A thousand pairs of dead doll eyes stare while tick-tick, tick-tock, rhythmic and relentless, at least 50 clocks, all precious collectibles, march forward in time. Every annoying tick punctuates my nervous sense of self. Aunt Gerlinda looks over with her soured puss, “They will be here any moment,” she needlessly reminds me.
Although I know that she is on the verge of graciously introducing me to her society, the seeds of disapproval and mistrust between our family lines were sewn long before I was born. I rarely concede that even a simple comment might actually be sincere. I smile back and try to look appropriately appreciative.
Every hoity toity female member of Lerner, Ohio’s elite will be here shortly to parade their Sunday best and sample the tomato aspic and Waldorf salad. They will admire their communal collection of antiques, including the hair of Victorian predecessors who, with nothing but time, made idle hands useful, twisting and braiding, curling and twirling their own hair into beautiful floral displays. This time, Aunt Gerlinda is hosting the soiree. It is an opportunity to show off the newest dolls in her collection, especially the tiny hand painted dolls made of grains of rice that another more “well bred” and exceedingly thoughtful niece sent her from Thailand.
Uncle Phillip looks embalmed in his chair far across an ocean of oriental carpet. His eyes closed in deep meditation. No doubt he has chosen the ticking of his clock collection as a focal point for this meditation. He will be transported far beyond the cackling of decrepit women of his own age to a place in his youth where there are women with jeweled blossoms and glittering gateways. A bit of drool is sliding down his chin. It is anyone’s guess why he chose to remain in view.
Aunt Gerlinda pays no more attention to him than any other piece of furniture. Instead, dear Auntie is absorbed in putting the final touches on her table decoration which features George and Martha Washington China faced dolls, in exquisite detail, stiffly propped in a bed of red white and blue carnations with matching bunting. It seems the perfect scene for a wish-they-might-be blue blood ensemble.
It is widely known that small town circles revolve around a chosen few. All offspring of these few are the ‘in crowd.’ They in turn will mate and beget the next generation of the ‘elite clique,’ and so on. This is why I am here. It is my duty to my children to make a favorable impression on the elder gentry of the Ladies Meeting Club so that my girls might have a chance of becoming cheerleaders and consequently the girlfriend of some boy who is destined to be important. Because I am new to this town, I will forever be an outsider. However, because I am also related to a pillar of the community, I have the hope of being part of the social scene of Lerner as will my progeny. This point is repeated to me often by that very same pillar.
All the preparations have been made, and there is nothing more to say to my aunt that would engage either of us. In these few mind-numbing moments, I become acutely aware that my shoes are uncomfortable and that I have to pee. I turn toward the powder room. Before taking a step, the door bell rings. I try to look graceful as I change course and cross the foyer and open the gigantic leaded glass door. For some reason my steps are unnaturally slow. “Welcome. I am Gerlinda’s niece, Julia.” I extend my arm to help the blue haired woman in. She takes my arm. “Yes, dear, we have been looking forward to meeting you,” she responds in an inviting way. One down, I think optimistically, about 40 more to win over. My aspirations are not high; a simple non threatening interaction is all I am hoping for.
While I am standing at the door I see the street filling with large ancient automobiles. Women with professionally coiffed hair and extravagant hats are emerging from each vehicle. I hadn't expected this group to be so punctual. I guess that I will have to find time for a pee later, although I note an increasing urgency. As the youngest and newest to this event, and because I am the host’s niece, I am also the greeter, and fetch and carry girl for the day. There are caterers, but everything else is up to me. After standing at the front door for what seems like an hour, I find that I am running to and fro trying to politely do their bidding. The urge to pee is really starting to become a problem. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
“Julia, come and sit down. There is someone I want you to meet.” Aunt Gerlinda motions to the burgundy velvet chair between herself and someone who looks glamorous for an old woman from a small town. “Julia. This is Nesha Brown. She is married to Doctor Brown. Nesha is certainly one of the most interesting people you will meet in these parts. She traipsed all across Europe in her youth.”
“Gerlinda, fleeing from the Nazis is hardly the same as traipsing across Europe.” Mrs. Brown corrects with a slight but dignified frown. Aunt Gerlinda looks a little embarrassed rather than offended by the correction. I shift so as to relieve the considerable discomfort I am experiencing.
“It is a pleasure to meet you Julia. I have been looking forward to a fresh face among us. Please, tell me how our little social club impresses you.” Mrs. Brown’s expression is full of genuine interest.
“Well, it’s just lovely.” I begin. “I mean, everyone has been so sweet to me. I feel like I am with friends already. When you look around this room you can really see that the cream of the crap is here.” Oh my god! I just said crap. A hot flush crawls up my face and over my scalp. Mrs. Brown guffaws. Aunt Gerlinda looks entirely nonplussed. I look back to Mrs. Brown who is overcome by mirth. There is no holding back now; a high pitched laugh has escaped me followed by a loud snort. Mrs. Brown loses her composure entirely and the rest of the room goes silent as the two of us descend into uncontrolled hysterics. The bladder can be tortured no longer. A dark wet stain creeps across the velvet cushion, trickles down the leg of the chair and pools beneath me while every eye, living and dead, is on me.
A Short Fiction, by Butternut Squash