by Katya Apekina
I woke up because of the turbulence and because my nose was bleeding. I went to the bathroom to stuff a tissue in my nostril and found a dreamcatcher swaying above the sink, its feathers soapy and ragged. Whimsy does not belong on airplanes. I tapped one of the stewardesses on the shoulder. She was sorting the sodas as they rolled around on her cart; I had to repeat it three times because she didn't know what a dreamcatcher was- finally, she said she would take care of it and asked me to go back to my seat.
Tom was slumped against the airplane window with his eyes closed, rolling a pen cap between his fingers. He looked like he was playing dead in a school play. I brushed my palm over his eyelashes-two little halos, the way the light was hitting them. He batted my hand away, then took it back and kissed it before placing it on his knee. I was already feeling jittery, but I motioned to the stewardess wobbling down the aisle with her cart for another cup of coffee. We had at least an hour before we landed in New Orleans and this was already my third. Tom reached for the cup without opening his eyes and took a sip. The plane lurched left and the coffee spilled down his sleeve and onto the legal pad on his tray table. He tore out the top page and used it to wipe his arm before crumpling it up. It was the beginning of a speech for his sister's wedding.
The pilot made an announcement about everyone staying in their seats. A woman across the aisle from us was crying quietly into a napkin.
"I feel papery," I said, "like I'm made of newsprint."
"Papery," Tom repeated, and nuzzled his head on my shoulder. "You have something in your nose."
I took the tissue out of my nostril; the bleeding had stopped. "How's the speech?"
He sat up and crossed his arms. "Wet."
Tom was vague and irritable when it came to the details of the wedding and about his family in general. I was able to pry out pieces here and there, which I hoarded greedily, and referred back to, much to his annoyance. The only member of his family I had met so far was his brother, Dan, and that was in passing, before Tom and I had started dating. All I remembered about him was that he was very tall. In the past year, Tom's twin, Edith, had never visited and I didn't think they talked much anymore. When we first started dating he was always going out into the hallway or onto the fire escape to quietly fight with her. I had assumed he was talking to an ex-girlfriend, so I made a scene, but then he showed me his phone and I'd felt pretty stupid about it.
I nudged Tom, but he feigned sleep. The crying woman across the aisle was biting her knuckles. She had teeth marks all over her hand. Maybe I was supposed to say something to her, but whenever I've cried in public, I've preferred for it to go unacknowledged. There was a short period of time after Tom and I started dating when I went on birth control and anything would set me off-a retarded man working in a deli, someone rolling a stroller through dog shit, broken cookies, wet newspapers, cats looking at me through apartment windows.
The crying woman caught me staring at her. Forced into a corner, I asked if she was ok. She blew her nose and hiccupped, then fished a calculator out of her purse. She made me multiply several numbers together and when I read out the total, she started wailing louder. Tom was rustling through his legal pad.
"I've had a rough week," she finally said, calming down and taking back the calculator.
"What was that about?" I whispered to him after leaning back in my seat.
"She lost money." Tom was chewing on his pen. He worked as a summer associate at a corporate law firm and assumed that everyone else's angst had financial roots.
"Maybe she has a sick child, and she was making me count the number of his T-cells."
"Everyone is losing money, Anya." He turned his attention back to his legal pad.
"I'm not." I didn't have any to lose. I ripped a sheet out of his notebook and started making lists. I made a list of jobs I would do once I quit the job I just started in the contracts department of a publishing company. I made a list of people from my class who were married. Then I made a list of people I had slept with and furtively crossed out all twelve names. It should have technically only been ten, but I added two people who I might as well have slept with even if I hadn't actually.
I folded up the lists and looked at Tom's profile. I tried to picture him with his family. I had only seen one photograph of them, which I found between the pages of one of his books. He was about eleven or twelve, and it was taken on a bridge with the Eiffel Tower in the background. His mother had a bouffant held together with a lot of hairspray, and her hands were on his shoulders. Tom's sister was standing next to him, and they were both facing the camera squinting at the sun. They had the same exact features, just arranged on different heads. Dan, seven or eight at the time, was off to the side, smiling and poking something with a stick. The dad must have been behind the camera. Whenever I thought of the picture, I imagined Edith with all their features, and Tom's face blank, like an empty Mr. Potato head.
"Do you think your family will like me?"
"They're excited to meet you."
