The sound of the waterfall was soothing, the light from the smoked glass lantern restful on the eyes but still bright enough to gently disclose the colors of the lush red and pink geraniums that grew in profusion in the garden. Emily heard the water move differently, and stopped walking towards the koi pond. The kindly rush of water might be masking the sounds of someone else's movement; the lantern made dark shadows loom under the trees and shrubs where anything could be happening. Something swished again, and Emily realized that the noise was simply one of the big fish rising to the surface to swirl the lily-pads and to touch the air with its mouth, probably in response to the vibrations of her own feet.
Even before she reached the edge of the pond, Emily could see the biggest fish, his white back catching glints of the lantern's glow. "Oh, Paris," she said. "You scared me." Emily's eyes were not adjusting to the light of the lantern. She squinted, trying to see if there was anyone else from the party wandering in the garden. From the far side of the pond, she reasoned, the lantern would be at her back, and she would be able to see the patio and porch. She stepped away from the pillars of the porch and towards the stand of Japanese maples and fountain grass whose silhouettes in the lamplight sketched a pattern of curled stars and cat tails.
The aggregate surface of the patio felt lumpier than usual, and when Emily was halfway around the pond she began to feel unsteady. Why did I think wearing high heels to a New Year's party was a good idea? She was nearly to the side of the pool where the lantern hung, and where the shadows were deepest. She looked back towards the house, able to see the porch much better from this vantage point, and stepped onto the very edge of the walkway with her right heel, sending her staggering into the geraniums, reaching wildly with wheeling hands for anything that would keep her from pitching headfirst into the shrubbery. Her hand struck something hard, and through the pain, she grabbed at it.
The garden gnome toppled, rattling onto the aggregate deck, and as Emily sat down hard, the little statue rolled in an arc -- right into the koi pond. Shaking in a panic that anyone might have seen their hostess fall on her ass in the dark, Emily looked back over her shoulder at the door to the house, so relieved to be alone that she felt ill. She pulled her skirt back down from where it had hiked up nearly to the crotch of her pantyhose, and rolled onto her knees to try to stand up. In the dark shadows, she still could not see anything to get a grip on to help her to her feet. I'm not going to crawl back to the house on my hands and knees, she vowed silently, but she knew full well that she would never be able to stand up in the dark on such uneven surface, not in high heels, not after an evening which had included three Grey Goose and tonics. Grey Geese and tonic? Grey Gooses and tonic? I can't believe I had three of the damned things, I hate the taste of them. She drank the horrid things because she knew she would only sip at them, and thus avoid over-imbibing. Apparently they had not been horrid enough. Emily reached to her heel and pulled off one shoe, and then the other. The stony deck was going to snag the hell out of her stockings, but the alternative was to crouch by the pond until someone came out and found her, and then in a matter of minutes the University community would be buzzing with a tale of her getting falling down drunk at her own party.
Bracing herself on her hands, one of which clutched the burgundy high heels that matched her skirt, Emily boosted her rear up, praying that no one would see her clambering cow-like to her feet, her ass in the air, her skirt now pulled up in back to reveal thighs she preferred to keep covered. One hand further boosted her upright, pushing on her knee, while the other felt about her hip and backside to make sure there was nothing broken or -- worse -- ripped open to reveal her white slip. I'm never wearing a dark skirt again until I find that black slip. She hobbled carefully to the pillar nearest the pool, and leaned against it, brushing off the soles of her feet and slipping the shoes back on. She dusted dirt from her skirt and her hands, then patted her hair to see how badly she'd mussed herself up. She could smell the crisp scent of broken geranium leaves on her cashmere sweater. Or was that the scent of gin someone had slopped on her in the crowd around the buffet table? She was unable to discern a difference. Really, she had swallowed that last half of the Grey Goose and tonic much too quickly, still shaken from the sight in the laundry room that had driven her outdoors to try to regain her composure.
In spite of her tangle with the garden gnome, Emily was still reluctant to return to the party. She had no idea what kind of expression she should wear, or indeed, what kind of expression she was currently wearing. Could she make it to the bathroom without any of the guests seeing her, so that she could look in the mirror and see what had happened to her, see what the image in the mirror had to offer by way of advice? She gently rubbed a hand over her eyes, and then half-sighed, half-sobbed -- now her face was probably dirty, too. If only I could just go to bed and have a good cry.
The whole evening had been rather surreal. Greeting her guests, she felt that they had looked at her with skewed expressions, none of which were genuine and none of which seemed to include happiness to see her. There were smiles, of course, but the lips that made them seemed stretched by the wrong facial muscles. Marcella Henderson had smiled at her like someone trying to be elegant while concentrating on puckering her rear around a particularly inflamed hemorrhoid. Eyes didn't match mouth expressions, and turning to offer a tray of champagne to a group of guests chatting by the fireplace, Emily had been puzzled to note a look of pity directed at her by Marl Bloch's guest, a woman she had only met that evening. There was no reason for a friend of the football coach to pity her. "Emily," the woman had gushed, "your house is so lovely! Marl told me it was beautiful, but I had no idea!" Thanking her for the compliment, Emily was certain she'd seen two other women look significantly at each other.
