He had become drunker and drunker as the night wore on. His guests were growing tired of the stories, most of which they had heard already, and many they knew were untrue – or at the very least heavily embellished. Then, he began to tell the story of Mrs McKenzie.
He rested his elbows on the table, face illuminated by the candle between them. “When I first moved into the flat above Mrs McKenzie, she invited me over for tea, all very pleasant,” he said, “asking about what I do, if I lived in the area long – you know, all that shite – but then do you know what she asked me?”
His guests shake their heads obediently. A mosquito bounces across his plate.
“She asked me if I was a Christian!” it seemed to him that this was some sort of punchline. They laugh in almost mechanical unison. He licks his finger and dabs at the crumbs on the woman’s plate.
Waving his finger in the air, he continues, “I said no, no, I am not a Christian. I, Mrs Mckenzie, am a Buddhist!” he polishes off the last of his wine, chucking back his head to retrieve the last few drops. From the basket in the centre of the table, he takes the last slice of bread, mops the sauce from his plate.
He stuffs the bread into his mouth, talking as he does so. “And she says, ‘Oh! A Buddhist! How interesting!‘ and we finish our tea and I talk about other things, and that’s that.” Crumbs gather in the corners of his mouth. They watch as he pours the last of the bottle into his empty glass.
“So anyway, a year or so later she invites me in for tea again. So I go. Of course I go, you always go for tea when an old lady like Mrs McKenzie asks you, don’t you?” he looks across the table for signs that his guests agree. The mosquito lands on the woman’s knee, he smacks it. With the wafting of his hand, the candle extinguishes, sending a ribbon of smoke into the air. His hand lingers on her thigh.
He removes his hand from her now blood-flushed thigh and flicks the dead mosquito from his palm. He attempts to relight the candle twice, fails and gives up.
“So I sit down in that big armchair that all old biddies seem to have, and she brings me tea a little china cup, and she goes ‘Tell me, dear, are you still a Buddhist?‘ Just like that! ‘Are you still a Buddhist?’ She says!” A mist of saliva and breadcrumbs shower his guests. He shakes his head, chuckles, leans further across the table toward the couple.
“I look at her, and I say, ‘Tell me, Mrs McKenzie – are you still a Christian?‘, and she looks at me like I shat on her carpet and doesn’t say a thing!” he raises his eyebrows, triumphant, waiting for his guests to approve. The pair feign astonishment.
“She didn’t say a fucking thing – God’s honest truth.”
Tisha Pitkin is a writer, filmmaker and artist living in London. She spends her time people watching, and especially enjoys hearing snippets of funny conversations. Find her writing on Twitter, @Tisha_Josephine, and her comics on Instagram, @blob_about_town.