Three couples sat in the Kanister’s living room. It was a relatively small party, but for the Kanisters, having more than one or two close friends over felt like a big deal. Mrs. Kanister, who had dissolved her nerves with several pre-party cocktails, was putting the finishing touches, a bowl of mixed roasted nuts, onto a charcuterie board while her husband was entertaining their guests in the living room.
“I gotta get something off my chest,” said James Stuart.
“Spill it,” Carl Mutton shot back quickly.
“I never thought I’d end up at one of these parties,” admitted James. “And I’m a little worried I’m not going to be able to go through with it. I mean, we’ve never done anything like this before.” He took a swig of his whiskey.
Mr. Kanister chuckled through a sip of his Old Fashioned. “Your secret’s safe with us, James.” He patted James’ shoulder, and his hand lingered there. “But I think we can agree, if you back out now, it’s going to be a bit awkward for the rest of us.”
Carl and Robert patted James’ other shoulder encouragingly. “It’ll be fine, man!” “Yeah man, don’t worry! Loosen up a bit!”
Embarrassed by his confession, James was eager for someone to change the subject. Mr. Kanister was quick to subdue the awkwardness among the group with work talk, and eventually ended up rambling about the importance of buying life insurance at an early age.
“I have to admit, I never even considered life insurance until after my first prostate exam,” revealed Carl lightheartedly.
“I can assure you that is not unique to you, Carl,” laughed Mr. Kanister. “However, I find that in my line of work, so many people, of all ages, pass unexpectedly. Our years are not guaranteed, and I, myself, would not want to pass without leaving my loved ones a bit of compensation.” He winked at the men's wives who were quietly sipping their cocktails, pretending to look interested.
Mrs. Stuart, who had grown bored of the male-dominated conversation, excused herself briefly and wandered off to find the bathroom. If she had been eager to return, she might have simply asked Mrs. Kanister where the bathroom was, but instead, she took her chances searching for it, absolutely unbothered by the risk of wandering into the wrong room. Which of course, she did.
She found herself in one of the Kanister’s guest bedroom, the one furthest down the hallway, and quickly became intrigued by the pleasant décor it inhabited, especially the beautiful gold-framed ceiling-to-floor mirror. Mrs. Stuart took a moment to admire herself, stepping closer to swipe away the streaks of lipstick that had smeared beyond her lip line. As she leaned forward, her elbow bumped into the mirror which bounced back just enough to indicate that it was, in fact, the sliding door of a closet. Reflexively, Mrs. Stuart indulged her curiosity and slid the door open. It was dark, so she reached in and pulled the chain that hung before her, turning on the light. What she saw inside the closet made her jump back, but she was so frightened, she couldn’t even scream.
Down the hall, Mrs. Kanister had revitalized the conversation with a story about how she once stepped in as a hula dancer at a lū’au when she was living in Hawaii during her twenties. Her animated movements had everyone laughing and jumping up to mimic her horrible hula moves. Mrs. Kanister was doubling over, giggling, when she suddenly became aware of Mrs. Stuart’s absence.
“Where’s Jules?” she asked, smiling nonchalantly.
James glanced around and looked behind him, expecting her to be right there. “Ah, she’s probably just in the bathroom. I’ll go check on her.”
“Oh, I can go, James, you keep dancing.” Mrs. Kanister hoped her anxiety wasn’t obvious.
“Darlene, you don’t need to keep tabs on my wife for me. Plus, I wouldn’t want to rob the party of your incredible dance moves,” James touched her elbow and winked before turning towards the hall.
When James found his wife, she was walking catatonically down the hallway. Her eyes widened with relief when she saw James.
“James! We have to get out of here,” she exclaimed frantically.
James, who assumed his wife had had too much to drink and was reacting badly to the affects, chuckled, pulling her into his arms by the waist. “Darling, how have you managed to drink this much already? Come on, we’ll get you some more food and you can sit down with me for a bit, how’s that sound?”
“No, James, you don’t understand. The Kanisters aren’t who you think they are. We can’t stay here. I’m not drunk, we have to leave. Now!” Mrs. Stuart whisper-yelled.
Now concerned, James furrowed his eyebrows and stabilized Jules in front of him. “What do you mean? What’s wrong?”
Looking directly into his eyes, Mrs. Stuart said, “I’ll show you, but you can’t make a sound.”
Mr. Kanister, noticing his drink was empty, asked his guests if they needed anything from the kitchen before leaving the room to refill his beverage. Mrs. Kanister followed him into the kitchen, claiming she needed to check on the ham baking in the oven.
“Barry!” She whispered, glancing over her shoulder to make sure no one was trailing behind. “Barry, we have a problem!” She was now up against her husband, leaning in like she had a secret to tell.
Pouring more bourbon into his glass, Mr. Kanister said, “What’s that, dear?”
“The Stuarts – where are they?”
Mr. Kanister looked at her like she was crazy. “Um, the bathroom?”
Mrs. Kanister squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head, sighing, like she couldn’t believe how stupid her husband was.
“Don’t worry, Darlene. It’s clean, dear. We were very thorough,” he said, leaning down to meet her gaze so she knew he was being serious.
“They’ve been gone for longer than a bathroom visit, Barry. I’m starting to think they wandered into the wrong room,” Mrs. Kanister tilted her head, jerking it twice in the direction of the room at the far end of their house.
