The Cup Affair / Jules Martenot
The dinner had all the couples arranged in conjugal pairs. Tom and Betty sat on one side of the table across from Ed and Judy. Roger sat at the head of the table opposite his wife, Diane. I wouldn’t call their dinner a feast, but I’d call it a good arrangement. Each guest had the option to pick between a chicken or tuna casserole (identical in every other way), steamed broccoli, corn bread, and sweet potatoes. And they piled food high on their plates and their place settings were arranged with forks and knives and napkins, and by their laughter and faces one could tell they were all at ease, each occasionally rising, perhaps in mid-sentence, to walk into the kitchen, up to the sink, raise the lever on the faucet, and take a drink directly from the tap. Then they’d wipe their mouths off with their hands and return to the banter like it was the most natural thing in the world.
Tom, Betty’s husband, kept casting a glance, watching to see when Ed’s wife Judy would take her turn. He tapped his pocket, anxious about whatever was hidden inside. Finally, the moment came. Judy stood and turned to walk into the kitchen. A moment later Tom, while pointing at Roger and saying, “That won’t be the last time, Rog,” with a laugh, rose without glancing at Judy, but quickly crossed the room and followed her into the kitchen.
The others laughed. He’d been referring to the story Roger had just told about losing a large mouth bass off his hook up at the lake. The conversation continued. It was normal for two to rise for drinks at the same time, so no one noticed anything out of the ordinary.
Once in the kitchen, the sink was out of view from the dinner table. Judy stood facing the sink with her back to Tom.
“You shouldn’t have come in here,” she said, gripping the counter. “It’s too risky.”
“I have it with me,” said Tom, ignoring what she said.
“Here? Are you crazy?”
She turned around and Tom stepped up to her, abruptly taking her chin in his hand and kissing her. At the same time he reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a strange cylindrical object. Tom stepped back and held it up to her.
“What do you do with it?” she asked.
“Watch,” he said. The object, hollow and open at one end, fit perfectly in his grasp. He brought it over the sink underneath the faucet as he raised the lever with his other hand. Water from the faucet began to fill it.
Judy’s eyes widened. “It’s holding the water,” she whispered.
Tom shut off the water just before the object was full. Then he handed it to her. “Here,” he said. “Go ahead and drink.”
Their heads jutted anxiously as laughter drifted in from the dining room.
Judy brought the object awkwardly up to her mouth, tilting it too early and spilling water down her chin and onto her blouse.
“Like this,” said Tom, reaching up and holding the object to her mouth. He poured the water in without spilling a drop, his other hand clutching her arm. Her eyes glazed, as if she were under a spell. He pulled the object from her lips.
“What’s going on in here?”
It was Diane, the hostess, gaping at the entrance to the kitchen.
Tom and Judy both jumped, their faces flushing, but Tom recovered just in time to wave Diane over, holding out the object to her as well, like it was a shield or some sort of protecting amulet.
“There’s water in it from the faucet,” he said. “You can drink from it and nothing will spill out.”
Diane looked at Judy questioningly. Judy nodded. “I just tried it, Diane. Trust him, it works.”
Now Tom, just as he had before, held up the object to Diane’s lips and poured the water into her mouth. Eagerly, once she understood how it worked, she took the it in her own hands, a perfect fit in her grasp, and emptied it. Tom quickly pulled it away.
“If you ever want to drink from it again, you won’t breathe a word of what you saw in here,” he said. “Not to Roger, not to anyone.”
Diane, with a clouded, transfixed look on her face, nodded obediently.
Silently, the three of them walked back into the party.
“Well, well,” said Roger. “Our thirsty friends are back. Chatting over the sink, huh?”
“I swear,” said Betty. “Sometimes it’s like there can be two parties, one at the table and one at the water. Tom and I have even been thinking of putting a second sink in the dining room just to save us the hassle. What do you think, Judy, Diane?”
Neither of the women answered. They both just passed the question off with giggles and smiles, their eyes watching their reflection in the nighttime window. Tom rested his hand on his pocket as he sat down.