Interlude for Two
By William V.M. McAllister, III
© Copyright 2015 by William V. M. McAllister – All rights reserved
He sat in the chair on the other side of the desk. She was talking in an urgent, hushed voice. He was unable to hear a word of what she said. Next to her was a pad that she suddenly shoved away as if to add emphasis to some point she was making. The pad slid over next to him. Four phrases were written on it: “never again”, “what’s the difference”, “maybe in St. Louis”, “I don’t REALLY care”.
He picked up a pencil and began translating them into French. He finished the translations before she finished the call. She hung up the phone and looked up at him (her face was what one would have hoped for given her figure), then at his handiwork.
“What’s this?” she asked?
“In case you’re talking to someone in French?”
“This isn’t mine.”
“Oh. Oh, well.”
“You coming to the party?”
“The party?” He had visions of coffee and cheap bakery cookies in the basement of the church accompanied by dull conversation.
“The party,” she repeated.
“I don’t know. Where is it?”
She wrote out an unfamiliar address and handed it to him.
“It’s a tonight thing.”
“Yes,” he said, “I was thinking of coming.”
“You want to use the phone?”
“Not any more. Besides it’s raining too hard.”
“Phones work in the rain,” she said with a laugh.
The rain did not let up. The cabbie lost his way and finally just dropped him off at what turned out to be a wrong house with no number. He had no idea where he was. None of the houses had numbers and an errant vehicle had long since destroyed the street sign. By the time he happened to see someone in a Louis XIV costume enter a house, he was drenched.
The house was Victorian, Victorian everything, tastefully done. It was crowded. Most everyone was wearing something either period, odd, or just plain unkempt. One person was dressed in green Statue of Liberty – that is, Liberty who had evidently separated her shoulder. He did not recognize anyone – except for the woman from church. She was wearing a pleated white dress. She gave him a quick wave.
Abraham Lincoln approached him.
“Hey man, you ought to get out of those wet things. Here, try this.”
He handed Jim an English Beefeaters outfit.
“A place to change? Jim asked.
“That’s old fashioned, man.”
Jim changed on the spot. He drew no attention apart from a teenage girl sporting too red lipstick who pinched his ass and giggled as she passed. The costume fit, but he did not like it.
“What’s the matter, man?”
“Collar itches. And I don’t like beef.”
The man laughed loudly.
“What else can I be an eater of?”
“How about tofu?” the man asked.
“Good,” Jim said. “English Tofueater. Don’t like tofu either, but it doesn’t come with a collar.” He pulled the collar off.
Someone called out: “Who’s got the bubbly?”
Corks started popping. Someone handed Jim a Champagne glass and filled it.
“I’ll take a second,” Jim said.
With two glasses he found the woman in the white dress and would have offered her one, but she already had one.
“That’s okay,” she said. “I hate the stuff anyway.”
“Why the glass then?”
Just then, someone else shouted out: “Pictures. We need to take pictures. Who’s got the camera?”
“My brother Greg’s a photographer,” Jim said to her.
“Really?” she asked.
“Hey Greg,” Jim called out as loud as he could.
A response of “What?” came from the far corner.
“You got your cameras?” Jim called out.
“So where is he?” she asked.
“Oh, I have no idea.”
“Is he here?”
“Why would he be here?
“Any more ginger ale?” he asked.
“Just follow me.”
Jim handed off his two Champagne glasses to a glassless couple dressed in 1020’s bathing suits.
“That’s very kind of you,” the bather said.
Jim waved it off.
They were in her bedroom. She was lying on the bed and he sitting next to her. A low wattage lamp on the night table gave the only light. She kicked off one of her heels. Her toe snagged it, and it bounced once on the bed before falling to the floor. She kicked off the other, getting it right, and it sailed in a long arc right into the wastepaper basket next to the wall.
“All net,” he said.
“You’ve had practice,” he offered.
She laughed out loud and handed him the last half of her ginger ale. He touched her arm.
“Hey, did I give you permission to do that?” she asked.
She reached over and slowly tore off a sheet from the pad on the night table. Printed on it was:
May I Have Permission To _________
Yes ___ No___
“You serious?” he asked.
She handed him a pencil.
He filled out: “To touch your arm.”
She checked “Yes”.
After a series of incremental permissions answered by “Yes”, he wrote out: “To stop asking permission anymore.”
She checked “No”.
He lay down next to her.
“You deserve a detention,” he said.
She laughed quietly. It was more shaking than sound. Their eyes met. They smiled.
