You think what you hated most about the party, though you would be hard pressed to settle on just one thing, was the endless parade of new couples.
They showboated their untested relationships as they walked around the room, smirking as if their lives were complete now this person had decided to put the weight of their arm, on the back of their neck.
They seem to drip with each other, melt into each other, screaming to their exes and estranged parents, ‘see I told you I was loveable,’ and once in a while they would summon you over, invite you into their private world, to drop hints about their new possessions, new sleeping arrangements and all the new vulnerabilities they had shared that morning. You would smile, nod, remember how lovely it had been at the start, then look for an exit.
But at least it was better then the public bickering, the old lovers tearing each other apart like no one else could, and now you’re stuck with Tony’s cousin and her finance and you could tell these two were heading for a fall. They did not stand a chance, because 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. You could tell they would be separated this side of Christmas, you could tell him he should insure the ring, and she should start looking for the inevitable stop gap younger man who would let her cry after sex because he thought that seemed kind. Because he was naïve. But you don’t. You make your excuses, say a silent prayer that her mourning period will be brief and you continue to funnel your way through the room. You stop by a table piled high with confusing delicacies, and you think about how the idea of a buffet always seems more appealing then the buffet itself.
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 and decided on a dress. You even 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 that wasn’t vague, throwaway, or some boring platitude. “I didn’t see that movie, no but I heard it was good…’ ‘…oh the damp has really got out of control now, we have the de humidifier on 24/7 …’ ‘…and do you think she likes her 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 lack of understanding of the delicate subtleties of the world, or who didn’t know how to make spaghetti bolognaise like you did or what it was like to fall asleep with a smile.
You would dress them down with sweeping judgements, all designed to distract from your own failings, but what mattered was that you did it together. You finish admiring the buffet, and walk past the Browning’s, who are holding court with the Marshalls and Mrs Kingsley. She notices how thin you have gotten.
‘Have some bread for God sake Joanna,’ she says, her sharp blue eyes wrapped in wrinkles, judging the size of your wrists, ‘you look like you have consumption.’
You make a joke about a new dancing class, you’re never ending to do list, how you keep forgetting to buy food ‘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 your parents dinner parties 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 he spent money to cope with the mother’s 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 it is she calls herself. She lightly touches his arm as he giggles over nothing in particular. Something ridiculous. You suddenly feel like you can predict the future. You can see how everything will 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.