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Ines at my fête

Dedicated to Joe Boland

Paris J. B. Reid

I’m opening my eyes in my robin-blue and purple party dress. No: I’m closing my eyes. I’m closing them and rewinding through a bell-curve sleep, in any case, not enough of it. The absence of egg-white rims. A mournful display of mediocrity. Yes, by every count, intolerable. If I did it again I would do it all differently. The lemon-drop drinks would first have an egg-white rim; the gem-cut sugar would stick thicker. I would have had someone tug the craggle-toothed zipper before the last guests left, if I did it again; I would sweep the shattered tumbler to preclude the morning’s downcast splendor. There’d be snowfall, I’d dance spritely as a cricket, and my infinite swirls would have taffeta trim licking ankles left and right. As it was, I admit, scarcely hiccups and nobody caused a scene. There was musical vigor, a general winsomeness. Faces gleamed unaware and merry, for all were well-served.

I ran about. I must have had conversations.

Yet only was I glad for Ines. Ines, who I never thought would turn up at my fête. Not because she’s one to turn away, but seeing I live distant in the country and the night was wet, that I’d asked her through a friend, twice-removed and by convolute communication. When I heard the door ring and beheld her on the porch…! Come in, come in—I’m so glad you’ve come… long arms sloping from the shoulders to the hands clasped obedient, the earnest nod of the chin and the foreigner’s lopsided smile: a smile at all the wrong words.

I wanted Ines to come, of course: I wanted to see her lope in in a creamy knit the colour of bubblegum, slipping and tied off-kilter at the waist with its flop-eared bow, hear her voice rapid and round and low, punctuated by like and a quartet of fingers brushing hair behind the ear. So kindly she descends to our language, the majority rules, and still I grasp nothing but the curl of a homeland, ice crystallizing in and out of focus…

Smoke on the balcony—nauseating. Should I, at some point and against all odds, deign to do it again: a zero-tolerance policy. The fumes, how they clouded my sight, how they must have tainted her knits and pores, sure to repulse her for days on end—what’s this she’s saying, now. I can’t tell the fingers brushing from hands tucking away a dart for later; can’t see the letters writing themselves behind ribbons, writhing, tobacco rising before me. Can’t hear. Pours like the sea recoiling on itself. All round minuscule lights flare, skate cross veneers of drinks, running ablaze from chalice to chalice—Ines has no glass. Passing—my thumbnail—does a shard pierce her shining skin? A splinter in her eye? Have I shot her? Walking barefoot on a gravel drive. Have you come, have you?

If I did it again, which I never, ever could, I would remember everything; I would be all attendance. If I did it again I would set aside a crystal flute for Ines.

Looking back I can’t say whether she wore a knit at all.