Maria opened the door with a smile. “Hello! So good of you to come over, come on in!” She stepped aside, allowing Richard and Hanna to enter the hallway. “Go through, please,” she added and then peered outside before closing the door.
She followed them through into the lounge. “I’m afraid Peter has probably been held up at work again, but he shouldn’t be too long. May I take your coats?” she asked.
“Oh, that man of yours is always working hard,” said Hanna as she slipped off her new pale blue coat and handed it to Maria. “Not like this one, always looking for the easy win.” She glared playfully at Richard.
He beamed a Hollywood smile back at her and held up a bottle. “Yes, it’s true, but at the moment I seem to have the winning touch!” He handed the bottle and his coat to Maria. “Happy birthday, Maria. I assume you like a good Châteauneuf-du-Pape?”
“Oh, Richard, you shouldn’t have!” she said, blushing and trying to keep the coats from sliding from her arms. “I hope you haven’t spent a lot of money on it.”
“Not at all,” he replied with a roguish grin, “I know a guy who knows a guy…”
“Richard’s always on the lookout for another contact to further his wheeler-dealing,” said Hanna apologetically, “but sometimes I have to agree that they do come in useful.”
“I’ll just go and put these away,” said the laden hostess and she disappeared through a second doorway. “Can I get you a drink before we eat?” she asked from the kitchen.
Hanna raised her eyebrows in silent warning to Richard. He shrugged innocently with upturned hands.
Maria re-appeared with a couple of bottles. “I’m afraid we don’t have much to choose from,” she said studying the labels one after another. “There’s bourbon or cognac. And I think we have some Pernod and schnapps somewhere too. Or you could have a soda?”
Richard took the bourbon from her and examined the label. “Hmm, Kentucky; sounds good. I’ll try a shot of this, thanks Maria.” He was aware of Hanna’s eyes on him and he added, “Just a small one though, eh? I feel guilty about drinking Peter’s best booze without him here to enjoy it as well.”
Maria turned to Hanna who responded with a tight smile. “The cognac sounds great, Maria. Just a small one for me too.”
Maria busied herself with producing glasses and pouring out the drinks, the soft chink of glass and flow of alcohol mixing with the sound of the radio talking to itself in the background. Richard looked out of the window at the sun setting on the street, touching everything out of the shadows with rays of gold and copper. Hanna stepped over to the fireplace and looked at the birthday cards arranged on the mantelpiece. “May I?” she asked, pointing to the cards.
Maria looked up, holding two glasses of spirits. “Of course, go ahead.” She came over to them and handed them their drinks. Hanna took hers in her right hand and lifted a card with her left, using her thumb to deftly flick it open to reveal the message and names within. It was apparently from the Rosenbergs next door.
“I’ve had one from David, my brother, who’s studying in England,” said Maria and she nodded at the next card in line. “That one’s from Michael and Ursula in Pennsylvania. He’s doing really well with a company there, but I forget exactly what it is he does. It’s hard to keep track these days.”
“It certainly is,” agreed Richard. “Technology keeps advancing, old companies go bust, new innovators come along. You have to be sharp to make sure you’re not siding with yesterday’s world, otherwise you’ll be unemployed before you know it.”
“Not that Peter’s in that situation, of course,” said Hanna, glaring at Richard.
“Good God, no,” said Richard quickly, “Peter’s in telecommunications. Cutting edge stuff. He’ll be fine.” He made a face back at Hanna.
Maria forced a smile. “I’ll just get myself a drink,” she said and turned back to the bottles at the other end of the room.
The man on the radio filled the awkward silence.
“He sounds angry,” said Hanna, trying to lighten the mood.
“Oh, it’s that goddamned politician guy again,” said Richard. “What’s his name? The one with the ridiculous hair that he keeps pushing across his head.”
The sound of a key opening the front door came from the hallway and a man’s voice called out, “Hi honey, sorry about the time. Are Richard and Hanna…?” The sentence stopped as Peter’s head poked into the room. “Ah, yes you are. Sorry I’m late. Let me just put my things away.”
“No problem,” Richard called after him as he stepped away from the lounge door, “we’ve only been here a few minutes.”
Peter re-entered in shirtsleeves and pointed to Richard’s drink. “Still long enough for you to make a start on my best bourbon, though,” he said cheerily.
“And I’ve got one ready for you too, darling,” said Maria, handing over a glass of amber whiskey.
“Thanks honey,” he said, taking the drink, “and I guess we should raise our glasses and toast to Maria: happy birthday!”
“Happy birthday!” echoed their guests.
As they paused to sip their drinks, the angry man on the radio caught Peter’s attention. “Oh for God’s sake, why have we got him on?”
“I don’t know,” said Maria, “I’d only just turned it on when Richard and Hanna arrived. I hadn’t had chance to find a music station.”
“He’s an odious little shit,” said Peter, “saying he wants to make the country great again, giving people something different than the usual career politicians, but he’s just a noisy empty vessel.” He strode over to the radio and turned it off. “All he’s interested in is his own ego and finding scapegoats. And there’s an ugly, violent side to some of his supporters. I can’t think of a single good thing to say about him.”
“Umm, well,” said Richard, cagily, “at least he isn’t a communist.”
“Who is he, anyway?” asked Hanna. “I don’t pay any attention to politics. And quite rightly so, by the sound of things.”
“His name,” said Peter with a grimace, “is Adolf Hitler and if he ever becomes Chancellor… we’re emigrating.”
Written in response to the prompt “who is he?” set by the Fosseway Writers Group.