There was a man in the doorway wearing antennae, large, faux TV antennae.
“Are those antennae?” I asked, staring above the other party goer’s head. I mean, I’m drunk but I’m not that drunk.
“What?” He turned to look behind him, his antennae swerving through the air. “Does Marli have a vintage TV?”
“No, I mean your head.” Yeah, those are definitely antennae. They wiggled back and forth as he curiously regarded me.
“You’re funny, are you gonna paint a portrait of me as, like a real big bee or something?”
“How did you know I’m a painter?”
“I, uh, heard you talking with Jim.” His antennae wobbled back and forth as he winked and and tapped his temple with his finger. Did they help him hear through the deafening roar of jocularity surrounding us?
I blinked. “I’m sorry, I’m just having a tough time with the antennae.” I turned to walk away.
This party is getting weird.
Careful what you wish for, I guess.
I edged closer to the coat room. If Mary wasn’t ready to go soon, I might have to bounce without her, but I felt a ping of guilt. It would be crappy to leave her here. I decided to drag her away from her wine cooler and go.
I set my beer down on a stand in the hallway, then thought better of leaving it and took it into the bathroom with me. I set the beer on the porcelain bathroom stand and inspected my reflection. I, at least, was free from any sudden appendages.
I turned and ran my hands over my shoulder blades where Brad had reassuringly rested his palm earlier. I’d had enough alcohol that the possibility of sprouting things was getting plausible, and entertaining. I started to pour the rest of my beer out. I should quit.
A burst of high pitched, high-end laughter interrupted my thoughts.
Screw it, I don’t wanna know I’m here. I took another drink and one more look in the mirror.
“No nubbins, good,” I told myself with a grin.
Because I’d be the guy to spring bat wings.
What I did see sprouting from my entire body was fatigue. I looked tired in the track lighting leering down at me like so many of the dudes outside my bathroom door. Like I needed a hiatus from the holidays. I wondered about antennae man. Mostly why he thought it was funny, and why I hadn’t pissed yet. I’m just standing here in the damned bathroom.
I stepped from the bathroom and pulled my phone out to text Mary.
We should go.
Mary didn’t reply. Probably because her phone was in the coat room. Making me look like the asshole who carried their phone around a party.
That’s when I saw her. A tall, dark-eyed, blond woman who wore her black dress like a disguise and the red scarf around her neck like a prize.
I knew there was something different about her because of the way she disappeared in the middle of the crowd. I scooted past three similarly dressed ladies in pumps and L.B.D.s, each holding a different iteration of wine or weak beer. I searched the crowd, but the woman in the red scarf was gone.
In the shed
I texted Mary back. OMW to find your ping of pong.
I pushed out the back door of the kitchen onto the porch. The door bounced into a man’s back.
“Sorry,” I muttered.
“No probs, I’m in the way,” he was wearing a slightly different white and blue checkered shirt. Not quite Plaidster Brad.
I descended the porch steps lined by ignominious ivy. Some day they won’t be able to trim it fast enough. It’ll overtake the steps, and the vine will pull this treated timber apart.
Across a small gravel backyard was the promised shed. The door was up and before me played out a drunken battle to keep a ping pong ball on the table at all.
And there my roommate stood, failing fantastically at it. She held a wine cooler aloft in her left hand, paddle poised in the right.
“Hey,” I pulled alongside her as she held the ball up with her cooler hand.
“Wanna do doubles?”
Are those eyeballs?
Mary smacked the ball to the table and it bounced with a wet plop. Wine coolant spilled over Mary’s wrist and she licked at it.
Yeah, that’s an eyeball.
“Your host friends got a macabre sense of humor,” I said as the drunk guy at the other end of the table smacked the eyeball back. It bounced erratically against the uneven poured concrete.
“That’s my point!” Mary yelled, pointing her cooler at him. It sloshed onto the table.
Against all my better judgment involving exophthalmized orbits, I grabbed the bouncing eye and examined it.
A plastic ball, printed to look like an eye.
I brandished it at Mary, “See?”
“Thanks.” She took it back and eyed the eyeball. “What? It was the closest thing to a real ping pong ball we could dig up. Besides, you should like it.”
“We should go soon?”
“You’re cramping my serve, lady. Hold my beverage.”
The rim of the bottle was stained with her lip gloss. Sticky. Like the wine cooler.
Mary was right. Dudes in antennae and creepy ping pong balls were definitely more my wheelhouse, but I was still bothered. It wasn’t their existence, but rather their existence here. They were out of place. Like me.
Someone glided behind me, a hand slid over my shoulders.
Follow me, she whispered, smiling as she turned to climb the patio steps. Her scarlet cowl whipped behind her shoulders despite the still night air. Or, perhaps to spite it. I followed her with my eyes, unable to look away. I couldn’t explain my fascination. My hand set Mary’s wine cooler on the ping pong table.
Like I wasn’t the one doing it.
The murder of voices, the deafening death-rattle of all those TVs became cloaked, wrapped in billowing, scarlet silk. A single voice singing monotone, beckoning me.
I followed, unable to contemplate any other course of action. The curve of the red cowl entranced me. I chased the trailing red fabric up the patio steps and through the kitchen. She ducked into the coat room.
