourself. Are you seeing a therapist now?”
Melanie: “I am serious, Harry. You know my holiday festival is this evening and it must go perfectly. Every guest must have their own Cornish hen or the reviews will kill me and that wretched Delilah Hornbuckle will leap-frog me in the rankings at the Spring Cotillion. Do you understand the path of destruction I will leave in this town if that happens?”
Harry: “Again, are you seeing a therapist now? Because they would love you.”
Melanie: “I need another hen, Harry. Now.”
Harry: “Well, you’re not going to get one from me. Or from anyone else in Bonnywood. Do you not understand that this is Christmas Eve?”
Melanie: “I know what day it is, Harry. I also know that I ordered 12 hens from you and I didn’t get them. You only gave me 11.”
Harry: “You didn’t seem to be bothered by my 11 the other night behind the bowling alley. Based on the noises you made, I’d say I rolled a perfect game.”
Melanie: “Don’t distract me with your carnal knowledge, even though I was rather fond of the two extra strikes you picked up. What am I going to do about my party? The hens have to match the guests. Everyone in high society knows that.”
Harry: “Then maybe you have too many guests.”
Melanie’s eyes lit up. “What a splendid idea. I knew I could count on you, even if you can’t count. Well, I’m off.”
Harry: “Wait! Would you be up for another round of bowling once your fancy drunken quests have been driven home by their bitter chauffeurs?”
Melanie: “Maybe. It all depends on how well the figgy pudding goes over at dessert. You know I lose my friskiness if I don’t get praised enough for something I didn’t actually make.”
The door slammed as Melanie took off, mission-bound.
Harry went back to working on the salmon gelatin mold, because that’s what a lot of folks must do when their other dreams don’t work out.
Melanie raced through the snowy streets of Bonnywood, stopping briefly at the local Williams Sonoma and then continuing to race.
She did a certain something at a certain house.
Then she raced back home, which is where we found her at the beginning of this tale.
Melanie eventually made her way to the kitchen, after compensating for a few wrong turns made along the way, as her mansion had a bit more acreage than the average dwelling and she was always getting lost. (Such is the sad and tragic fate of people who end up with lots of inherited money even though they didn’t do anything to earn it.) Once there, she walked up to one of the 14 retro-farmhouse sinks she had installed after reading a “Vanity Fair” article about nostalgic plumbing, whacked at the hot-water faucet and let things run until the liquid was scalding, plucked a knife out of her designer satchel, and then held said knife under the gushing stream until the crimson stains were no more.
Melanie slipped the knife into the non-designer satchel of one of the cooks (who was distracted by her monitoring of a vat of giblet gravy), wiped her hands on a 1700-thread count kitchen towel designed by Gucci, traipsed into the dining room with the mahogany floors imported from West India, plucked up one of the gold-plated place settings, and tossed the associated place card into a trash can carved by a Tibetan monk.
The doorbell rang.
Melanie opened said door with practiced grace and aplomb. “Why, Esmerelda Harbinger. How good of you to come!”
Esmerelda: “No place I’d rather be! But have you seen the news on the TV?”
Melanie: “News? You know I don’t bother with the fake media.”
Esmerelda: “Well, it seems that poor Delilah Hornbuckle won’t be able to join us this evening, having suddenly expired whilst trying on dresses for the Spring Cotillion. It seems there was an intruder who didn’t really care for high-end couture. Or her existence.”
Melanie: “How wretchedly sad for her. But we mustn’t let that spoil our evening. Come, join me for eggnog in the parlor. You’ll love it. It has brandy in it that was imported all the way from Broken Arrow.”
Previously published, minutely revised. Two things for the record: One, out of pure coincidence, I have re-shared a few posts lately wherein “Melanie” is a featured character. This should not be considered a reflection on the delightful Melanie who is one of the tenured guests here at Bonnywood. Mere happenstance. Two, some might find this tale a bit dark for the holidays, but any of you who have ever hosted a critical Christmas dinner can surely understand that getting things just right might sometimes involve a little clandestine wrong…