When the realization hit him, Mr. Kanister nearly dropped the bottle of bourbon.
Deciding Mr. Kanister had the best poker-face, Mrs. Kanister was the one who went searching for the Stuarts down the hall while Mr. Kanister returned to the other guests in the living room, assuring them the ham was coming along nicely and would be ready soon. Mrs. Kanister’s hands shook as she trudged down the hallway. She gulped as she passed by the empty bathroom – the one the Stuarts should have been in.
She heard murmurs coming from the end of the hall. When she reached the door, she closed her eyes and exhaled all the air from her body. Normally she would have knocked, but this was not a normal scenario; there was no place for cordial politeness here. Mrs. Kanister flung the door open, and what she saw was unexpected.
Mrs. Stuart was lying on the edge of the guest bed with her legs dangling off, and Mr. Stuart was between them, leaning over her. They were making out. Well, they had been, but with Mrs. Kanister’s entrance, they had stopped and were now looking, quite surprised, at their host in the doorway.
“Oh my!” Mrs. Kanister exclaimed, clasping her hand over her mouth, before breaking out into an embarrassed laugh. “Pardon me, I am so sorry I didn’t knock!”
The couple on the bed stood up straight, patting down their clothes, also embarrassed. “Oh no, please, don’t apologize, Darlene, surely it is us who should be apologizing.” Mr. Stuart panted. “Jules and I don’t get enough time away from our children these days, and I suppose when the time arrives, it can be challenging for us not to take advantage.” Mr. Stuart cleared his throat, and took his wife’s hand in his. “Not to mention, we are both extremely nervous about tonight.” Mrs. Stuart’s face was a portrait of embarrassment and shame, shimmering coral pink.
As if relieved by a joke’s punch line, Mrs. Kanister was still laughing when she stepped into the room toward the couple. “You do not need to explain, my dears! Nor be embarrassed. It is a wonderful thing to still want each other in that way after so many years and with children in the mix. Now let’s return to the party, shall we? I am sure everyone will be delighted to hear about your eagerness!” She reached out to weave her arm through Mr. Stuart’s, preparing to lead the couple out together, but stopped when she noticed the smallest crack between the sliding mirror and the wall.
Beside her, the Stuarts, having met Mrs. Kanister’s horrified expression in the reflection, froze.
Like lightning striking a branch, Mrs. Stuart broke free of her husband’s hand and darted out the guest room door and down the hall. “ROBERT! CAROLINE! SUZY! CARL! GET OUT! THEY’RE MURDERERS!”
It had been earlier that morning when Mr. Kanister and his wife found the body in their bathroom. According to the coolness of his body, Mr. Kanister was able to determine the young man in their bathtub had clearly expired hours earlier. But as to who and why this person was dead in their bathroom remained unknown, and of course, quite alarming.
“Oh my god, Barry, who is that?” exclaimed Mrs. Kanister.
“I know as much as you do, Darlene. Now, are you going to help me move him out of here?” As a coroner, Mr. Kanister was not easily fazed by a corpse.
“What? Move him out of here? You’re not serious? We have to call the police!” Mrs. Kanister was panicking, holding her cheeks in her hand, gaping at the horror that was before her in her own house.
Un-circumstantially composed, Mr. Kanister said, “Darlene, guests will be arriving in a few hours, do you really want to tell everyone they can’t come over because there’s a dead young man in our bathtub?”
For a moment, Darlene considered all the possibilities in her head: the embarrassment of cancelling their dinner party over something as terrible as this, or the exhausting headache of notifying the police and spending the next 48 hours, at least, under excruciating suspicion and investigation. Or…
She sighed loudly as if she was being asked to mop the floor a second time. “I’ll grab his legs, you grab his arms.”
Secrets do not generally come out gracefully at dinner parties or among a close-knit group of friends, but, as it turns out, they definitely do not come out gracefully when there is a dead body involved.
The chaos that ensued after Jules Stuart told the remaining Kanisters’ guests that they had been invited to a dinner party in a house that held the corpse of a stranger was not the kind of excitement one hopes for when hosting/attending their first swingers’ party; but it was the kind any rational person might expect in such a bizarre circumstance.
When the police arrived, all of the wives’ mascara was streaming down their cheeks, and the husbands were out back sharing a cigar – again not in the celebratory way they had originally intended. No one had eaten dinner, and everyone’s clothes had remained on – another unexpected outcome, and probably the biggest disappointment of them all.
Fortunately for the friends, and most fortunately of all for the Kanisters, the police had a perfectly good explanation for the presence of this young man’s dead body in their house, due to a suicide note that had been found in a house several houses down the street. The depressed individual had written, My life has always been complicated, and I have never found a place that feels like home, and so I shall leave this world as such: complicated and in a home that is not mine.
The Kanisters tried not to dwell on how their home came to be the one chosen by this person whom they did not know, or the fact that their evening had not gone to plan. And when they apologized to the officer who delivered the news for not reporting the incident earlier, the officer looked at them sympathetically. He closed the notepad in his hand before leaning in closely and whispered, “I was nervous about my first swingers party, too.” And with that, he tipped his hat at the couple and walked out the door, leaving the four couples alone in the Kanisters house on the strangest night of their lives.