The smell of cooking meat wafted across the garden, over the neighbour’s fences and into their homes. ‘You just can’t beat a good steak,’ Neil declared as he speared a hunk of meat, that was sizzling on the bbq and transferred it to a plate.
Something caught Neil’s eye and he looked up from the grill, through the window and back into the house. There was a straight line view from the garden all the way to the front and he saw Linda hopping over the wall from next door. ‘Excuse me’ he said, handing the tongs to one of the guests and briskly making his way to the front door.
He sprinted through the house as fast as he could and yanked the door open, just as Barney lifted the knocker. It ripped from his grasp, a sharp corner tearing his skin and making it bleed. ‘Come in, come in’ he ushered, ‘I could tell you were about to knock, military training’ he grinned.
Barney stood back to let Linda enter first, ‘ah yes, you were a army cadet in school. I remember you saying’ he said.
Neil let Linda pass into the hallway and then looked down at Barneys finger, you’ve cut yourself, bud’ he commented. Barney looked at the blood that had accumulated on the surface of the skin, then stuck it in his mouth and sucked the blood off. ‘Not very vegan, bud’ Neil jested, punching him in the arm and laughing. Barney went to follow Linda, but Neil cut in front of him forcing Barney to fall in behind.
They walked in single file through to the garden, Neil staring at her bum the entire way. When they reached the grass, Linda stopped and held out a bag towards Neil, ‘as you eloquently put it, we’re vegan nut roasts – so we bought you something special to cook. We think you’ll enjoy it’
‘Never trust someone who doesn’t love a good steak,’ Neil guffawed, patting Linda on the back and causing her to stumble, ‘Sorry, darling. Sometimes I don’t know my own strength.’ He walked back to the grill, leaving Linda and Barney standing there alone.
They made their way over to the small group of people that were sitting at the table and introduced themselves. None of the group were talking. They were all nursing drinks, staring at the floor. Neil shouted over from the BBQ, regaling them with stories of nights out and obscene jokes. In the lulls when Neil went to get another beer, Barney asked them all how they knew Neil, each reported being an acquaintance and surprised at the invitation.
After each reply from a guest, Linda and Barney had looked at each other and smiled. Neil had bought Marleen out of her share of the house, but the divorce had seen her take all the friends. Neil also got the cat, Tibbles’. A miserable ginger flea bag that terrorised the local wildlife. No bird was safe, no hedgehog or frog.
‘Grub’s up,’ Neil shouted loading his plate with meat. The other guests looked around at each other and then all stood up, took paper plates off the side and headed over to the grill.
Barney and Linda stood up with them but walked over to the table with the rolls and condiments. They forked salad on to their plates from a tiny bowl next to the ketchup and sat back down. Neil took a seat opposite, moving the open bottle of beer belonging to one of his guests and replacing it with his own. ‘Now tell me again why you two don’t eat meat,’ he questioned, stuffing his face with a mouthful of sausage.
‘We’ve had this discussion a million times, Neil’ Barney said with exasperation. Barney looked down at the plate of meat in front of Neil.
‘I know, I know, but it always makes me laugh. What is this you so kindly brought me? I didn’t know you people could make fake food taste like meat. Impressive.’ Juice was dripping down his chin as he talked.
Linda held her hand to her mouth, as she watched him, ‘Higher up in the food chain, right? Like your cat eating the fledglings in our garden.’ She asked, then gagged as he licked his lips, a little too slowly.
‘That’s right’, Neil said ‘Just like Tibbles brings me mice, birds, anything he fancies. You people just don’t know our place in the world. It’s our right.’ Neil put his knife and fork down on the table and picked up his beer.
Barney looked at him in the eyes as his guests returned to the table, ‘we never said that was vegan, and where is that cat?’