speculative fiction

Potluck

Chris was the only one who brought something to share at the potluck. Caesar salad, enough to go ‘round twice. I looked to see how the others would react.

There was silence, then Katie laughed and walked to the sink, where she started washing a handful of berries. Lori smiled softly at Chris, but lowered her head and walked past him. She had an apple.

I was angry, but I didn’t want to be first—I liked Chris, but I had only been there a month.

Denise was the one who went in the end. She was manager after all. I wondered how many times this had happened before. Poor Chris—he must have thought it was a clever plan.

Denise tasted one leaf and said, “Quite fresh.”

Chris should have taken the compliment. He should have smiled. Instead he took his salad and left the room.

“He has no manners,” a woman who I recognized as a fourth-floorer said.

Katie looked at the woman, then at the bagel she held in her hands. The woman noticed Katie staring and two red blotches appeared on her cheeks.

“We had—I went to buy—but—”

“Here,” said Katie, offering the woman a single berry.

The woman froze, horrified. Katie pulled her hand back and popped the berry into her mouth.

“You couldn’t have thought I was serious.”

The woman laughed. It was a harsh sound, much too loud for the room.

“A bagel is still better than salad,” someone said—I did not see who.

“And it’s not like you brought it to share.”

Everyone laughed. I excused myself.

***

Lori stood in the hall. She smiled when she saw me.

“Banana. Good choice.”

“Only fruit I could afford.”

I liked Lori. I could be honest with her.

“If only Chris was as smart as you,” she said. “Quantity? I’m disappointed, really.”

“I’ve never heard of sharing at a potluck,” I added.

“Oh that’s more common than you’d think. They do it all the time on ground floors. That way they get to try a little bit of everything.”

“We’re sixth-floorers.”

“Bananas and berries. I’m scared to see what they’ve got on the tenth floor.”

We both smiled at that.

***

The door to the room opened, but we did not hear laughter. We did not hear conversation. There was only the faint sound of water, as each person washed their fruits, to be displayed and envied, then finally eaten, with great dread.