It is only now that you hate the showboating. The couples who scream ‘look at us, look at how truly loveable we are,’ as if their lives are only complete with the weight of an arm on the back of their neck, and aren’t you lucky to be let into that world albeit briefly as they drop hints about their new possessions. The public bickering is worse though, tearing each other apart like no one else can. You could tell these two, Tony’s cousin and her new beau, don’t stand a chance. The the biggest sign of a failing relationship is treating the other with contempt, and the thread she just picked off his jacket before telling him that’s what you get for being cheap is a sign of abject failure. They would be separated this side of Christmas. You funnel your way through the room. Moving from one side of the even to the other. Picking apart everything as you go. You stop by a mound of glistening meat, and you pick at it. You pick at the white bits within the pink, like they are skin.
You wanted to have a good time tonight; you promised yourself you would have a good time, repeating it like a mantra as you brushed your hair. You visualised the room as you laced your shoes.
You promised him you would have a good time and you tried very hard, but when it came your turn to speak you found yourself unable to say anything which wasn’t vague. “I didn’t see that movie, no but I heard…’ ‘…the damp has really got out of control, we have the de humidifier on 24/7 now…’ ‘…and do you think she likes the university?’
There will be no puller quotes from you tonight.
You use to leave parties on a high, his hand raking your inner thigh as he congratulated you on how much funnier you were then anyone else, and you shook with laughter as you shared sharp criticisms of those who did not get it. Who were unfortunate in their understanding of the delicate sympathies of the world, or who thought the best pasta did come from the deli on Friar road.
‘Everyone knows that…’ Dressing them down with sweeping judgements, all designed to distract from your own failings. You walk past the table piled high with confusing delicacies, past the Brownings, holding court with the Marshalls and old lady Kinsey, her eagle eyes noting how thin you have gotten.
‘Have some bread for god sake Joanne, you look like you have consumption.’
You make a joke about a new dancing class, your never ending to do list zapping away your energies so that even attempting dinner is questionable.
‘And it’s not like Tony cooks,’ you say, laughing and gesturing in his direction. Although you truly have no idea where he may have gone as this point.
You want to hide behind dark velvet curtains, imaging yourself as a child at a parents dinner party when it made sense to pretend the adults where anything but. My mother and father were not themselves. They had been taken over by sentient beings, and were just poor imitations of my parents. You later learnt there was such a condition that caused you to think your family had become imposters, and didn’t you know your cousin Mark had it? He was sent to a special home when he was 16, and there he stays. You imagine it was a relief. He was always a sickly looking child, barely taken care of or noticed by his gambling addicted father who claimed it was to cope with her drinking, whilst she insisted she drank because he lost all their earnings at seedy card games. He probably felt happier and safer pretending they were imposters.
But Tony is across the room now, talking to Betty, or Bernice or whatever she called herself. She lightly touches his arm as he giggles over nothing in particular. Something ridiculous. You feel like you can predict the future. You can see how everything can turn out. He talks to her, who makes him laugh like you use to, and then it’s too close in the lift and fantasies about kissing in stationary cupboards and late night meetings and a work party you weren’t invited to. But if you push him into her arms, if you let him think he is leaving you, by being colder, by being everything a new shiny thing is not, rusty and immoveable then he will leave you for her. The outcome will be the same. But he will think it was his choice, and not yours. Be left, or control the leaving. These are your two options in life.
So you walk out the door.