Musical Chairs IIIAugust 17th, 2009
by Brin Friesen
I kept thinking about the night I didn’t take her to the prom.
My whole life I’d always had lousy experiences with dances, parties, events. I went to all the dances until I was fourteen and each time, after ten minutes, I’d end up hiding behind the curtain crying until somebody—usually Norman—discovered me and laughed me out of the building.
Then I gave up. Then nobody bothered to ask me to attend anything. That is, until Suzy did.
She was my first everything—date, kiss, hand held, fuck. She was everything I wanted for all of them: Specific.
Whenever we’d meet we’d always meet halfway. That way we could see each other coming. I fell in love with her speck. I fell in love with it growing just to meet me. We didn’t see everything coming though. The first night I slept with her she asked how I felt. I told her before we’d slept with each other I’d thought she was the one. Now I knew maybe she wasn’t. Losing my virginity was the moment being with somebody forever stopped feeling like no hands on a bicycle. And I had no idea why…
The DJs set up their tables and the bartenders began pouring. The parents stampeded over and lined up. Drinks in hand, ice tinkling, the dads stood around like dozens of Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Laurens on their first date. Their slightly decaying calendar kitten wives huddled together under soft lighting, never straying from the airbrushed scene. With the fractured air that night, the parents were their own paint-by-numbers masterpiece beside the childhood cemetery of what prom secretly is. You could see the taxidermist in every parent’s eye as they glanced over at their children, the smiles like exit-wounds. Then their kids had their turn and loaded up on champagne.
Maybe the whole autopsy deal was a bit too much for me. The guests were still a few drinks away from giving me any business. I ducked inside the house to grab a chair. I got lost and passed a library on the way out. A book caught my eye that I snagged for company.
As I sat down to open the book my earpiece exploded until I ripped it out and spiked it on the ground. I was just going to get back to the book when two members of the security team stood over me with their particular brand of sawed-off congeniality.
“What the fuck do you think you’re doing?”
“Guarding the bathroom,” I responded to their crotches.
“No chair. No book. Be a fucking professional.”
Somebody came up behind them and used white gloves to pry herself between them.
“There isn’t a any problem. I told him it would be all right to sit and read. It’s fine. My father cleared it.”
“Where is your father, Sara?”
“Hiding,” she said. “Could you give us a minute?”
One security guy, with a Carpe diem tattoo on his forearm, pointed to my earpiece on the ground and gave me a hard look before they both left.
“If I may ask, where did you get your book?”
“It’s mine, isn’t it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You brought along Marguerite Duras?”
“I don’t go anywhere without—I borrowed it from inside.”
“Oh, you borrowed it?”
“I stole it.”
“Are you always moonlighting as a kleptomaniac or is tonight an exception?”
“Bad habit,” I said. I looked over at an electric fence of girls surrounding the punchbowl. “This whole night is getting to me. Being an extra in everybody else’s movie.”
“We’re all secondary characters in everybody else’s lives anyway, aren’t we? Some cheap brushstroke.”
“What’s yours Sara?”
“I’ll look like all the other chewed up Barbie doll girls before too long and you won’t care, will you? Why are you so sad tonight? I noticed it right away. I came over just now because I couldn’t stand the idea of you being some movie-trailer for a film I’d never get to see.”
“Which is your mom?”
“Over there, the little Asian woman sharing a cigarette with someone. Actually, it’s with the man my father discovered quite recently she’s having an affair with. His wife’s over there by that herd of mothers. You can get back to The Lover now. I didn’t mean to bother you.”
“I read it when I was your age,” I smiled, but not to her.
“Well that’s a redeemable coupon now isn’t it?”
She pulled a pin and took her hair down just as a breeze blew her hair like seaweed underwater.
“That was coincidental! ”
She turned and scampered off.
The DJs started spinning, the beat hurled javelins into everybody’s chest. The kids danced. Their parents watched and awkwardly joined in. Everyone drank. A pair got in a fight in the pool that Norman talked them out of. Nobody had to be thrown out. The security guards bragged over the walkie-talkies about numbers they’d scored off girls. As dawn arrived and the energy wore down, the scene felt like some kind of battlefield of freshly fallen memories.