"You didn't answer my question." When you dated a law student you started to catch on to these kinds of things.
He looked at me.
"OK, fine, do you think they will at least like me more than your other girlfriends?"
"I don't have any other girlfriends."
He tried to pull me towards him, but I took a piece of ice out of my water and flicked it at him.
"You're the first girl they're meeting, so as long as you're polite they'll like you fine."
"When am I not polite?"
"Whatever " Tom took the ice cube from his chest and chewed it. I could tell he was thinking about the incident from a few weeks ago when I'd shoved a woman who cut me on line at the post office.
I gave him some more ice to chew. "I can't wait to meet your sister."
"She'll be pretty busy."
The last time he'd talked about her, he was half asleep, telling me about a dream he had where they were in the supermarket. She was making him carry all the bags, and they were ripping. "That's so typical!" he'd said, angrily rolling over into his pillow.
"Did you ever show her my wedding ideas?"
Tom didn't look up from his legal pad. We had spent every weekend of the last three months watching his law school friends marry each other; the dullness of all those ceremonies had prompted me to come up with a list of alternative ones. The best one was inspired by a Hindu wedding we'd stumbled on in Central Park, where the groom was on a white horse riding circles around the bride. Except in my version, everyone was on a horse. It would be in a big wide-open field, and the people who were too old to sit in the saddle would get little carriages. The parties of the bride and groom would face each other at first, like in chess or a medieval war, and then they'd all mix together. My friends had loved it, but that was moot since the few of them who could legally get married were not the marrying kind.
"How do you know she wouldn't have liked it? I thought Southern girls were into their horses."
"I spared them the tough decision of not having their guests trampled and their $50,000 flower arrangements eaten."
"Funny." I tilted my head back and pinched the bridge of my nose. "So, clearly they didn't."
"They didn't what?"
"They didn't what. You said everyone lost money. If they are paying that much for cut up flowers, clearly they didn't lose too much. Money." It irritated me when he couldn't follow my train of thought.
"I don't understand why you need turn our conversations into a Rubik's cube."
"I bet if Edith said it, you'd know what she was talking about."
"Edith wouldn't say that."
"But if she did. You told me you had a twin language and your mom had to take you both to speech therapists so you would talk normal."
"Normally," he corrected me.
"I don't see why you're getting like that."
"I'm not getting like anything." He rolled his shoulders and leaned back in his seat.
"So did they lose money?"
"I hope you aren't going to be asking them questions like that at the party."
"I can't tell if my nose is bleeding again."
He moved my hand away from my face. "You're fine."
The pilot announced that we were beginning our descent into the Louis Armstrong International Airport. I stuck my fingers in my ears to keep them from popping and squeezed my eyes shut. More than half of airplane accidents occur in the last ten minutes of the landing process. People who freak out about turbulence when they are cruising up at 30,000 feet are worrying about the wrong thing. It's when the end is in sight and you are feeling safe that shit happens.
Dan was waiting for us at the airport. He had a sweat stain on his back in the shape of a guitar and he was even taller than I remembered.
"Anya lost her luggage," Tom told Dan after they were done hugging and I was reintroduced. "We just watched the same three suitcases go round and round."
I had to fill out a bunch of forms while Dan pulled the car around. Considering that it was a non-stop New York to New Orleans flight, I found the whole thing a little puzzling. The woman that worked the counter wasn't very apologetic, snapping her gum and picking at the scabs on her arm. When I started to get upset, Tom squeezed my hand and gave her the address of where we were staying.
"Was that a reassuring squeeze or a don't-make-a-scene squeeze?" I asked him as he led me out of the office.
"Both?" he said, lifting his suitcase onto the escalator. "You and Edith are about the same size. We'll figure something out."
As soon as the automatic doors opened it felt like we were in a vat of soup. We bobbed over to Dan's 1980-something Mercedes. An old golden retriever was asleep in the back seat.
"You want shotgun?" Tom asked after he had already buckled his seatbelt.
"Such a gentleman." Dan adjusted the rearview mirror and winked at me. The top of his head was touching the ceiling.
"No, Tom knows. Sitting in front makes me nervous. I'm used to taking cabs. And anyway, I like the dog. It smells like shampoo." The dog smelled of many things, but I was trying to focus on the positive.
"That's Fais Do-Do, like the Cajun dance. When he was younger he used to do it whenever he got excited," Tom said, twisting around to stroke the dog's ears.
