The Dinner by Ron Burch

Sisyphus found himself at a dinner party. It seemed to be a small party. Set up on a rough wood table were three iron plates spread equidistantly on it. It was awkward and Sisyphus felt uncomfortable. He looked over to his rock, which sat in the room with him and the familiarity of it made him feel more comfortable. He put out his heavily calloused hand and stroked its surface, smooth from the years and years of rolling it up the hill. Another man, hard set with small eyes brought out a deep iron skillet of stew and set it in the middle of the table. Perhaps, Sisyphus thought, caressing his rock, perhaps I am finally done. The man gestured him to sit. Sisyphus sat at the table and the man sat directly across from him. The man ladled out the food onto each plate, saving Sisyphus for last. The man placed the skillet back in the center of the table but he did not eat. Sisyphus was unsure what to do. He moved his hand toward the plate, his hunger ravenous, thousands of years in the making but the man stopped his hand with his own. We wait for another, he said. Then an old man walked in. His flesh was mottled and burned, parts charred and hanging loosely from his body. Sisyphus smelled the char of the burned old man. The old man sat next to Sisyphus and smelled the meat from the stew. Is it over? he asked. Sisyphus saw his tears of joy. The provider of the food motioned at the full plates and said eat. Sisyphus picked up his spoon with his trembling arm and put the food in his mouth. It was indescribable how it tasted to him and he forced himself not to shovel the food into his mouth. The old man, his rank flesh resting on the table, said, I am Ixion, sentenced to be tied to a burning wheel of fire for eternity but now it is over. Ixion wept and then looked questioningly at Sisyphus. Sisyphus explained that he was sentenced to roll his heavy boulder, twice the size of himself, up a steep hill only to have it roll down where he had to begin again. Ixion nodded and returned to his stew, licking his lips at the touch of its flavor. Sisyphus spooned some into his mouth and looked at the man who provided the meal. Who are you? he asked. I am Tantalus, the man replied. Ah, Sisyphus said, you were sentenced to stand in a pool where you could not drink and the beautiful fresh fruit that hung over you, you could not eat. No, Tantalus replied, I wish that had been my sentence. For the crime of murdering and cooking my son to serve as a meal to please the gods and make myself wealthy, I am forced to eat of him for eternity and, because the world has changed around us, now it is a meal we must all eat together. He gestured at the shared skillet. Sisyphus and Ixion glanced at each other, each wanting to put down their spoons. But feeling the hunger and not knowing what other options they had, the men eventually dug their utensils into the stew, eating the rest of their meal silently until there were only the sounds of their soiled spoons scraping at the bloody skillet, because this was the world that they now must live in and endure.


Ron Burch‘s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Eleven Eleven, PANK, and has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Bliss Inc., his debut novel, was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. Please visit ronburch.com.

 

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