Sara was right, by then all the girls did resemble chewed up Barbie dolls. So did their moms. Despite her assurances, even after steady drinking, Sara never did. They’d all filed past me and made their way down the steps a dozen times. Some I had to help to the bathroom. They stayed longer and longer, daunted by the hike of steps back to reach the party. I had to call an ambulance for one girl who needed her stomach pumped.
I saw Sara approach Norman by the pool and they both looked back at me. Norman smiled as she walked first to the DJ for a word and then in my direction. He followed her with his eyes until she was in front of me, wobbly and hiccupping, then he looked hard at me before somebody drunkenly bumped into him.
“It’s time to redeem the coupon.”
“I know you’re too shy to dance. I asked the DJ to play a slow song for the last dance. Anybody can dance a slow song. Would you dance with me?”
I could feel Norman staring at me and I couldn’t look at her. I saw her run a finger over the lip of her glass.
“I can’t. You have a date. This is supposed to be your night. Not mine.”
“I can’t dance with you.”
“Why not? Because you didn’t go to your own prom?”
“Who told you that?”
“Your friend did.”
I looked at her. I hate brown eyes. You have to look into brown eyes. Suzy’s you looked at.
“I’ll ask your dad. Where is he?”
“I think he’s in the ballroom inside the house. Downstairs. Go ask him and come back. He’ll say yes.”
She reached over and took her book back, which had been shaking in my hands. I hadn’t noticed. I went inside the house and got lost a few times before I passed a swirling staircase leading up. But I could hear music from downstairs, vibrating under my feet. I walked down a hall towards where it was coming from loudest and found the entrance to the basement. When I got down to the last step and discovered the orchestra still playing on the stage, I saw who they were playing for. Sara’s father was alone, slumped over in a chair. He had a tipped over bottle beside him and a cigarette going in the hand he was leaning against. He’d hired an entire orchestra to keep playing just for himself.
I ran back up the steps and down a hall and saw Sara framed in the doorway staring at me.
“Can we dance already?”
“No,” I said.
“What did he say?”
“Tacit approval. But I can’t.”
Then from the speakers we were warned about the last song. Boyz to Men began to play.
“Please tell me you didn’t choose this song, Sara.”
“I can barely stand so you’re gonna have to hold me up.”
She grabbed my hand and drew me out to the perimeter of the other people dancing. On the tile of the pool deck she hugged me and I could feel the stares on us and hear the whispers. I reached around her shoulders and lowered my face against her hair. I’d never had another girl touch me before.
“Why are you dancing with me, Sara?”
“Because you’re a romantic.” A hiccup interfered with her smile. “Probably because my broken hearted father’s a romantic.”
“But you most of all, huh?”
I felt her nod into my shoulder. “But this is a nice ending, isn’t it?”
But it didn’t turn out that way. A minute after the song finished, while we were still holding each other, her date snuck up behind her and poured two glasses of red wine over her head. Her dress was ruined. His friends laughed. She was so drunk she went into a laughing fit that set everybody off. She was pushed into the shallow end of the pool and several boys followed her in to rescue her. Camera flashes burst at them.
Sara’s mother paid us and as dawn broke the valets brought us Norman’s car. He drove me back to Suzy’s apartment without saying anything. We drove into the alley and parked next to Suzy’s car just as the streetlight dimmed into a new penny’s glow. Suzy’s light went on and she drew the curtains and leaned out the window. Norman popped the trunk. The lights from the bedroom carved her silhouette. I rolled down the window but didn’t leave the car.
“Did you cheat on me? Did you? Are you going to tell me? Why do you look different?”
Norman nudged me and whispered, “Why didn’t you get Sara’s number?”
“I dunno. Let’s go.”
“Are you sure?”
I looked up at the window and nodded.
Norman rolled down his window and waved goodbye for me as he backed us out of the alley.
Tags: do-overs, first dances, first fucks, first kisses, Marguerite Duras, maybe it's a little easier to hide disclosing this stuf, musical chairs, no hands on bicycle, no tag backs, orchestras, paint by numbers, pawnshops, Proms, punch your weight, redeemable coupons, romantics are losers, romantics are SUCKERS I meant to say, shoe laces untied