Night Shift

Dinner Table at Night by John Singer Sargent

Ira is leaning on the wall of this small bathroom and her mind is cluttered with thoughts that bear no name, only the saliva of a bitter feeling. She looks into her reflection – a dress of ornate silver fins, meticulous and shiny. The inside of the dress clung to her skin at times, and when she moved, scratched with an almost spiteful, beastly stroke – though for most of the night it prickled harmlessly, hinting marks that would surely be gone by morning.

She loved the dress, a liquid silk that  rose and fell as she walked, though it didn’t look like it came from her own wardrobe. In fact, she thought it looked borrowed, and this feeling of rent, or theft even – extended to her speech, it was now soft and polite, tip-toeing into conversations so she felt part of things, wanted and important, though midway through the party she began to feel encased in the dress and its expectations, so she excused herself to go upstairs.

Adam raps his skinny fist on the door, very softly, two rythmic taps that to Ira, is as loud as the pounding in her chest – this glass centre held by cotton and long, gracefully long, pins that securely fences what may turn out to be a mound of everyday air.

Adam is as delicate as always, hours ago embracing her, though it was done in his typically weak and unconvincing fashion of a hug, to reassure her that everything was going to be alright – the decorators were here along with the rest of the workers. Those professional men in clinically white overalls putting up chandeliers, powdering the floors and perfuming the carpets, the caterers and their tiny plates that would later be held by fingers that were neither callous nor untrained for the wealth of ceramic, and that finally – Adam did not doubt it – Ira’s dress would fit and accommodate her immaculately.

The idea of a party was Adam’s– who she always thought peculiar– he spoke little, though his enthusiasm showed in the possessions he collected and placed thoughtfully around the house. There was the small gladiator doll that to Ira thought looked juvenile and cheap, though it was apparently some form of antique, another auction win maybe?

The books Adam kept on his side of the bed, well, they took their turns for this coveted space, often they remained on his bookshelf – it stood on one wall, made of almost paperthin oak it took on the weight of journals, hardcovers, the odd CD or two. This music always had no language to Ira, though she always sensed men speaking on the tracks but wasn’t sure if she imagined it.

All of these were owned by Adam, who seemed to have no adventure in his blood, but stored his ambition into things – the books and toys and records, the bulk of these were confined to the shelf or their designated place, next to pictures that Adam kept.

They were from a long time ago, when Adam and Ira were different people – this difference marked not only by a youth now absent, but another idea lead their lives back then – one ornamented with simple, hopeful thoughts – a future bright but shapeless, unlike today’s tomorrows.

These pictures were gifts from old friends, most or all of which had left them to their own lives, correspondences now expired – leaving these as mementos, pictures they would wrap in letters or greeting cards, pictures of weddings, or children’s graduations, or a barbecue lunch with the neighbors.

Occasions neither Ira or Adam had participated in, but he reveled in these other realities beyond his – in still pictures he imagined other paths and people and possibilities, thankful that a small part of it had been shared with him – so he framed these pictures, and left them there long after he had forgotten most of their names.

And one day he had the idea of catching up with these people, to his mind they were all one entity he had abandoned and could simply summon back – he was after all, a pretty affable person, and he could be charming when he wanted to.

He and Ira could organize a party to reconnect, of course it’d be awkward – that’s why he had a bartender down, he wanted the night to eventually overcome the pretense of pretty women and even prettier men, to finally settle someplace comfortable and familiar.

Adam still beyond the door, she feels his presence pulsing in the walls. She tries to remember a life without him, but even in her earliest memories the mind has somehow absorbed his aura – he is a weird sense of safety, softly halo-ed around her being. She looks into herself, feeling divorced from the immediate reality, cheeks ablush with artificial pink . This picture resonates a quietness that has become purely hers – a silence that floods her inner sight – as she remembers her home as a child and its deserted balcony, somehow Adam’s voice is in the wind.

Ira feels the party and its attendees have somehow multiplied, spilling onto the streets so that even if she were to elope they’d be there – a world that she has intruded on, made a permanent guest of. She thought she’d be able to smile and nod, and say silly, inoffensive things for another hour – she had, after all, studied to be an actor in college – only to attend two auditions later.

Ira thought of what would’ve become if she had not given up, and she thought of the guests below and Adam. He was every man that was lost in the crowd to her, with no distinctive qualities – everything about him was decent and unremarkable – and almost every other man she saw something that was lacking in Adam, though she pushed these thoughts away. Adam had been there, the last time she cried Adam sat beside her – offering no words of comfort, but yet he stayed – he seemed to be another extension of her, however useless, it was present.

He had been the most unchanging part of her life – and he looked suprisingly ageless even at 48, wrinkles framed his face well and gave the illusion that his lips were anchored in a permanent half-grin, eyes expressionless – hollow and unfeeling, and a healthy tuft of hair that felt as if it was dipped in cold milk.

Adam, full of stories he had collected – stories Ira wished he shared, and she wondered if she wondered if she was a story he had chosen – if her life or soul possessed the drama and texture to seduce him, or if she was still being evaluated. Adam the observer, she’d look up and see him there – looking into her, absorbing, sipping, swallowing – she felt alive in his sight, comfortable enough, and secretly proud with the fact that she had one spectator, however quiet and unresponsive he was.

Perhaps he understood this, all her life this dream she had, to be watched and admired as an actor, this party was a stage for her final role. Now she felt ridiculous, in the bathroom – an audience left astray, made to entertain each other.

She reached for the door, it was not locked. Beyond it stood Adam, she would walk ahead and disappear into him, give herself entirely – all her thoughts, worries, imperfections, light and blood – store all the parts she cherished about herself into him, and emerge as another woman, the kind to host a party and end it on a good note.

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