Here in this unseasonably warm holiday season there was an interloper among the long coats. She lay across the belongings of dozens, propped on her elbow with a look that said “behold my fuck garden. Full of purses.”
She swept her free hand over the coats and bags below her body.
“Ah, the coatroom. The most interesting and telling of rooms at The Party. And I’m not even a thief. Well, this,” she dangled a small handbag from her index finger, “isn’t what I steal, anyway. What an orgy of belongings strewn across the efforts of a long forgotten grandmother. Departed to the funeral home or nursing home, it makes little difference to the deference served by these temporary occupants of the Coat Room.” She negligently dropped the handbag to the floor, sending its contents spilling. “Oops.”
“How people get so boring, I don’t know,” Brad appeared in the doorway behind me, but his face carried none of the jovial Bro-ness of earlier. He pushed me aside and eyed the woman in the red scarf as though he’d like to kill her on the spot. “Maybe they’re born that way, but somehow I doubt it. I think it’s done to them.”
She sat up to reveal a large black, hardshell suitcase in the center of the bed. It gaped open. “I suppose this thing is what you carry your little medicine show in.”
“Don’t touch that.” Brad glowered at the blond woman. “Or this.” His eyes flicked to me.
I suddenly found myself alone in a crowd of people in the TV room, bereft of my beer or a clue as to how I came to be standing here. Dazed, I sat on the couch. Some kind of fight was happening sans gloves or interest on the part of the apparent referee on the screen before me. Blood oozed out of the fellow across the padding. He must be losing.
I’m losing it. Something’s gotten to me. The strain, the work hours, the fumes. I’ve eaten too much cadmium yellow. I’ve set my beer down and I’ve been drugged. Where have I been? My heart beat quicker at the thought of someone having maliciously added something into my beer.
Oh hell. Where have I been?
I stared absently at the two scantily clad men beating each other to a pulp on the big screen before me. “I’ll definitely never mix raspberry jam with port again.”
“What, you don’t like two guys rolling around in each other’s bodily fluid whilst attempting to wrap their thighs around each other’s faces?” said a brunette woman in a green sweater and khaki pants. She sat in a leather wing backed chair to my left, glasses shoved negligently to the crown of her head. She clutched a glass of bourbon in one hand and a diet coke in the other like they were the only buoys keeping her afloat in this sea of glee.
Perhaps a little too loudly.
A Dude with a capital D gave me his best look of offense and wedged himself between two girls on the love seat making eyes for each other. Dude didn’t realize he was literally on the love seat, and he wasn’t invited as he launched into a speech that, despite his clear inebriation, held all the timbre of a sermon much rehearsed, often delivered.
“Lady, I realize you probably just don’t know, but there’s an art to this, and I want to help educate you and give you a perspective you never considered before,” he waved his finger at me disdainfully. “Ultimate Fighting takes just as much judgment, artistry and skill as any other martial art.”
The guy on top continued to pound the crap out of the guy under him as my educator lectured. Or, at least he thought he was doing something as intelligent as “lecturing.”
“I’m sure,” I tried to answer judiciously. The guy was drunk and I was drunk and if he wasn’t careful he’d find himself losing a not-so-ultimate-fight to a girl. “I just prefer kendo, you know, or iaido. Something with a weapon, I guess.” I spoke more slowly, trying to give this guy a hint. “I like weapons.”
He ignored me. “Name your favorite artist, your favorite musician. Who is it?”
I looked at the lady to my left. I waited for her to reply because I needed a minute to think of something I at least thought was funny.
She blinked twice. “Cab Calloway.”
“Fine. There is just as much artistry and finesse behind what these two guys are doing as anything Cab Calloway does.”
“Do you know who Cab Calloway is?” The lady upped her own disdain game.
“What about you?” The guy addressed me.
“I dunno, man. The Portland Maniacs.”
The lady turned to me. “Who the hell is that?”
I shrugged. The Portland Maniacs probably were a real band, but I just made up the name as an answer.
“These guys are doing art as much as the Portland Maniacs, right now.”
“You’re totally right,” I agreed before pushing off from my perch on the side table. The two girls nodded at each other and got up, too.
They followed me from the Really Big TV room to the dining room.
I turned to face them.
“You forgot this.” The first blond offered me a glass of wine.
“Uhhh, I don’t think so,” I replied as they flanked me.
The woman in the red scarf pushed them apart and regarded me. “Painting horses for rich asses. Tsk, tsk, you’ll fit right in. They paint in blood who paint in oil. But you’re not an oil sort, are you?” She leaned closer to me. “Keep drinking, kiddo.” She took the glass from blond two and held it out.
“It’s sangria, not sangre,” she laughed.
“I don’t see any fruit.” I said as I accepted it.
“Drink it. It thins the blood and makes it spill more nicely.”
“That’s not true,” I retorted.
She watched me expectantly as I slowly raised the glass to my lips. This is definitely drugged.
I lowered the glass. “I guess I’m just not a wine or blood enthusiast. And I’m sorry, what are your names, again?”
“Bad, worse and worst,” Brad’s voice interrupted from behind me. He knocked into my hand, threatening to spill the wine.
TO BE CONTINUED…