"He still does it sometimes. So, where am I dropping you off? Mom made a big fuss about how she wanted you to come there first." Dan glanced at me again in his rearview mirror. "Tom's her favorite."
"I thought the youngest was always the favorite." Having more than one child seemed like it brought along a host of complications. I didn't mind being the favorite, if only by default.
"Dan is Dad's favorite."
"What about your sister?" I asked.
"Did you prepare a speech?" Tom changed the subject.
"Edith was talking about cutting all of them. She says they get repetitive. Of course, Mom freaked out. I don't know what Jeremiah wants, other than for everyone to get along."
"How did they meet?" I asked.
"Edith and Jeremiah? Tom didn't tell you the story?"
"Tom doesn't talk about you guys much." It came out sounding abrupt and maybe a little rude, but I wasn't sure quite how to soften it. "Have you met Jeremiah?" I asked Tom. I knew he hadn't been back in a long time, definitely not since the engagement was announced, which was a month or two after Tom and I had started dating.
"He was a few grades ahead of us at Newman. He seems like a nice enough guy."
"He's a good person. Solid." Dan came to Jeremiah's defense, even though Tom hadn't said anything to the contrary. "I can't believe you haven't told her about the way they met. It's out of a Hemingway novel." Dan let go of the steering wheel and gleefully rubbed his hands together.
"Why don't you tell it. Tom's stories tend towards the skeletal," I said.
"Law school's beaten out my whimsy." Tom was staring out the window at the rows of boarded up houses.
"Well, Edith was volunteering at Ochsner, the hospital here, where Jeremiah was recuperating. He had just done his third tour of duty in Afghanistan as a Lieutenant Colonel in a Foreign Intelligence Unit. She tended to him, brought him newspapers and stuff. It was old school. A courtship. "
I didn't know anyone who was in the war, or who, after participating in several protest rallies, still followed it in any detail. "Was he hit by enemy fire?"
"No. His appendix burst." Tom did his best to sound neutral.
Dan gave him a look and flicked the turn signal.
"So, Edith is training to be a nurse?" I asked.
"No. She had to do it for community service. She'd gotten a DUI."
"Don't be an asshole," Dan said, pulling into a convenience store parking lot.
"I was just answering Anya's questions accurately."
"You're undermining. Edith doesn't need that right now." Dan turned off the ignition.
Tom and I didn't say anything to each other, as we picked burrs out of the dog's fur and waited for Dan. He came back with a coconut Hubig pie for each of us. "It's a local delicacy," he explained to me, ripping apart the paper wrapper with one hand and steering the car with the other.
The house was a huge old thing on St. Charles Avenue. Tom's mother was sitting in a rocking chair between the plantation style columns, smoking a cigarette and ashing it into an old piece of armor. She looked like a romance novelist in her large straw hat and pastel pants suit.
"Thomas!" She hugged him for several minutes, alternating crushing him against her chest and pulling him away by the shoulders so she could look at him. I stood there with an awkward smile suspended on my face, shifting my weight from one foot to the other.
"Anya, I've heard so much about you! Such a pretty name. So exotic. You two must be exhausted. I'm not sure where my husband is, but he'll be very excited to meet you."
We followed her through the foyer. There was a spiral staircase winding endlessly up into the second floor and a large bronze sculpture of a spider-seeing the house put into perspective Tom's habit of always leaving the water running while brushing his teeth. If I lived there, I'd feel wasteful and guilty if I didn't use all of the space, and I'd probably spend the better part of my day wandering from room to room in a long nightgown. By the number of bar areas we passed between the foyer and the kitchen, it was pretty clear how Tom's parents used the rooms.
"You want to put your bags down? Would you like something to drink? A sandwich, maybe?"
"She doesn't have any bags." Tom gave my shoulder a squeeze and opened up the refrigerator.
"They lost my luggage."
"That's awful. What did you fly? Tom, I got you that Greek yogurt you like. Well, let's see. Edith might have some clothes here. She's been storing some things in the attic during her move. I don't think you'll really have much time before the rehearsal dinner to go shopping."
