Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Last Party

It would be their last party together - there had been too many parties, too many bad parties - there was the one that he rammed into the Sketson’s car while leaving, he hit it so hard that he punched in the black driver side door of the Mercedes and then he panicked, in his scotch-and-soda-dreamy-stupor so horrendously that he clipped that black boy that washes dishes, who was standing on the edge of the manicured polo field to have a cigarette, the boy fell, unconscious but unscathed, but Paddy didn’t know this, he was certain he had killed the boy and so he drove the half mile up the road to George and Madeleine’s house, told Evelyn to get behind the wheel and go home - that long lonely drive up the Merritt Parkway, while he hid in the loft of George’s polo pony barn. Surely the police would not look for him there - he would pass out among the hay bales and George’s Harvard memorabilia so carefully boxed and by tomorrow afternoon the police would decide that the black boy was killed by someone who wanted him dead, not by some old drunk like Paddy. Evelyn, ever the good wife drove home crying that she would never, ever do this again and then she panicked and thought she should call the Sketson’s in the morning and just offer to fix the Mercedes.

The phone rang at dawn and it was George calling to say he had found Paddy asleep in the hayloft when he was throwing down hay to his ponies and did she want him to bring Paddy home? Perhaps he should spend the day with him and Madeleine, he of course had a set of clothes for him, since Paddy often slept in the loft, and as a precaution because the police had come knocking at 4 am and they had NO idea that Paddy was in the hayloft, so they said, “of course there is no one here from the party and you can look at our car, we came home at 10:30...long before the boy was hit...how did we know the boy was hit? well the Sketsons called us at 2 am and said the boy was hit and that you people, you people in the uniforms would be over this morning to ask us questions. What are you people trying to do? turn this into some civil rights scandal? This is Connecticut after all, we have no problem with the blacks here. That boy’s brother mucks stalls for me - they are nice boys, I certainly wouldn’t run him down with my car and not on the hallowed ground of the polo field. Nobody in their right mind would do that.” But it was all settled, the boy recovered and never identified Paddy’s sedan and that was that.

So the next party came, the last party, in late December, almost Christmas, it wasn’t a green hot summer night like the night he had hit the Sketson’s Mercedes and the black kitchen boy. The Mercedes had been fixed and the boy had moved on to parking cars at the Clam House down by the Long Island Sound, where he could see the lights of Manhattan at night and he figured “better to drive those white people’s cars than be hit by them.” Well, on this late December night, the club held the annual Hunt Ball and all the men and the fair women of the Fairport Hunt Club shined themselves up - the men wore their pink coats and the women, well, they wore Dior and god-what-have-you-as-long-as-there-were-pearls-on-top and they drank and drank and sang terrible Irish hunting songs, even though almost none of them were Irish, except for George and Paddy, who both went to Harvard when Harvard didn’t approve of the Irish.

But that night, Evelyn was growing tired, after 28 years of Paddy and the “mishaps” as she called them - after the money gone to bad horses, after the hiding from the police and the careening home on the Merritt Parkway, she decided that her Protestant mother was up in heaven telling her, Evelyn, you could have done better, my dear. So she sat there, in her black-chiffon-off-the-shoulder thing with the dyed-to-match-silk-pumps and her hair-done-by-Jaques-Eves-that-afternoon and she sipped her dry champagne and seethed as she watched Paddy kiss another woman, that young blonde Peerpoint woman, the one who had the perfect “boot leg” and the britches that were hand-made for her in London, the one who apparently could ride any horse in the country side. Paddy kissed that woman on the nape of her Dior neck and he fingered her pearls and whispered to her like she were a vixen fox in her lair. “He’s gone too far this time.” Evelyn thought and she raised her empty glass to the Hungarian bartender and said, “Another!” And the night wore on as the band became tinnier and tinnier playing String of Pearls and Tuxedo Junction and Evelyn thought, if Glen Miller was actually here he would spit on this band...she wished she was in Manhattan for the evening instead of boring Fairport, but this is what a passion for fox hunting and Paddy had done to her.

So she threw back her champagne cocktail and she sucked on an olive and when midnight came with a conga-line that raged through the hall and into the kitchen and out of the kitchen and back to the bar, she descended upon Paddy like an ice storm - “its time to go home Patrick, and so home it is” she tore Paddy from the arms of Miss Peerpoint and off they teetered...past the rising crackling fireplace, handing their empty glasses to the ever-so Polynesian boy that nodded and offered to get them their coats from the cloak room. Paddy buried his face in Evelyn’s powdered cleavage and she pushed him back, “i think you’ve had enough of that this evening” and Paddy whispered with a molotov-cocktail-of-air that he would never have enough until he was dead. The Polynesian boy drifted back to them with their coats and handily dressed them for the cold December evening that they were about to emerge in.

There was a delicate snow falling, the first of the year and it lit them up, the two of them under the stars that still twinkled somehow through the squall of flurries. Evelyn pick pocketed Paddy’s keys from his camel hair coat and despite his appeals, she took charge of the sedan - “we’ll have no damages tonight Paddy - its a straight shot home.” Then Paddy leaned into the passenger seat and sat more erect than a drunken man should, he primped his cashmere muffler and lit a cigarette, “Onward then woman, Onward!” and so they made their way through the late and dark Connecticut roads, where the stone walls slept, to finally drift elegantly onto the Merritt Parkway - the only travelers, quiet as a sleigh with no bells. Evelyn drove in a liberated way but realized that Paddy was beginning to enjoy his chauffeured existence - the way he dragged on his cigarette and looked out the window, longingly at the bare trees and the now accumulating snow, was beginning to infuriate her. And his silence, his silence was even more infuriating - how could he? how could he ignore her after kissing the Peerpoint girl, in front of everyone. They were half way between Fairport and New Canaan when she could no longer hold her tongue and she exclaimed, in a voice that only her minister father could approve of, “Well, Paddy, Well, here we are!” and with that, Paddy replied, “Already?” and he opened the door of the sedan and disappeared into the snowy evening, like a dance partner that had let go.

Evelyn slammed on the brakes and skid on the wet highway. Before the sedan came to a full stop Evelyn was out the door and running back up the parkway calling for Paddy -- the snow was blanketing everything now and there was no sound except for her coat against her chiffon dress and that lovely whoosh of her silk shoes in the powder. “Paddy! Paddy! You bastard where are you!” Suddenly all the terrible adrenaline that she had felt during the hunt season when her horse did unspeakable things like run away with her past the hounds and the huntsman and nearly dump her headfirst into stone walls was nothing compared to the fear that she felt at this moment. Surely the State police would say that she had killed him in cold blood for kissing the Peerpoint girl! But then, there he was, on the near-side of the median, face down, out cold, very cold and when she plunged her hand through his coat and his silk shirt, to his warm chest, she felt his heart beating and she put her lips to his and he uttered “ Woman, get me home for another day of hunting!” She dragged him by his patent leather slippers to the sedan and like a sack, she put him piece-by-piece in to the car. They wheedled home through the snow, the headlights throwing back all sorts of sparking light. In the morning, they would agree, while waiting for the ever-so-three-minute-eggs that the time of parties was over.

1 comment:

Rob Whiteley said...

A brilliant piece, a treasure. Faulkner with a delicious sense of humor. My father, a literary man, would have been 96 today, and he would have enjoyed every word and nuance. Somewhere in the ether, my father is still laughing at Paddy burying his face in Evelyn's powdered cleavage as they awaited their coats.