Bring a plate!
The three little words sat so cheerily at the bottom of the invitation.
So simple, so innocuous, so friendly.
Because it wasn’t just a plate, was it, thought Alex O’Rourke as she removed a tray of shop-bought spinach and cheese triangles from the oven. After all, any old clown could turn up to a party with a piece of dining-ware. She had a million plates and platters that did nothing more than collect dust in her kitchen cupboard. They’d love an outing to a party!
She started stabbing at the formerly frozen pastries with a spoon.
‘Hmmm … something smells good.’ Alex’s husband, James, sauntered into the kitchen and peered over her shoulder. ‘Did you make these?’
He went to pick up a triangle and Alex tapped his hand away. ‘Of course I didn’t make them.’ She stabbed again to make divots in the golden pillows.
‘What are you doing? You’re ruining them. They’re perfect. Stop it.’ James put out his hand to shield the defenceless triangles.
‘They’re too perfect,’ said Alex. ‘No one will ever believe I made them. Maybe if I just burn them a little …’ She went to open the oven door but James stood in front of it, arms folded.
‘No one cares if you bought them from a shop. You have twins. A full-time job. The neighbours don’t expect pastry made from scratch.’
Alex looked at him. Her sweet, supportive husband, trying to be so millennial, while completely failing to understand that some things never changed, like the meaning of that god-awful phrase bring a plate, which meant today what it had always meant – that a plate of homemade food was to be produced (exceptions could be made for foodstuffs by a celebrity chef. A Zumbo cake, for instance, could be forgiven) and, as keeper of the social diary, the responsibility for such provision lay in the hands of the woman of the house.
Bring a plate was the phrase that time forgot.
‘It’s all right for you,’ Alex grumbled. ‘No one expects you to cook from scratch.’
‘But I would have, if you’d asked me. Remember my meatballs?’
Alex nodded. ‘Impressive balls.’ She tapped her nose. ‘And you’ve given me an idea.’ She smiled and kissed his cheek.
‘Glad to be of service.’
Alex set about loading the triangles onto a platter, humming happily.
‘Er, so what is this idea?’
‘I’ll tell them that I specifically asked you a week ago to make the meatballs, but you forgot, so rather than having the neighbours go hungry, I ran out and picked up a box of spinach triangles from the supermarket.’
James frowned. ‘But that’s a lie. You never asked me. If you had, I would have made them.’
‘They won’t know that. And because you’re a man, they’ll think nothing of it.’
‘But these people are our friends. Cara? Beth? They wouldn’t judge you.’
Alex thought of the women who lived in the houses to their immediate right. Beth, two doors up, an incredible homemaker and mother extraordinaire, and Cara, right next door, who managed to be both strong and fragile as she negotiated parenthood all on her own.
‘You’re right. Cara and Beth would understand.’
‘But the rest?’
Alex sighed. Her husband’s desire to see the best in everyone was endearing and exhausting. ‘They’re neighbours. We smile, we wave, we say hello and we get together once a year. They don’t know what happens in my house and I don’t know what happens in theirs. The one little insight they get is through what I bring to the party. And you know what they see when a full-time working mum turns up with a plate of frozen pastry?’
‘A woman with an actual life?’
Alex gave him a look. ‘They see a woman who’s put her work in front of her family, values convenience over health,
is a little bit stingy, isn’t quite coping, and doesn’t really care if other people’s arteries become clogged with trans fats.’
‘They get all of that from a plate of pastry?’ James looked crestfallen.
‘You have no idea.’ Alex wearily covered the steaming parcels with a sheet of aluminium foil. ‘Here, you can carry them out. It’ll look more like your fault that way.’ She handed over the platter and checked her watch. ‘Where are the boys?’
‘They’re out front playing with Henny.’
Alex whipped around. ‘You left them alone, unsupervised, with a three-month-old guinea pig?’
James shifted his weight uneasily. ‘They won’t hurt her. They love her to death.’
‘That’s what I’m afraid of. Have you seen the way Noah hugs her?’ Alex strode towards the driveway and cursed inwardly. How could she and James have been wasting time discussing pastry when their little boys were potentially monstering a poor, defenceless guinea pig? If any harm had come to Henny, Alex knew exactly which three little words to blame.
Bring a plate.