Tom's mom found us a trunk carefully labeled "Evening Wear." Tom sat on the floor and ate a sandwich as he watched me try on Edith's dresses. She and I were about the same size, but we weren't proportioned quite the same way. I finally managed to squeeze into one that didn't make me look quite so obscenely breasty. It was a dress Edith had worn to the horse races several Thanksgivings ago. Tom said he remembered it because they both ended up winning a lot of money that day, so he thought of it as the "Lucky Dress."
He put down the sandwich and wiped his hands on his knees. "That looks good." With one arm, he pulled me down to the floor. "You just might get lucky." His blond hair fell over his eyes and I brushed it off his forehead. I could see his erection pressing against his pants and, reflexively, my hand drifted towards it. He got up to lock the door at one point, and then I gave him a quick blowjob. I could hear someone walking around downstairs so I rushed it a little. When I finished, he wiped my chin with my tank top that was lying on the floor. Then I ate what remained of his sandwich while he put the heaps of dresses back on their hangers. I could tell his post-orgasm euphoria was starting to wear off. He was already hardening into something brittle and distant.
"I don't think your mom likes me very much." I rubbed the goosebumps on my arms. The house was overly air-conditioned.
"She's just like that."
We went back into the kitchen. Tom's suitcase was open on the floor and his mother was rifling through it.
"Where are the cufflinks?" she asked, barely looking up at us, and then, "That's a nice dress for you. Flattering for your figure."
"Stop rooting through my things." Tom took a small velvet box out of an inner side pocket and zipped his suitcase shut. "Here."
She was clearly a woman with extensive practice opening jewelry boxes; it was probably something she would have considered a "hobby." Nobody had ever given me jewelry, unless you counted a boy in college who gave me a heart shaped pendant that was so ugly it made me cry. What I wanted wasn't even on the market. It was part of my alternative wedding planning list and it would be an engagement ring made out of the groom's baby teeth. Tom had said it sounded like something out of Heart of Darkness, but I thought it could be done tastefully.
"Have you seen these, Anya?" His mom passed the velvet box to me. The cufflinks were gold ovals with ivory inlay.
"Ivory is sort of like teeth " I began. It took Tom a moment, but when he figured out where I was going with that he quickly signaled for me to stop.
"Pardon?" When neither Tom nor I said anything, she continued. "They belonged to Tom's great-great-grandfather. My mother's grandfather. General Dupree. Confederate General. Stonewall Jackson could have given them to him."
Tom took a drag of his mother's cigarette. "He could have. He didn't. But he could have." She snapped the box shut and gave it back to him.
"You've acquired that New York drabness. A little color wouldn't kill you. You could use some flair. Don't you think, Anya?"
I had to stifle a giggle.
His mom ignored me and added some more ice cubes to her vodka. "They're timeless is what they are."
I wanted to go back to the attic with Tom. He had drifted away from us and was looking at a newspaper clipping posted on the refrigerator, Edith's wedding announcement from The Times-Picayune.
The dog trotted into the kitchen, head down, tongue out. Dan followed not too far behind, a leash slung around his neck. He stooped down to kiss his mother on the cheek. "So you guys want me to drop you off at Suzanne's house now?"
"I don't see why you two can't stay here. We have plenty of room. It's much closer to the ceremony."
"We're staying there." His tone made me giddy.
His mother smiled. I think she also liked being put in her place by him.
"Well, you won't have time to go across town and back right now anyway. Go take Anya around, show her some sights. Show her where your great-great-grandfather is buried."
Tom and Dan took me on the trolley up and down St. Charles Avenue. Dan knew the conductor so we were able to sneak Fais Do-Do on board. Our car was mostly full of waiters in their black and white uniforms on their way to work, and tourists. An elderly black man sitting next to us was playing with a half smoked cigarette and talking to his friend about the canned venison he'd had when he evacuated to Canada. The dog was all sighs, his nose leaving wet marks on the window. Tom was biting his cheek and not saying anything, and Dan was pointing out all the landmarks-a Laundromat that was also a bar, their elementary school, a cemetery that was in an Ann Rice novel, a music shop where Dan had gotten his first viola.
"I didn't know you played."
He tilted his head and pointed to what looked like a hickey. "I don't any more." I reached over and ran my fingers over the scar; it felt like a callus.
"Why'd you stop?"
"I wasn't very good. I didn't like Julliard. I missed New Orleans." Dan had a nice way of looking into your face when he talked.
"You were in New York? Tom, you never told me that."
"I was gone by the time you guys started dating. I came back here right after Katrina. It felt wrong being away."
