He had become increasingly drunk as the night wore on. His guests were growing tired of the stories, many of which they had heard time and time again, and a few they believed to be fictitious – 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, and began, “When I first moved into the flat above Mrs McKenzie, oh, eleven or so years ago, she invited me over for tea and biscuits, all very pleasant.”
His guests knew this story. He leant in closer to his audience of two… “and it’s all very nice and sweet, but do you know what she asked me?” His eyes were wide with excitement. His guests shook their heads obediently… as they knew he’d expected them to do. A mosquito crawled along the edge of his plate.
“She asked me,” he continued, “if I was a Christian!” It seemed to him that this was some sort of punchline. The pair laughed gently, signaling that he continue. He licked his index finger, reached across the table, and dabbed at the remaining crumbs on the woman’s plate.
He sucked the crumbs from his finger and then waved it in the air as he thought about how he should continue, “And I said no. I said no, Mrs McKenzie, I am not a Christian. I, Mrs Mckenzie, am a Buddhist!” He dried his finger on his napkin and polished off the last of his glass of wine. He took a slice of bread from one of the three baskets in the centre of the table and mopped the remaining sauce from his plate.
“And she looks at me, and she says, ‘Oh! A Buddhist! How interesting!‘ and then we finish our tea and I talk about other things, and then I go upstairs and that’s that.”
The guests were unsure if this was the end of the story; they couldn’t quite remember how this one went. They watched as he poured the last of the bottle into his glass.
“So anyway, a year or so later I travelled around Asia for a while, and when I get back, Mrs McKenzie 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 looked across the table for signs that his guests agreed. The mosquito landed on the woman’s knee and he swiftly smacked it with his palm.
“Got it!” The flame from the candle flickered and extinguished with the wafting of his hand, sending a ribbon of smoke into the air. His hand lingered on her thigh for a moment.
“Where was I?” He frowned, flicking the dead bug off of his palm and onto the ground. He patted his trousers, searching for a lighter. After finding it, he attempted to relight the candle, failing twice and giving up.
“Oh, yes – I sit down in that big armchair that all old biddy’s seem to have, and she brings me tea in a little china cup with little red roses on it, and she says, ‘Tell me, dear, are you still a Buddhist?‘ just like that, ‘Are you still a Buddhist?‘ she says.”
He shook his head and chuckled to himself. He leant further across the table toward the couple, preparing himself for his big finish.
“I look at her, and I sip my tea, and I say, ‘Tell me, Mrs McKenzie – are you still a Christian?‘, and she just looks at me all shocked like I shat on her carpet, and she doesn’t say a thing!”
He raised his eyebrows, triumphant, waiting for his guests’ approval. They smiled and feigned astonishment.
“She didn’t say a fucking thing – God’s honest truth.”