30 May 20XX +1
My Dear Lucilius:
Yes, I know – this seems like a great deal of communication in a very short time. It minds me of the early 19th Century romances one reads where letters went out two and three times a day. I seldom seem to have that much to say, let alone to generate multiple short commentaries.
Still, events sometimes warrant additional communication.
It has been years since I have had someone over for dinner – likely before I relocated here and even before my wife passed away. I was never much of a socialite and dinners usually happened at restaurants or at other people’s homes. Almost never at ours, and certainly never at mine after my wife died.
So how does one entertain, precisely?
Well, one has to choose a menu (Given our current circumstances, something that looks a lot like fish and a side dish seemed likely). One has to clean the location of the dinner – which in my case is my entire house given its size. One has to have table settings, preferably that match. And one likely should have some idea of how the evening will go: what will be the topics of conversation, what will be the entertainment, and things like that.
One should. I, however, struggled.
House cleaning at this point is a dusting and sweep as that is what I have access to. Table settings seemed surprisingly easy to come up with: even if I have not had people come in years for dinner, I still have a matching setting for four. A main dish can easily be caught and ready in 30 minutes; I rounded out the menu with the last of the potatoes and some dried fruit that I had. The course of the evening conversation….well, suffice to say this was the weakest point of the plan.
And so, house cleaning and table set and meal ready to go and music playing on the small rechargeable device, I was ready.
Pompeia Paulina did me the ultimate kindness of dressing for dinner when she arrived – which, after a brief welcome and entry into the house, sent me scuttling to the back of the house to change into something perhaps more presentable. Looking slightly more as if I actually expected company, I proceeded to offer her a delightful apertif of tea and with that, she sat and looked through the bookshelves and greeted the rabbits as I cooked fish.
Dinner conversation was not as strained as I had thought it would be – she seems to be a natural-born raconteur and filled the rather slim meal with a steady flow of conversation and life history. She had somewhat seen The Collapse coming – but who could have fully? She spoke of her daughter and their time there; her daughter’s father was carefully not mentioned in any of her tales.
I repaid the sharing as well as I could, giving her the brief history of my time here and my time leading up to here: my wife’s death, my children’s slow disappearance, my confusion at finding myself at a point in life and having no idea what to do except to come back to a place I had been as a child.
The dinner invitation was a little vague on how long dinner actually had to run; having no better plan, I suggested a series of readings from the bookshelf with the other party choosing for the reader. I had her read from Letters from a Stoic by my namesake; she insisted I read sonnets by Shakespeare. I had not done any sort of dramatic readings in decades; we had tea with honey and laughed endlessly at the words of men long gone.
Finally the sun began to sink below the horizon; better to be back before it went completely down. I armed up (we all seem to arm up now even when walking the shortest distances now; a sign of the times I suppose) and strolled the short distance to her house. The sky had assumed that shade of palest green before dusk that brings me the greatest delight of any color the sky can be.
She asked me if I wanted to come in but I declined; I had no idea how things may have actually gone inside and being only an outsider at best, it is not my place to intrude She was very gracious and thanked me profusely for dinner.
And if anything happened or did not happen Lucilius, I will surely not tell. In the ongoing romance of Young Xerxes and Statiera, I am a supporting cast member only, certainly not one of the stars.
Your Obedient Servant, Seneca