A man burst into the room. “Hey, Gloria, we’ve been looking all over for you. It’s present time.”
“Oh, good,” she said springing up from bed, taking the man’s proffered hand. Jim followed them out.
One by one, the guests approached Gloria with elaborately wrapped gifts and ceremoniously offered them to her. At first, she did not open any, simply reveling in their copiousness. She did open one marked “MUST OPEN NOW”. She opened it carefully, the way one would open a present with the intent of using the wrapping paper over again, though Jim knew that that thought had not crossed, and would have never crossed, her mind.
She pulled out a large white fuzzy teddy bear. The necessity of opening it became clear as a dozen glass jars of caviar were removed from the animal’s belly. The caviar was pale gray, almost translucent, the kind Americans rarely see because one day earlier it had resided in a sturgeon from the Caspian Sea. Other gifts were left unopened as caviar was offered as a complement to the champagne.
Afterwards she came up to Jim: “What did you bring me?”
He shook his head: “Nothing.”
“Would you like to get me something?”
“Sure, why not? What would you like?”
“I like beer. My favorite is Krušovice.”
“Never heard of it.”
“From the Czech Republic. It’s the best. Hard to find, though.”
Jim looked out the window. The rain had intensified.
“Here, you can wear my raincoat,” she said.
“No thanks,” he said. “Tofueaters don’t wear raincoats.”
Two hours and four liquor stores later, he finally found Krušovice.
“Don’t get much call for this,” the owner said. “Expensive.” He wiped the dust off the bottles with a damp cloth.
Jim bought out the store – two six-packs.
There were no taxis to be found and two became a burden. The rain did not help. He spotted a couple of homeless men huddled in a sheltered doorway and gave them one of the six-packs.
“Say, got any gin?” one of them asked.
“Don’t you be ungrateful,” his buddy said. He nodded to Jim. “And thank you kindly. You a Brit?”
“No, I’m a wet Yank.”
When he returned to the house, it seemed the party was over. There were no lights on. What the hell, he knocked on the door anyway. It was unlatched and swung open slightly to his knock.
“Anybody home?” he called out.
Gloria appeared carrying a lighted candle.
“You found it! Oh, and you’re so wet! We need to get you into something dry.”
Where is everybody?”
He dressed in the formal tails that she found for him. The fit was good. She changed into an evening gown.
“You know what I would like?” she asked.
“I want to put on the Blue Danube Waltz, and I want us to dance. The main room is actually a dance floor, and I even have dancing shoes for you. By the way, do you dance? The Viennese Waltz?”
“Fred Astaire would say no, but I guess I can manage.”
After everything was set up, she put on the music, and they danced. She was very good and he was much better than she had thought he would be. They became captured by the music, laughing, swirling, gracing the floor with quick, smooth steps. They danced the whole ten minutes of the piece. She played it three times.
“Oh, that was great!” she said. He took the handkerchief from his jacket pocket and patted her brow and cheeks. “Now I’ll have champagne.”
“Developed a sudden taste?”
“Yes,” she replied, making the end of the word very long. “It’s the occasion.”
He looked at the unlabeled bottle questioningly.
“A private stock,” she said.
“Only the best?”
“It’s the policy of the house.”
The cork went airborne and the bubbly bubbled out. He captured most of it in her glass and then filled his. They sat on the sofa and consumed the bottle in small sips, she keeping a respectable distance between them. They talked about dancing and athletic things and their favorite authors.
“You’re very well behaved,” she said with a final sip marking the end of the bottle.
He gave a shrug.
“Some gentlemen might think of taking advantage of the situation,” she said.
“I’m not a gentleman.”
“I see.” She stood up, walked to a table, and used the lit candle to light a second and a third. “Wait here.” She disappeared with one of the newly lit candles.
He walked over to the bookcase. There were several framed pictures of her, all but one were recent photos, perhaps a year or two earlier. One was a beach scene with her dressed in a non-descript jacket, broad brim hat, applying a brush to an easel. She was partially in profile, and he tried to image how he would make a line drawing of her that captured the easy beauty of that profile.
A second photo showed her decked out in a tribal costume (a wedding costume he surmised) from a tribe in some locale of which he had no knowledge.
And a third photo, a family photo of a large family when she was very young. It was simple to recognize her from among, as he later learned, her sisters and cousins.
She returned twenty minutes later wearing a negligee and carrying a piece of paper. It was another one of her Permission Slips. It was clean except for one mark. She had checked “Yes”. One at a time, he kicked off his dancing shoes and followed her out of the room.