If You Could Invite Anyone to a Dinner Party, Who Would You Ask? (Flash Fiction)

Mata Hari from 1906. Image via Wikipedia.

I get out of the limousine at the hotel’s side door. This is a private affair, very exclusive one of a kind evening. Of everyone invited, I’m the least – the very least – of any of them. I don’t have any kind of standing and yet they asked me to be here. I’m still not sure why but maybe I’ll be enlightened during the appetizer course.

It’s not a service entrance I’m shown to, it’s the private entrance, the one the punters never get to see. There are two goons on the door and the concierge meets me with a slight smile of recognition. “Good evening, sir,” he says, “if you’ll follow me?” I nod and walk past the goons. I stick my finger in my collar and loosen it a bit.

The elevator ride up is quick, the car itself opulent, like something out of a dream that Winsor McCay constructed from Scheherezade’s notes for tales not told. I’m let out on the penthouse floor and follow the concierge to the right. He leads me through a double door, across a foyer that has a single painting in it but I don’t have time to properly take it in. It appears to be a Maxfield Parrish, but it’s a fleeting impression. M’sieu Concierge is holding open another door, waiting for me to enter The Room.

“Let’s not be too rough on our own ignorance,” someone was saying as I entered, “it’s what makes America great!”

I couldn’t believe who it was. Moreover, I couldn’t believe who he was talking to.

She pointed at me and he turned to look. Both of them welcomed me.

“Frank,” I said. “I mean, Mr. Zappa.” I shake his hand and he sips from his cocktail. I’m bewildered and it shows. I’m stunned to be in the same room with Frank Zappa and Mata Hari. “Miss Margreet.” She holds out her hand and I bow over it unsure whether to press my lips to her delicate fingers or not. I do and she smiles at me when our eyes meet. “A pleasure,” I say, “to meet you.”

She hooks her arm in mine and Frank leads us to the table. The two men sitting there are not who I expected, even with Frank and Margreet flanking me.

“Eschew the monumental. Shun the Epic. All the guys who can paint great big pictures can paint great small ones.” Papa Hemingway was sitting on one corner of the table with a bottle of whiskey in one hand and a cigar in another.

“Being privileged to work hard for long hours at something you think is worth doing is the best kind of play,” Robert Heinlein said. He smiled and sipped his drink. It appeared that he and Hemingway were getting along famously.

I accepted a drink from Mata Hari (she preferred to be called Margreet) and sat next to her and across from Heinlein. Zappa sat next to him and of course Hemingway sat at the head of the table. Margreet leaned in close and said, “He’s used to life in the fast lane, travels all over the world, already risks his life racing at over 300km/h and seems to be handy with a gun.”

“I see that,” I say and that’s all I say when a door opens and a parade of waiters came through all carrying plates filled with food. They took positions on Heinlein’s side and the platters floated over our heads and landed on the table.

“Tapas for appetizers,” a voice said from the door. He looked familiar, the chef: wavy brown hair, a goatee and an impish smile. He nodded at me and he waved his hands and smaller plates whirled in a circle overhead while an army of wine bottles marched from the far end of the table. Hemingway’s smile was as big as the ocean and Zappa looked bored. The chef twisted his hands at the wrists and the wines were poured, a red and white for each of us.

Hemingway tore into the tapas with gusto and Heinlein reached over for the plate near Margreet. She demurred and the meal was on. There wasn’t a lot of talking as the soup course came next, then a light salad. It was when we were about half way through the fish when I finally asked the question.

“Why am I here?”

Heinlein glared at me. Heminway snorted. Zappa leaned forward and said, “There’s no reason to assume that my idea of what‘s better would really be better.”

Hemingway drained his red wine, picked up his whiskey. “That terrible mood of depression of whether it’s any good or not is what is known as The Artist’s Reward.”

The old man, Heinlein, was stoic and staring me down. He was daring me to ask the question again. I didn’t. Finally, he said: “You live and learn. Or you don’t live long.”

The chef came back in with the waiters, bearing dessert. It was a cake of some kind that was on fire. Margreet clapped her hands. I looked at her, expecting a response. She sighed at last and said, “I am a woman who enjoys herself very much; sometimes I lose, sometimes I win.”

They’d all said something, I’d spent the entire evening with them, all influential people in their times, and had no idea why they’d assembled for me. The chef walked around the table while the others all stared at me.

“You’re here,” he said, “because


A final note: Each of the quotes ascribed to the real people in the story is something they said while alive. Hemingway, Heinlein, and Zappa’s came from Wikiquotes and Margreet/Mata Hari’s come from her page at thinkexist.com. Finally, the story is printed accurately above. It ends just like that, like a lot of dreams do, in the middle of a sentence. Thanks for reading!

Jason Arnett is a storyteller living in Kansas and writing in the plains of the fantastic. Some of his work can be found at www.jasonarnett.com

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