by K. S. Lindsay
Sara entered the hall, took one look and made a quick turn to her left – swiftly averting her gaze from the tables that stretched the length of the huge (and chilly) warehouse. Really, she wanted to flee the place entirely – and find an alternate, and warmer, place – but she knew she couldn’t, yet.
She’d spent three days, since she’d delivered the final pieces of her installation, attempting to dream up a viable excuse not to come, but she’d only thought of all the reasons she had to attend. Now that she’d managed to get herself into the building, she refused to give up.
The handcrafted invite she’d been handed when she delivered the crown of the installation had pushed her resolve into agreement. Still, she knew that while she’d never be paid for this piece, she could hope the exposure would build the awareness of her work. Also, she knew she needed to be more social, even if she profoundly preferred to stay in her studio, working on her art.
Sara stole another glance at the crowded tables, encircled by dim figures of people stuffing their faces, and remembered why she preferred her studio. People were disgusting.
She kept to her slow circuit of the huge room, stepping carefully. They had festooned the room with a cacophony of lights – Christmas, spot, work, and battery-operated candles – that gave only dim illumination, and a wealth of deceptive, awkward shadows. The greenery, sparkly garlands, and paper ribbon that streamed from the high ceiling created shadows sprinkled with random pools of bright light.
Sara couldn’t imagine how the people could identify what they consumed, but more brief glances convinced her that they simply didn’t care. The noise of the talk, laughs, shouts, and lectures bounced off the concrete walls, beating down the sound of the musical trio stationed at the center of the tables, and proved to Sara that few cared about the food.
Convinced she need only circumnavigate the room, Sara walked as slowly as she could manage (given her recurrent urge to flee) along the wall, careful not to stumble over giant puppets inserted here and there as decoration. Passing another, and studying it to avoid looking at the people feasting, Sara reached up and plucked the itchy, homemade headdress from her mop of vaguely kept curls to toss it atop the bald head of the puppet. Surprisingly, the circlet landed perfectly, cocked at a jaunty angle that transformed the glaring face into a faintly skeptical one that gave Sara a sense of kindred.
The headdress had been pressed on her at the entrance to the party. She hadn’t wanted it, but an entirely too peppy volunteer had insisted she take one, then explained, as Sara reviewed the selection in barely concealed distaste, that there had been a better selection at the start of the evening. Sara had agreed to take the thing of feathers, glue and aluminum foil only to avoid answering the volunteer, and giving offense.
Sara knew well that she often gave offense. She had tried, once or twice, to say the nice thing, but by age 12, she gave up. There was no point in pleasing people. A dozen years later, she’d become more convinced that she was better off, most times, saying nothing. As she passed people in the big room, she nodded and smiled creakily, and kept moving.
Midway along the long wall, she reached a dark opening. She vaguely remembered hearing about a passage between two rooms, and her installation being used as an entry way at the end of a passage. Since she saw no signs of the massive piece being displayed in this room (admittedly though, she’d barely looked) she chose to investigate the opening. One step in the deeper dark of the passage, and she could discern dim light at the other end. Hugging the cold, damp wall on her right, she moved toward the light. About halfway, Sara guessed, she discerned party lights strung along the wall far above her head, but the plastic jalapeños, cacti, flamingos, sombreros, wine glasses, hibiscus, red cups and dragonflies gave no true illumination besides making themselves vaguely present.
She rolled her eyes and persevered.
At the end of the passage, and the entrance to another huge, and colder, room, Sara found her sense of humor. She slapped a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh, and sank back into the darkness of the passage.
Less heavily festooned, the room still resembled the shipping warehouse it usually was, except for the large art installation standing a foot inside. The piece created a formal entry, but not well. The crown sat atop the two floral walls, upside down, and one wall had been set at a 30-degree angle to the other, destroying the planned symmetry of the piece. Sara knew all this at a glance because Sara had built the monstrosity. She had not, however, installed it.
In addition, someone had ‘illuminated’ the piece. Party organizers had asked if they could, and she’d agreed. She’d given the request only a brief thought, before returning her full attention to her next, paying, installation. She’d briefly pictured discrete canned lights at the base of the pillars, up-lighting the foliage, and placing a lovely lattice pattern on the luminescent crown. Instead, someone had wrapped the whole thing in multicolored Christmas lights and, Sara judged, used the string to tie together the crown and badly angled wall.
Muffling her laughs, Sara sank into the dimness of the passage and nearly collided with others feeling their way into the room. She spun away and found herself hitting a low wall with the back of her leg, sinking onto a bench seat covered in blankets and pillows.