"Felt fine to me," Tom said, and pulled the stop request rope.
We got out and walked through the cemetery. Kids were riding on skateboards between graves that looked like little marble outhouses. Dan had fallen behind us, letting the dog sniff everything. I pulled Tom between two mausoleums and pressed him against the tomb. I kissed his neck and then worked my way up to his lips. They felt dry and stiff. I kissed him again.
"You're acting weird," I said, pulling away. He smoothed one of my eyebrows down with his thumb, and looked like he was about to say something, but then he kissed my ear instead. I let it go at that. Our shadows were growing long, folding over the sides of the tombs. One kid flew off his skateboard and went skidding into some vases full of flowers.
Dan was playing with his hands, making shadow puppets against his great-great-grandfather's grave marker. His fingers were long, even in proportion to the rest of him. I wondered if viola players needed long fingers. He made an alligator turn into a bird. His dog was watching, following the story line. The bird landed on my shoulder and went through a spectrum of emotions, before exploding into a mass of feathers, floating to the ground. It was pretty amazing.
"What do you think?" he asked, putting his hands in his pockets. "I've been working on a story to perform tonight instead of a speech."
Tom threw a stick and we watched the dog run after it.
"You know what I think. You should go back to the conservatory. You should have heard him play, Anya. Dad would weep. And not just because he was an old drunk."
Dan shrugged. "I don't really miss it. We should start heading back."
The dinner was running late because Edith and her fiancé hadn't arrived yet. Tom was pacing off to the side and his mother was filling me in on the relationships of everyone in the room to one another.
"That's Shelly, my husband's niece. She had a rehearsal dinner here once. But she's been married many times."
"Many?" I hungrily crammed another hors d'oeuvre in my mouth.
"Well, several. Tom, come here." She made a fuss of straightening his tie, even though it looked fine to me. "Go introduce Anya to the Contis. He'll like her. Something to distract him for a moment from the bar would do everyone some good." She propelled Tom and me towards a red-faced man in a suit. "He makes scenes," she explained.
"He's a playwright?"
Tom ignored my pun. "Hello, Mrs. Conti, Mr. Conti. It's good to see you. I'd like you to meet my girlfriend, Anya."
Mr. Conti gave my hand a wet kiss, and his attention shifted from the bottom of his glass into the depths of my cleavage. His wife looked like a nervous bird, perched on the edge of her seat and fingering the pearls around her neck like they were rosary beads. Tom disengaged himself after a few pleasantries about law school, and I was stuck talking with Mr. Conti about how he'd had to quit smoking because of his job as a tobacco lawyer, and how he'd had his last cigarette set in amber so he could use it as a paperweight. His story made me really want a cigarette even though I hadn't smoked since high school.
There was a commotion around a couple that just entered. I excused myself, prying Mr. Conti's fingers off my forearm, and joined Tom who was hugging his sister. It was the kind of hug that belonged on a train platform. Jeremiah introduced himself and told me that he'd heard a lot about me, which was doubtful. He was good looking in a very bland sort of way and for someone who had come back from a mess of a war he did not seem the least bit off kilter. Edith finally pulled away from the hug. She was terribly pretty. I had imagined she would look the way Tom did when he dressed up in drag for Halloween, but it was quite different.
"It's nice to finally meet you," she said perfunctorily. I wrapped Tom's arm around my shoulder like it was a mink stole; it hung there. She looked at it and then at Tom. "That dress looks great on you, by the way. You should keep it."
"Congratulations. To both of you," Tom said. Then he tried to kiss me on the cheek, but I had turned to take another hors d'oeuvre from the caterer, so his kiss landed on the back of my head. Edith excused herself to go make the necessary rounds with Jeremiah. Tom's mother trailed after them, whispering instructions on what should and should not be mentioned when greeting guests.
"You want some?" I offered him the other half of my mini spinach quiche, but he shook his head. "Remember when I tried to make you dinner, when we first started going out. And I made those really elaborate spinach stuffed pork chops, but I forgot to wash the spinach. And you sat there and ate it, even though I could hear the sand gristling against your teeth."
"Gristling isn't a word." He was scanning the room. I popped the other half of the quiche in my mouth. "Let me introduce you to everyone." We went over to meet his father, who was talking to the other board members of the Oschner hospital about the difficulty of replacing roof slates while maintaining period accuracy. His father looked a lot like Dan, but had better posture.