The men greeted her heartily, but even they hadn't really looked her in the eyes, even the ones she had known for many years. Yet there was an awful lot of loud, hard laughter and her husband was getting a lot of back-slapping.
Emily shuddered, only just feeling the cold through the two sweaters. With a start she reached for the left side of her chest to feel for the diamond brooch she'd been wearing. She shook her head at her own fears, finding the brooch still in place. As if Marl Bloch's girlfriend had anything to pity her for! Marl Bloch was the reason she was shivering out in the garden, so nauseated by what she'd seen that she thought she would litter the shrubs with canapes and Grey Goose.
Someone had tipped a glass of merlot on a side table, and Emily had been nearby to save the guest from great embarrassment by whisking the white cloth away. She'd gone to the linen closet across from the laundry room, flipped the light switch in the hall, found a clean tablecloth, and then opened the laundry room door, intending to toss the damp cloth into the washing machine. The light from the hall revealed Marl Bloch with his pants around his knees, and a woman's legs wrapped around him -- a woman who gasped and threw an arm up to hide her face. Emily had closed the door quickly and quietly, and numbly walked down the hall to her private office. She'd stuffed the tablecloth in the waste can, inanely thinking that the stain would set before Marl was done screwing Marcella Henderson on top of her new dryer.
Emily had slowly walked down the back stairs to the kitchen, where she'd found the Grey Goose and tonic she'd left beside the empty champagne bottles. Marl Bloch has the hairiest ass I've ever seen. Swallowing half the remaining drink, she'd tried to look at the guests in the large adjoining dining room and the sparkle of white lights that decorated each window and the conical Douglas fir Christmas tree that was still in its glory. The poor tree was unaware that the next day it would be stripped of ornamentation and thrown onto the pile of brush and tree limbs at the top of the property, by the edge of the woods, to be stripped further of its branches so as to become kindling for immolation later. Like a pornographic flash card, the vision of the University president's wife lying barelegged atop a laundry appliance had leaped into her mind. With spider veins like she has, he still wants to have sex with her? Emily had opened the freezer and plucked two ice cubes from the bin to put in her drink. I had a stack of folded laundry on top of the dryer. They were doing it on my laundry!
That was when she had chugged the icy vodka and tonic and stepped outside to try to forget the image of the incongruous adultery, with Marcella's clutching bare feet and Marl's big hand bouncing her privates off his.
She peeked in the kitchen window and saw no one. She opened the door and hurried to the back steps again, climbing to the second story and slipping into the bathroom attached to her office. With a tissue she dusted the gray dirt from her cheek and nose, and after washing her hands, plucked a tiny geranium leaf from her hair. There were no plant stains visible on the pearl gray sweater set, and both her earrings were intact, as well. The small hand towel by the sink removed the residue from the patio from her skirt, and the mud from the heel of her shoe.
Gasping, she looked at her watch. Eleven forty-five! She had champagne glasses to fill and favors to distribute. She hurried back down the steps to the kitchen. Her husband was there and looking around frantically.
"Emily! Where the hell have you been? Don't we have any more canapés? This crowd must have thought we were opening a cafeteria instead of throwing a party!" his voice sounded harsh, but she knew that he loved when guests ate and drank everything in the house.
"We have plenty more. The trays are in the walk-in. Can you take some out while I open some more champagne?" He hadn't noticed anything odd about her demeanor, so perhaps the guests wouldn't, either. "The midnight favors are in the treasure chest in the middle of the table, so if you just want to open that and invite everyone to help themselves, I can make sure everyone has a full glass."
"Is that where all that stuff went? Good thinking, Em. You're the best." He strode to the walk-in cooler and disappeared.
Emily carried three chilled bottles of champagne to the dining room, where music with a popping techno beat made the room seem to pulse as people moved their shoulders and hips subtly, acknowledging the beat, but not really dancing. Marl Bloch, his pants up and neatly zipped, held out his glass for her to refill. He had found a paper party hat and was raucously telling a joke about a priest and an unchaste nun, and seemed unaware that when she looked at him, all she could see were his big hairy buttocks superimposed on his face.
Marcella looked calm and collected, back by her husband's side, but she did not meet Emily's eyes, and handed her glass to her husband to have it filled.
The roomful of guests began chanting loudly, "Eleven! Ten! Nine! Eight!" Emily looked around the room and found her husband, Mark, holding his glass high. She raised hers, as well, as the room shouted, "One! Happy New Year!"
The champagne went down far more easily than the Grey Goose and tonic.
Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-01-23
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.