“Hey!” a voice called out. Sara realized that the hard item her hand hit on the bench, under the blankets, was a boot.
“Sorry,” she said, “I didn’t see you.” Her caustic tone came through undiluted.
“Really?” the voice responded, his own tone sounding equally caustic.
Sara began to turn toward the darkness where the voice issued, but it meant pulling her hands from the fluffy warmth of the blankets. “Are there more of you here, or does this beach blanket party have vacancies?” she asked, suddenly willing to risk conversation for even a few moments of warmth.
“I couldn’t begin to tell you, but those are my blankets you are fingering. I exact a mighty toll for their use,” the voice demanded.
Sara considered for a moment, then leapt up on the bench and burrowed, coat on, into the blankets and pillows. Coming up for air, well swaddled, a moment later, she said, “Good luck collecting. You’ll have to find me for it.”
“I’m serious,” he said, not sounding a bit of it, “I brought these blankets specifically for the private use of me and my friends. I can’t have just any random woman insinuating herself into this club.”
“It is not a club. It’s a bench,” Sara shot back, relaxing into the nest of pillows she’d found, “and I am not just any random woman. In fact, I’m sure that I am one of your very close, very private friends.”
“You are?” the voice inquired, skepticism fairly dripping.
“Oh, yes. We’re dear, dear friends,” Sara lied, “for at least the 15 minutes it will take to raise my core temperature back up to a bare minimum of 95 degrees.”
Sara heard a slight chuckle from the other end of the bench, and felt some movement. “You know, as a dear, dear friend, we could each warm up faster if you moved over here and we shared body heat,” the voice offered silkily.
“You know, as a dear, close friend, that you do not want that,” Sara said, no longer enjoying the thrust-and-parry of the conversation. She’d closed her eyes to better relish the warmth, and the comic sight of her installation. Her eyes closed she also made out a murmur of voices as people slowly trickled through the passage. She found amusement in the stifled curses as they crawled by, and their overwrought, and largely positive, reactions to the entryway at the end.
“I don’t,” the voice asked.
Sara struggled a moment to remember what she’d been leading up to… “No, as close friends, you’d remember that drunken night in the villa and our decision not to spoil our friendship with some tawdry, cheap affair.”
“Oh, I’m sure that was just the liquor talking,” he responded quickly, and Sara felt movement again on the bench.
“It may have been the liquor…” she said, “but I think my distractingly jealous linebacker husband, Maurice, also figured into your calculations.”
The movement stopped. “Oh?” the voice said.
“The liquor, Maurice… Oh, and my seven, no, eight children…” Sara said, resisting a sigh as she finally found her place at the party.
“Seven or eight? You’re not sure?” the voice asked, skeptical once again.
“You lose track,” Sara said, “Anything over five is so confusing.”
A deep chuckle came again. “I can see that,” the voice said, “so, where is Morris and the brood tonight?”
Sara didn’t respond right away. She’d grown tired of this game, but not of the warmth and the murmurs. “It’s Maurice,” she corrected, “and they’re here somewhere. Oh, and at seven, or eight, it’s no longer a brood. It’s a full on band.”
“A band,” the voice nearly guffawed. “Are you, the linebacker and the kids performing tonight then?”
“Oh, yes,” Sara said, taking a deep breath to prepare herself for the cold, “don’t miss it. We may not be the Partridge Family, but we put on a hell of a show!”
“I wouldn’t miss it,” Sara heard from the voice as she fairly dove out of the blankets and off the bench. A leap into the bracing air was best, she always felt, rather than a slow withdrawl.
“Hey! What’s your name?” she heard from behind her as she started to make her way back to the feasting hall.
“Shaniqua,” she responded as she walked away.
Reaching the hall, Sara saw the tables being cleared and set to rights by a squadron of volunteers. More people stood around, a few dancing to the trio, but most chatted happily.
Three feet from the entrance, Sara heard that which she’d most feared.
A female voice cried out, “Sara! Oh, Sara! So glad you came!”
Sara quickly calculated the noise, the darkness, the speaker’s distance and her own willingness to be considered rude, and kept moving. Back in her car, she felt no twinge of regret. She’d come, she’d seen, she’d interacted and she’d contributed to the general surrealism of life.
She could now flee – back to her heated studio. Now.
©2014 Kirby Lindsay. This story is protected by intellectual property laws, including U.S. copyright laws. Reproduction, adaptation or distribution without permission is prohibited.