Tom was talking loudly, suddenly animated as if someone had pulled a string. He was telling everyone about how on our first date we just rode the subway, up and down Manhattan the whole afternoon. He'd made it seem like we were so enthralled by each other's company that we kept missing our stop. I wondered if that was actually how he remembered it. The real reason we hadn't gotten off the train was because neither of us could come up with anything interesting to do. By the time we were at the Battery Park stop, our conversation had petered out and Tom spent our ride back staring intently at the subway advertisements for dermatologists and malpractice law firms while I listened to two Puerto Rican girls critique each other's hairstyles. Tom and I might never have gone out again, if not for the fact that we lived in the same building, and I was always locking myself out of my apartment.
"I mean, obviously now isn't really the time to buy in New York, property values haven't bottomed out yet, but we're definitely thinking about Brooklyn Heights or Carroll Gardens. We're in it for the long haul, you know, so there's no rush." He picked a piece of lint off my dress and smiled at everyone. Edith had joined the circle, and then wandered off to talk to Jeremiah's friends by the bar. Tom hardly looked at his sister but I could sense the needle of his attention following her as she drifted through the room.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't like him singing my high praises and everyone making a big deal out of the fact that I was the first girl he had brought home to his family. It was nice to see him come alive again, even if there was something a little theatrical about it.
His arms were around my waist as we were talking to one of his aunts. When she turned around Tom breathed on my neck and I pressed myself up against him. I tried to gesture that we should step out into one of the side rooms for a minute, but he was already introducing me to an art gallery owner who had just gotten back from a trip through Central America.
"All the Diego Riveras are peeling. Those Mexicans have no shame. They've probably gotten worse even since you and Edith were there. I got her a little pencil sketch of his as a wedding present," the gallery owner said.
"When were you and Edith there?"
"Oh, we lived there for a little bit," Tom said vaguely.
"I remember your mother showing me those beautiful photos you took from when you two were staying in Todos Santos."
"You never mentioned it." My voice was shrill.
"Well, now I have."
The gallery owner smiled at us awkwardly, and then offered to show us the sketch later.
"So you don't miss the conservatory at all?" I took the last bite of my pecan crusted gulf fish. It felt like food was suspended inside of me, not even touching the walls of my stomach. I don't remember the last time I felt such intense hunger. Dan saw me looking at my empty plate and moved the breadbasket closer.
"I miss some things." He looked like he was concentrating on something. His mouth was half open and he was running his fingers over his elbows. "There was a girl there I liked a lot. She played the cello."
"What was she like?""Well, she was blind. I'm learning Braille right now, actually." He arranged the breadcrumbs on the table into a series of dots. "I just spelled your name." I tried to run my fingers over them, but they just stuck to my hands.
"I worked for a blind writer one summer in college," I told him, "I read him his emails and took him on walks. He would hold on to my shoulder blades and use me to plow through the crowds. It was kind of awful, actually."
"Look, this is an R." He placed my fingers over his left elbow and I touched the bumps. "Well from where you're sitting it's a W."
Jeremiah's mother was standing up, banging her glass with a fork. There had already been a series of speeches from Jeremiah's war buddies, strings of clichés about fortitude and trust. Maybe they wouldn't have seemed like clichés if I had been in the bunkers with him, but I was getting tired of having to drink after each of them. I was already getting a little tipsy.
A man on the other side of the table kept repeating: "Lemons. Lemonade. Everybody I care about is still here. Houston can have 'em." I was about to say something to him, but I hiccupped instead. Tom always got annoyed when I hiccupped or sneezed, as if I did it to spite him. I looked over to his seat to bask in his disapproval, but his chair was empty. He had gotten up to go to the bathroom when Dan and I were talking. It must have been a while ago, I wasn't sure. My sense of time wasn't all there. I hiccupped again and Tom's mother glared at me from another table. I excused myself right as they were making announcements about dessert.
The Inn where the dinner was held had a maze of rooms leading from the main dining area. I finally found the bathroom, or maybe it was called the powder room. Lots of pink upholstered couches. Thankfully the attendant wasn't there. They always made me feel uncomfortable because I didn't know how much I was supposed to tip them. I held my breath while looking at myself in the mirror. I looked pretty good, even though I couldn't stop hiccupping. The humidity had made my hair wavy and big. I didn't know if Edith really meant it about me keeping the dress, but it would be perfect for that summer associates dinner Tom was going to take me to next weekend. It was going to be on a boat, which is half a Xanax right there, but Tom had assured me the boat would stay docked the entire time. I drank some water from the faucet and then focused on my breathing. I was a little dizzy but the hiccupping finally stopped. On my way back I got disoriented. I tried several doors, all locked, until I found one that opened. It took my eyes a second to adjust to the darkness. Edith was curled up on Tom's lap like a kitten.
"Tell her to go away," she said.
Their mouths were stained purple from the wine, and they were playing with each other's hands.
"Give us a minute, Anya," Tom said, a lopsided smile playing on his mouth, his eyes half-closed, his head resting against her bony shoulder. Edith got up and yanked the door shut.
I stood in the hallway, holding the doorknob. I could hear muffled voices from the party on the other end of the hall.
The bartender passed me another whiskey and soda. My mouth burned. Tom's mother was across the room looking at me, and I wanted very much for her to stop. Mr. Conti was talking. His hand was on my drink. Something about horses. I kept edging away, but he stayed the same distance from me. I could feel the wall behind me with my fingertips.
"There go the lights again," Mr. Conti said and the room went black. Last weekend, Tom and I were in a room this dark in a museum. My glass rolled off the bar. Someone was making an announcement. Lights were moving around the room. Candles, with faces over them. Mr. Conti was still talking. I tried to shove him out of the way, but I fell on the floor. There were two women laughing. The front of my dress was wet.
I tried to get up by holding on to the woman's leg but then she fell too. I'm not sure how Dan found me, but he did. He half walked me, half carried me, out onto the balcony.
"It's just a blackout," he said, propping me up against the wall, "happens all the time." Headlights in the distance were cutting up the dark.
He lit a cigarette. The ember swooped to and from his mouth a foot over my head. Then he crouched down and the ember was lower.
"Last weekend, Tom and I were in a dark room in a museum."
"Oh yeah? A photography museum?"
"You were supposed to wait for your eyes to adjust and then you would see something. But people kept coming in and shining their cell phones around, and then we'd have to start all over again."
"What were you supposed to see?"
I took his hand and moved the cigarette to my lips. "We never saw it." I coughed, and passed the cigarette back without letting go of his hand. "I read later in the brochure it was a cone or something. Projected on the wall."
He tried to take his hand away. "Where's Tom anyway?"
I was crying. He hugged me. His shirt was in my mouth, the buttons cracking against my teeth.
"Why don't I give you a ride to where you're staying." He pulled his shirt out of my mouth.
Dan must have carried me inside, because the last thing I remembered was wrapping myself in the dog blanket and falling asleep in the back seat of his car. I woke up on the bed just as my throat was tightening. I'm not sure how I was able to find the toilet fast enough, but I did, and I threw up several times. I felt a little better after that and rinsed my mouth out with water. There was a clock by the bed, but it was useless, blinking because of the power outage.
I made myself a cup of herbal tea in the kitchen. It tasted funny so I poured it down the drain and washed out the cup. I wondered what Tom was doing and then decided not to think about it. Under the table there was a box of silverware that looked like it had been found after the flood. I took several handfuls of rusted-together forks and started breaking them apart. A dog was barking somewhere down the street. I arranged the forks in rows. My palms were orange, and there were flecks of rust under my fingernails. I thought about the cone I never saw. I got up and walked through the house again, back and forth. There were no hallways, just a straight line of empty rooms. Finally, I went out on the front porch.
The sky was a pale purple. Maybe it was starting to get light out, or maybe that was just how a tropical night sky looked. A boy was standing outside of the apartment complex across the street, twirling a baton. It seemed too early for that, or maybe too late. Mosquitoes were buzzing around me, biting my feet, spelling things out in Braille. After a while it was hard to pretend that I was just sitting there, that I was not waiting for Tom. Every time I saw headlights in the distance I would start to get up.
When it began to rain I went back inside. I lay on the bed watching the little squares of the window-netting fill with water. The house felt like a deep sieve.
When I woke up the second time, it was light out but it was still raining. Tom was lying on top of the sheet, fully dressed, facing the wall. His breathing was jagged and he was blowing his nose into his sleeve. I wrestled the sheet off of myself before I leaned over him and buried his face in my hair.